How to Boost Your Listening Skills with Interactive Video Transcripts

One of the most powerful tools for developing your listening skills could be hiding under your favourite videos: the interactive transcript. We’ve talked quite a lot recently about transcripts on this blog, especially in the context of podcasts. If you haven’t read it yet, make sure you click here to check out my guest post, on which is about how to use transcripts to enhance your podcast listening practice. Video transcripts are particularly powerful as they are generally interactive. This means that:
  • You can click on any part of the transcript and then listen to that part of the video
  • The words are highlighted as they are spoken
  • You can use the ctrl + F function to find specific words or expressions and listen to them
But, you do need to make sure that the transcript is high quality and above-all human generated to benefit from these features. In this blog post, you’ll discover 5 websites where you can find interactive transcripts and also high quality video transcripts that are not interactive, but still useful for developing your listening skills. I’ll also share some techniques for developing your listening skills with these transcripts.
Interactive transcripts #1: YouTube 
This is the mother of all video sharing websites, so you’ve probably heard of it! If you have a Google account, then you automatically have a YouTube account. You don’t need to have a channel or upload videos to go to YouTube and benefit from the interactive transcript. If you’re already using a Google service such as Gmail or Drive, all you have to do is click the Google apps drop-down menu on the top-right of your screen and then click on the YouTube logo to go straight there.
Google apps menu

When you’re in Google Drive or Gmail or wherever else, simply click on the apps menu to go straight to another Google service such as YouTube

How to find the interactive transcript 
First, make sure the video you want to watch has human-generated subtitles. Look out for the closed captions or ‘cc’ symbol next to the video. This means the transcript will be accurate.
Closed Captions on YouTube

Closed captions

Unfortunately, although they seem to be improving, the automatic YouTube captions generally contain errors. Once you’ve found a video with human-generated subtitles, click ‘more’ underneath the video and then click ‘transcript’.

Interactive Transcript

Click ‘more’ under the video, then ‘transcript’.

Now you can see the interactive transcript. The bold text indicates the words being spoken at a particular moment in the video.

YouTube Interactive Transcript

An example of an interactive transcript with accurate, human generated subtitles

The interactive transcript is not the same thing as the subtitles that appear on the video. To show the subtitles, you need to click on the ‘cc’ button on the video screen.

Click on the cc button on the video screen to display the subtitles

Click on the cc button on the video screen to display the subtitles

Improve your listening
I always recommend listening without subtitles or a transcript first and trying to understand as much as possible. Afterwards, you can use the transcript or subtitles to identify what you missed and start understanding why. Let’s say you watch a video or a section of a video without and then with the transcript. You use the transcript to identify words and expressions you struggled to recognise in spontaneous, natural speech. What you can then do is press “ctrl” + F on your computer keyboard (cmd + F on a Mac) and search for other examples of the word or expression in the video. Listen to them again, and practice trying to say them the way they sound in fast, natural English. Why did you fail to catch them? This post will give you some ideas. You can also simply click on a line of the transcript to listen to it again.
Control + Find

Use the ctrl + F function to find more examples of words or expressions you didn’t catch or understand

Recommended YouTube channels
These channels offer interesting content and all the videos have human generated transcripts.
The Ellen Show – talk show with US comedian Ellen DeGeneres
Talks at Google – some of these videos are talks or presentations. Others are interviews, where the English will be more fluid and spontaneous. That said, at the end of the talks, there is a Q&A (question and answer) session with the audience, where the speaker responds in a more unplanned and conversational way.
Storycorps inspirational, true stories told by real people in the USA
I give you more tips for developing your listening skills with The Ellen Show and Storycorps in my free e-guide: Understand Conversational English. Click here to get your copy

Find videos with human-generated subtitles that you want to watch

To find more videos with human-generated subtitles, you can use YouTube’s search filter. All you need to do is type the search term that interests you into the search bar at the top of the screen, then click ‘filters’ and finally ‘subtitles/cc’. YouTube will only find videos with human-generated subtitles.
YouTube Filter Function

Type your search term into the bar, click filters, then select ‘subtitles/cc’


YouTube Filter Function Search Results

YouTube will only display videos with human-generated subtitles that are related to your search terms

Many thanks to Olya Sergeeva thanks to whom I learned about the power of interactive transcripts on YouTube and how to find them. She has a fascinating blog for English teachers at
Interactive transcripts # 2: TED Talks
TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. TED talks are in fact presentations about all sort of issues from renowned experts in their fields. The conference talks are available for free on and these videos come with some of the best interactive transcripts in the business. However, my focus is on conversational English which is off the cuff, meaning it’s unplanned and a little messy. TED talks are carefully prepared by presenters and display fewer features of conversational English. The ideas tend to be more complex and hierarchical which can also make the talks more difficult to follow, even if the delivery is generally slower and more careful than in spontaneous speech.

Planned presentations vs spontaneous interviews

To practise conversational English and prepare yourself for conversations in the real world, search for an interview with a TED speaker where they are speaking spontaneously. A really interesting exercise would be to compare the way the speaker pronounces words in a TED talk compared to an off the cuff interview. You could use the search function I mentioned above to find different examples.

Veronika at has written a lovely article about life changing TED talks. I searched for some interviews at Talks at Google with the same speakers. You could compare for instance, Dan Ariley’s talk about work  with his unplanned Talks at Google interview. Compare and contrast the way Dan Ariely speaks in the two versions. What do you notice?

All the TED talks are also available on the TED YouTube channel. If you are particularly motivated, you could put the videos above into a tool like TubeChop and compare how certain words and expressions are pronounced in the two versions. Here is a link to Dan Ariely’s talk, What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work? on YouTube.

3 Sites for English learners with transcripts
The transcripts on ELLLO and the British Council sites are not interactive, but I’m mentioning them because they are an excellent source of video material for English learners. The transcripts on Vicky Hollet’s site are interactive, but not quite as powerful as the YouTube or TED ones.

Video Transcripts # 3: ELLLO

ELLLO or English Listening Lesson Library Online offers a variety of audio and video material. You can choose to show or hide the transcript as you listen. As you know, I recommend listening without the transcript first and then using the transcript as a way to identify your difficulties. What I love about this site is the wide variety of accents, both native and non-native to listen to, plus the English is generally conversational: natural, fluid and spontaneous rather than planned.

Video transcripts # 4: Simple English Videos

I discovered Vicky Hollet’s site, Simple English Videos this week, thanks to Curt Ford from American Voices App. These videos are really designed to help you learn English, rather than practise listening, so Vicky speaks in a nice, slow teacher voice. But you’ll have a lot of fun while you’re learning!

Video transcripts #5: British Council Learning English

The British Council’s site will forever be one of my favourite websites for English learners, because the quality of the material is excellent. The transcripts aren’t interactive, but you can download them as a PDF. You could also print them and do some of the activities I mentioned in my last post. The videos even come with activities to help you understand them.

If you’ve enjoyed today’s post, please share it with other learners who want to improve their listening skills. Make sure you also sign up for my free e-guide: Understand Conversational English to find more websites and YouTube channels where you can practise your listening skills, discover activities to help you listen better and organise your independent listening work. Do you have any questions, reflections or comments on today’s post? Please let me know in the comments. Thanks!

Still stuggling to understand natives?

Have you ever struggled to follow a conversation with a native or fluent speaker? You’re not alone. Most English learners have no idea how fast, conversational English really sounds. So they miss out on opportunities to connect with natives or fluent speakers in work and life. Would you like to end this frustration? Take the Leo Listening Level Test. Get personalised feedback from me on your conversational listening skills and advice to get conversation ready.

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