"I can read English", "I can speak English", or "I can write English" are all correct uses of the word "English".

But is "I can listen to English" correct English?
Or should I say "I can hear English"?
Are there better ways to say that?

I want to know how to express that you can understand the English that someone has spoken.

  • Where I live in the SW USA it is often "Habla ingles". :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 8, 2011 at 13:06

2 Answers 2


But is "I can listen to English" correct English?
Or should I say "I can hear English"?
Are there better ways to say that?

First up, "I can listen to English" is correct English. But you are trying to say that you can understand English that is said aloud. Just by saying "listen" doesn't necessarily mean that you understand spoken English. I can listen to Greek, but still not understand, because I don't know Greek.

Some better ways to say it are:

I can understand spoken English
I can comprehend spoken English
I can understand English that is spoken.
I can understand English that is said aloud.


If understanding is not really necessary, just hearing and being able to listen to the language, you could try:

I can catch the English language most of the time.
I can make out spoken English.
I can take in spoken English

  • Thanks for your answer. Understanding English is not necessary. I want to know how to say that you have an ability to clearly listen to English. In that case "I can listen to English" and "I can hear English" are correct?
    – js_
    Aug 8, 2011 at 4:27
  • @js_: unless you are deaf you can hear English (as long as someone is speaking it!). Listen has a attention connotation to it, so if you listen to something you are paying attention to it. It does not necessarily mean you understand it. The edited question gives some nicer options to say that.
    – nico
    Aug 8, 2011 at 5:44
  • @js_: What you're looking for is probably something along the lines of "I have good English listening comprehension", which is more specific to how well you are at picking up spoken English. It's less focused on how well you understand English, and more on how well your brain can handle/sort English audio.
    – Tobberoth
    Jun 30, 2014 at 14:12

I think the phrase you're looking for is contained in your question: "I can understand English."

Edit: after comments by Malvolio and Peter Shor, I agree that "I can understand spoken English" is more clear than my original version, especially if you're illiterate in the target language, or if for some other reason it's important to distinguish between the two.

I use a similar phrase myself—I studied French in high school and college and spent a few months in Paris, but I haven't had many opportunities to practice in the last fifteen years. I can still understand it fairly well if it's spoken slowly, but I find it very difficult to express my own thoughts. Therefore, I understand French (a little), but I don't speak French.

  • I think the OP was distinguish between the language as written and it as spoken. For a language with a written forms radically different from yours (consider Mandarin), you may be able to understood it as spoken perfectly well but be completely illiterate. Aug 8, 2011 at 3:03
  • I still think understand is the best fit. In fact, I can say (honestly) that I understand some Mandarin, though I've only been learning for a few months and can read only a few characters.
    – Nicholas
    Aug 8, 2011 at 3:09
  • 3
    I think the right thing to say, if you want to distinguish between reading and listening, is I can understand spoken English. Aug 8, 2011 at 3:11
  • Fair enough; that certainly clarifies the matter.
    – Nicholas
    Aug 8, 2011 at 3:13
  • @Nicholas Thanks for your answer and comments. But I think "I can read Englsh" and "I understand written English" are different. Many people can read English without understanding. Sometimes I also can read difficult English without understanding. So it is possible to be able to clearly listen to English without understanding. I need audio version of "I can read Englsh" not of "I understand written English". I'm an English learner and can not listen to English clearly at all.
    – js_
    Aug 8, 2011 at 4:20

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