Listening at Upper
by Sam Smith
do we teach listening?
listening lesson nowadays will probably consist of:
1. A pre-listening task or warm-up to set the context.
2. Extensive listening for gist.
3. A second listening to answer more detailed questions or
a more detailed task.
4. Review of task or questions.
5. Either inferring vocabulary or examining functional language.
6. Or using the tape as a springboard to another skills task.
1998) (White 1998)
points out that while this reflects a noticeable positive
change in ELT methodology, i.e.
· seeing listening as a skill as opposed to for new
· it is relevant to real life through activating a
context, the trend to use more authentic material, highlighting
conversational features and employs a task rather than questions
· it provides motivation by focusing on expectations
that can be checked as opposed to relying on memory
it does not go far enough (Field 1998), a point also maintained
by Goodith White (1998) and Richard Cauldwell (2000).
is wrong with the way we teach listening?
the 1st things to notice about this model is the small amount
of emphasis placed on post-listening. (Field 1998) (White
1998) (Cauldwell 2000) We spend so much time preparing learners
for listening, which in itself is not a bad thing as it activates
back-ground knowledge, expectations and predictions, that
we don't have time to do much more than see if the students
got the answers right or wrong and no time is spent on finding
out why and where they went wrong. We are essentially at best
practising and at worst testing listening and not doing any
We should actively teach micro-skills or sub-skills and strategies.
Richard Cauldwell compares listening to reading, i.e. in reading,
the words are available for inspection for much longer, whereas
in listening, the skill of perceiving sounds and holding them
long enough to take in their meaning is essential to understanding.
He suggests that learners must re-hear and spend time on the
crucial answer bearing parts that should be chosen for meaning
and be perceptionally challenging. (Cauldwell 2000)
John Field suggests dictation of sentences containing features
of connected speech such as weak forms, contractions, elision,
assimilation and catonation to practice identifying words
in continuous speech or words in stressed or unstressed positions.
See appendix 1 for Jack Richards' list of micro-skills.
See appendix 2 for some other ways of practising them suggested
by John Field.
Similarly we should actively encourage learners to employ
successful strategies, ways of coping when they don't understand
John field proposes getting students to just write down as
many words as possible from a short listening passage and
decide how certain they are about each one, then form guesses
about links between the words based on the speaker, situation
and topic and share these ideas with a partner. These guesses
should then be checked by listening again and listening to
the next part of the passage. (Field 1998) Learners are therefore
becoming more aware of how much they do understand and also
inferring more from other clues.
A similar idea is dictogloss, where again students write down
as many words as they can (after first processing the text
for meaning) before using grammar, vocabulary, context and
real world knowledge to recreate the text before comparing
the original with their own version.
Some further good ideas for raising learners' awareness of
strategies are proposed by Gail Ellis and Barbara Sinclair
in their excellent book 'Learning to Learn' such as ways of
inferring what you don't hear from words you do and from visual
clues, making sure you are aware of your reasons for listening,
predicting what you'll hear by for example, reading the news
headlines before watching the news, being aware of discourse
signals such as ' I just wanted to say...' and generally being
aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a listener and what
to do about it. (Ellis and Sinclair 1989)
Another idea, and a very important one in the case of my students,
is that we should not be afraid of using authentic materials
containing features of real, fast, connected speech. By relying
on course-book materials, we are not helping students who
will eventually be faced with the real thing, we are just
lulling them into a false sense of security. We should be
prepared for frustration from learners when they don't understand
and be ready to help them understand through using techniques
like the ones above. (Cauldwell 2000) Teachers should also
be aware themselves of the features of natural speech such
as weak forms and assimilation, elision, catonation and redundancy
and noise and colloquial language and be ready to help learners
with it. (Cauldwell 2000)
We should also be aware of learners' difficulties as opposed
to native speakers' ways of listening. As Richard Cauldwell
points out, there is a falsity to the idea that, as native
speakers don't have to understand every word, learners should
be encouraged not to try, we are confusing the goals with
the methodology. He suggests letting learners take control
of the tape recorder. They can thus focus on what they need
to as opposed to what we think they need to and the teacher
will be surprised by what they observe. (Cauldwell 2000) I
have since done this myself and can definitely go along 100%
with what he says.
will try to do with my students as much as possible is:
· Use authentic materials that exhibit features of
natural, fast, connected speech.
· Try to teach speech features and know enough about
them myself to be able to do so.
· Actively teach micro-skills and strategies.
· Let my students have more control over how they listen.
· Not be afraid of learners' frustration and try to
help them with their problems and not hide from them.
Lewis : The Lexical Approach, Language Teaching Publications,
Michael Rost : Listening in Action, Prentice Hall, 1991
Penny Ur : Teaching Listening Comprehension, Cambridge University
David Nunan : Language Teaching Methodology, Prentice Hall,
John Field : Skills and Strategies : Towards a New Methodology
for Listening, ELT Journal Volume 52 / 2 April 1998, Oxford
Goodith White : Listening, Oxford University Press, 1998
Richard T. Cauldwell : University of Birmingham, 5th November
Gail Ellis and Barbara Sinclair : Learning to Learn English,
Cambridge University Press, 1989
Michael Rost : Listening in Language Learning, Longman, 1990
Anne Anderson & Tony Lynch : Listening, Oxford University
Smith, 31, originally from Bradford in the
UK, has been teaching for 5 years, in Ukraine (2 years),
Poland (1 year) and Spain (2 years) and also at summer
schools in Folkestone and London. He currently lives
lives & teaches in Madrid.
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