Background: Studies indicate that difficulties English second language (ESL) learners experience in the classroom may not be attributed to only listening comprehension of the language of learning and teaching (LoLT). ESL learners’ performance-related difficulties may increase when linguistic complexity is added to auditory comprehension tasks. Limited research is available on the auditory skills of ESL learners and listening comprehension in ESL learners younger than 12 years. Aim: To determine which areas of auditory skills and listening comprehension Grade 1 ESL learners find most difficult. Setting: The study was conducted at two independent primary schools in an urban setting of the Tshwane district, Gauteng province, South Africa where the LoLT is English. Methods: A static two-group comparison design was used. Data were collected from two similar independent urban schools. The research group comprised ESL learners (n = 15) exposed to English for 12–18 months. The control group comprised English first language (EFL) learners (n = 15). The digits-in-noise (DIN), children’s auditory processing performance scale (CHAPPS) and listening comprehension test 2 (LCT-2) were used. Six Grade 1 teachers participated in this study. Results: Majority of the participants (n = 25) passed the DIN test. In the overall scores for the CHAPPS and LCT-2, significant differences were found between the two groups (p = 0.024; p = 0.001). Strong agreements were found between the ESL participants’ test results for the CHAPPS and LCT-2. Results indicate that ESL learners experience significant difficulties with higher linguistically dependent auditory skills and listening comprehension tasks. Conclusion: ESL learners achieved poorer scores as the listening tasks became more linguistically demanding. Specific layers of auditory skill and listening comprehension difficulties when listening in their LoLT were identified in the ESL learners. Targeted intervention and curriculum support with the help of a speech-language therapist can be provided.