Archive for the ‘Listening’ Category

This is one more post in my series of posts about the EVO 2017 session on teaching listening. In this post I want to summarize one more issue that was raised during the session: the use of authentic materials with lower levels.

Below you’ll find some of the ideas and experiences that the teachers participating in the session shared:

  1. Watching short clips for fun
  2. Using songs
  3. Grading the task by using the material as a warmer or a lead in
  4. Micro listening: focus on grammar
  5. Vox pop videos for word hunt or micro listening
  6. Watching the video without the sound
  7. Some thoughts on the role of assessment and a case study: following a news story
  8. Authentic listening (and speaking) out of class

But first, let’s look at some pros and cons of using authentic materials with lower levels.

A lot of the session participants voiced concerns about using authentic materials with lower level learners, such as:

  • it takes a lot of time to find extracts that lower level learners would have any chance of coping with;
  • even with these extracts, the learners are often frustrated that they don’t understand much;
  • one often hears ‘grade the task not the text’. But what are some examples of graded tasks? And won’t it happen that we’ve graded the task, but the learners fail their ‘inner task’ of understanding more or less everything, and still feel frustrated?

So do lower level learners need to work with authentic materials at all? Here are some reasons why they do:

  • the learners might be exposed to authentic materials outside class (especially in ESL / business Engish settings, but also on the Internet and while they travel) – they need to prepare for that in the safe classroom environment;
  • coping in some way with authentic materials gives tremendous sense of achievement to lower level students
  • using authentic materials in class will give the learners the courage to try to ‘get out there’ and start practicing out of class, which is great for language acquisition. This will be especially useful if we discuss with the learners specific ideas where they might find suitable materials and what they could do with them.
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Image source: flickr.com/photos/wolfgangkihnle/6050220330

So what are some sources of lower level materials, and how can we use them in class? 

1. Watching short clips for fun

Oksana Kirsanova, an English teacher from Russia, encourages her learners simply to watch very simple funny videos like the one below.

The video could be shown in class or shared with the learners to watch at home. The learners watch for enjoyment – Oksana sets no task. If the video contains a lot of dialogue, she finds a version with Russian subs.

This is a very simple way to introduce the learners to authentic materials. You probably know a lot of good videos already (who hasn’t shown Eleven of  We’re sinking at some point in class?) but it’s worth building a bigger collection and showing/sharing the videos regularly throughout the course. One good source of such videos is funny commercials. There are lots of compilations on YouTube – if only some commercials in a compilation are appropriate, use TubeChop.com to isolate and share only those bits you want to share (here’s an example of a clips isolated with TubeChop).

2. Using songs

This can be extremely motivating for learners, especially teens (but not only)! There are lots of songs that are suitable for lower levels because the pronunciation is very clear. Again, it’s worth building up a collection to use throughout the course (or Google some ready-made collections, like this one). There are two challenges: doable tasks and finding songs that are relevant for the learners.

Some ideas for tasks:

Svetlana Bogolepova (Russia) got her learners to listen to Yesterday by Beatles and clap every time they heard the word ‘yesterday’ – which is a very simple activity that encourages the learners to notice the words they know in songs. I think this kind of activity could be a great lead-in (or warmer / filler) to some topics dealt with at Elementary level (e.g. adverbs of time or past simple).

We got more examples of tasks to be used with songs from this article by Nik Peachey on A framework on planning a listening skills lesson (scroll to ‘Applying the framework to a song’). Some of the tasks that Nik offers are:

  • listening to the song and deciding if it’s happy or sad;
  • listening and ordering jumbled up lyrics;
  • listening and correcting mistakes in a summary of the song pre-written by a teacher.

Regarding the question of finding relevant songs, I’d predict this would be a real issue with teens, who might not be very motivated by having to listen to, say, Abba! I think the best idea with learners who feel strongly about this is to involve them in creating/maintaining a list of songs with clear pronunciation. The learners could be encouraged to maintain a Padlet.com board like this one curated by Teaching English – British Council.

3. Grading the task by using the material as a warmer or a lead in

One of the concerns that the participants of the EVO raised was that the learners are bound to understand little in authentic materials, which will frustrate them. One way to help learners feel more OK with the fact that they don’t understand everything is to use the material not as the main listening text in the lesson, but as a warmer, setting a task that the learners could cope with.

E.g. with the following video the learners could

  • watch the video and guess the topic of the lesson (food)
  • watch the video and note down all foods they could see
  • a word hunt activity: watch the video and note down all food-related vocabulary they heard someone say

4. Micro listening: focus on grammar

This is something I love doing with my lower level students: using video compilations that show lots of examples of just one grammar point, like this one:

I normally do this as a part of a grammar lesson, asking the learners to fill the gaps the transcript:

 1. Spider-Man ________ hero.
2. ______ ready? ______ born ready.
3. A hundred years ago, ______ one and a half billion people on Earth.
4. Exactly! ______ a worker, but now _______  war hero!
5. Oh, right! _______ my sister.
6. But ______ young and proud!

You’ll find the end of this exercise and a lot more links to such videos in this blog post.

A big issue is that these videos come with hard-coded subs. I dealt with this simply by dragging some kind of window, e.g. an open notepad document, over the subs area.

Another issue that one session participant raised was that these extracts are decontextualized. I think that that’s not much of a problem, because the visual element is so rich it provides micro context – notice how the feeling that one gets watching these videos is very different from if you were listening to the extracts.

5. Vox pop videos for word hunt or micro listening

Another source of videos that are ideal for word hunt or micro listening, because they naturally provide multiple examples of the same language feature, are so called vox pop videos (videos in which people in the street get asked the same question – normally there are two or three questions per video).

