Listening Skills

For many students listening is the most difficult of the skills. For a student who doesn’t normally have a lot of contact with English the amount of different accents, word contractions (eg would’ve) and pronunciation can be intimidating. Just think, there are some accents in the UK or US that even we struggle to understand!

Preparation

It’s entirely possible that the text may have some vocabulary the students may not know. As a teacher, it is a good idea to pre-read the text, identify vocabulary that may be a problem, and decide how you are going to deal with it. There are 3 common strategies that you could use:

  • Identify the vocabulary at the pre-teach stage, and either give explanations or elicit explanations from the students. This is especially important if you feel that the vocabulary in questions is necessary to be able to understand the overall message of the text (or is necessary to be able to answer the questions).
  • Let the students read the text, and try to enhance comprehension of difficult words from the context they are used in. This is a really productive method as it gets the students to analyse. The issue is that it can fall flat if it is too hard to gain understanding, and ultimately they may not understand the text.
  • Don’t deal with vocabulary at all. There is a school of thought that we want to replicate reality as much as possible. In this scenario, we leave it up to the student to decide how they will deal with difficult vocabulary. You would need to decide if you think it’s possible the students is able to learn from context what the vocabulary means.

Getting your students ready to listen

Once we have decided how we are going to deal with the issue of unknown vocabulary, we have to prepare the students for listening. Most of the time your students will need a period of time to adjust. Nearly every listening is different for them. They have to listen to different accents, pronunciation, volume, tone, speed and conversation topics. It naturally takes a while to adjust. As the teacher, you can facilitate this.

It’s easier to hear something if you are expecting it!

As the teacher, you can prepare your students by explaining what they are about to listen to. The general rule is that if you are expecting something, then you are probably going to hear it more easily. For example:

Teacher: Okay, now you are going to listen to a man and a woman in a restaurant. They are going to make a complaint.

You can even go one step further by running a brainstorming session. When you ask the students what kind of things they would normally expect to hear in a certain situation, they will usually list things that are similar to the listening script they are about to hear. Now the students have an idea of the conversation that could take place they can listen with a good chance of being able to follow.

Unfortunately, we can’t make every topic interesting for everybody. Sometimes the students are going to have to learn, read, speak, write and listen to things that may not capture their imagination. Our job as teachers is to make that process as painless as possible and, you never know, perhaps even provoke a little interest after all.

Listening Tips

Predicting

Another method we have of checking comprehension and making our reading lessons varied is to incorporate predicting. This is where we ask the students to listen to the first part of the conversation, ask them to predict what will happen next (and get them to explain why) and then get them to continue the listening to find out if they were correct. You can stop more than once for predicting, depending on how long the listening is.

Summarising

In most forms of our life we are asked to summarise. At work, at school or university, or with our friends (what happened in the football match), so it makes sense for our students to practise doing it in English. The summary can be done verbally and, usually, is but with children you could do it through drawing the story. You could even ask for a written summary.

Accents

Listening exercises have advanced drastically over the last few years. The idea has finally taken hold that what students need isn’t standard English, the Queen’s English or simple English. What is most important is that they hear natural English. That means giving them the opportunity to listen to the variety of accents we have in native English-speaking countries. Think of the accents in the UK alone!!

But it’s not just that, these days it is just as important for your students to practise hearing French, Indian or Chinese people speaking English. The world is a small place and English is the language of science, business, medicine and tourism. For example, a German person will use English to communicate with his/her Spanish contractor. Most nationalities have their own issues and quirks with English pronunciation, so it is important your students become accustomed to them.

Similar to reading lessons there is an abundance of different resources around which to build a listening lesson. Be open-minded and take the time to look on the internet. Technology is starting to play a more and more significant role in the classroom, so resources such as YouTube become really useful.

Ideas for Listening Lessons

Standard recorded scenarios / conversations

Incorporated into nearly every course book are the standard recorded scenarios. The difference is, these days they are actually pretty good! They are great because they are real situations, they have already started to use different accents and they have even added realistic background noise to add authenticity.

Songs (Winner nearly every time!)

We don’t think we have met many students who don’t like using songs as listening exercises. The skill is finding a song the students are interested in, but also which matches the language level of the students. Remember, it is not what you like. For kids think of Shakira or Katy Perry, for older students go back in time to songs they were interested in during their youth.

Using one of the million lyric sites on the internet, you can take the lyrics and put them onto a Word document (please make sure you pick the lyrics that match the exact version of the song you are going to be playing). Then, you blank out words in the text, replacing them with a line for the student to write the word into. Normally, one space on each line or one every 2-3 lines, depending on the level of students and the complexity of the song. Then, you play the song 2-3 times, asking them to fill in the missing spaces.

Films / Series

Using YouTube and similar sites, you have access to short films. Here you can find clips of comedy sketches or classic movie scenes. There is actually more relevant content than you have ideas for, it’s just a matter of researching and testing what will work.

Dictation

It’s a little bit ‘old school’ but it is very effective for practising both listening and writing at the same time. The teacher can read a piece of text out loud and the students are to write what they hear. With lower level students, it is recommended you repeat each sentence 2-3 times. Also, bear in mind how long sentences are. If necessary, you can repeat the text 4-5 words at a time. If you are going too fast, you will soon know from your students’ groans or tuts.

These days publishing companies have caught on and have started to produce special packs for TEFL classrooms. You can have the DVD box set of popular or classic TV series, together with the script already partitioned into lessons, accompanying comprehension questions and tasks associated with the part of the episode they have just watched. It’s both enjoyable and realistic.