I’ve found several sources of such videos:

  • Speakout video podcasts for all levels, including Starter and Elementary, freely available on their site. For example, the learners could watch the following video and note down all family vocabulary they can hear (word hunt) or count the number of times the word ‘my’ is used (this could lead to a micro ‘pronunciation for listeners’ activity, as ‘my’ is often pronounced as ‘mu’):
  • Real English videos uses the same idea. E.g. in this video people in the streets say how old they are – the learners could listen and note down the numbers they hear
  • Vox Pop International, an authentic YouTube channel, also contains some videos suitable for lower levels. E.g. watching this video the learners could note down all adverbs of frequency they hear:
  • If you are subscribed to onestopenglish, they recently created Live from London, a great collection of such videos with worksheets and transcripts. Here’s a sample video, with ideas how it can be used with Pre-Intermediate learners and higher.

If you want to try how listening to such videos feels, why not try this video in Mandarin Chinese shared by Curt Ford, another EVO participant:

What I like about vox pop videos is that they’re so adaptable to a range of activities: while they could easily be used for a quick micro-listening activity or a ‘word hunt’ warmer as described above, they could also be used in the traditional gist – details – follow-up lesson shape:

  • Stage 1: the teacher board the two or three questions asked in the video on the board, uses tubechop to play the corresponding two or three extracts in which people answer the questions, the learners watch and match the extracts to the questions (Variation for a higher level group: the learners watch and guess the questions).
  • Stage 2: the learners do a micro-listening (fill in gaps focusing on one grammar feature) or a word hunt activity.
  • Stage 3: the questions are used for a speaking activity (either in pairs or mingling).

6. Watching the video without the sound

Heather McKay shared an activity that helps the learners to draw on the paralinguistic features in the clip (body language, context, facial expressions, etc). Before watching the clip with the sound, she plays it several times without the sound, for the learners to draft the dialogue/share their predictions with each other.

Here’s a sample clip she has used this approach with:

A useful source of such clips is Claudio Azevedo’s web sites/blogs: http://moviesegmentstoassessgrammargoals.blogspot.com/

7. Some thoughts on the role of assessment and a case study: following a news story

Two session participants, Tanja Debevc and Keith Murdiff, reported on their experience of what happens when authentic materials become part of the end-of-course exam. They have experienced a real positive backwash, as both the teachers and the learners want to target the type of material that the learners will be assessed with. A big challenge is, of course, designing graded exam tasks that the learners would cope with. Tanja shared a link to a book which features exam tasks for lower levels based on authentic materials.

What is more, their experience shows that the learners cope with a lot more than we assume they might cope with. In particular, Keith prepares his learners for an exam in which they need to follow a news story. This is why one of the tasks he sets to his learners is to choose a news story and listen to all news they can find related to the story (online and on the radio) over a period of time. Keith’s experience is that the learners have a lot of context (as he puts it, context is king), the learners are able to cope with, benefit from and enjoy difficult listening texts and discern a lot of detail. The learners are provided with a worksheet that focuses on story-key vocabulary, main actors and their role in the story, predictions on how the story will develop and a summary of the news. The learners use this framework to follow up on their listening in class, sharing with other class members.

8. Authentic listening (and speaking) out of class

I think that the idea for getting the learners to follow a news story outlined above exemplifies two key ingredients for encouraging listening to authentic materials out or class: the learners need specific ideas what to listen/watch and they need very specific tasks to do while they listen.

Recently I attended a webinar on encouraging learner autonomy by David Nunan in which he shared a number of case studies from a book they’d published a year ago. One of the stories he shared really brought home for me how important it is for the learners to be helped both with the ideas what to listen to and the tasks – I want to share it here albeit this story goes beyond the topics of listening and using authentic materials with lower levels. 

In one of the case studies presented by Nunan Mark Cadd, a researcher, was looking into the problem that many students who come back from a summer abroad don’t seem to have improved their language skills that much. The reason is often that they tended to spend time with other students studying a language but they weren’t interacting with the target community.

So he set up a program in which the learners were required, through 12 contact tasks, to interact with local residents and report her reflection back to the teachers.

Sample task
Task
: attend a festival or another public event celebrated in the culture. Speak with at least two members of the culture who are present. Choose two who are quite different, e.g. young vs old, male vs female, etc. Ask why the event is important.

Reflection: Which festival, fair, public event etc did you investigate? What is its history? Did you learn anything meaningful about the culture? If so, what? Did you notice any difference between your style of communication and theirs? If so, what were they? Did you have problems understanding them? If so, what did you do about it?

Reflection needed to be posted to a website available to the teacher and other students.

Cadd found that the fact that they were required to do these tasks was initially challenging and scary for the learners, but over time they found that their anxiety lowered and their confidence, fluency and cultural sensitivity improved. Furthermore, they were able to make connections between what they learned in the classroom and the language they were using out of the classroom.

This story made me think of my recent week-long visit to Germany: I love the language but I didn’t practice it at all. I thought how much easier it would be for me to strike up conversations and take advantage of the language environment if I was on a mission to collect evidence for a project – this would not only give me ideas what to look out for and what to talk about, but also serve as a passable conversation starter, and I would feel a lot less self conscious about asking people questions. I think this idea could and should be applied to the wider issue of scaffolding the learners’ interaction with the target culture, whether they live in a country where their target language is spoken, or interact with the culture on the Internet.

If you’d like to provide your learners with a ‘menu’ of resources they could explore out of class, you could find some useful links on this list that the participants of the EVO session complied – but we didn’t work on a menu of autonomous activities.

All in all, I’m extremely grateful to the participants of the #listeningEVO for the wealth of ideas they’ve shared on this topic. There’s everything here I could wish for: from really simple activities to help introduce authentic materials and build the learners’ confidence, to evidence that it’s possible to plunge the learners at the deep end, provided they get scaffolding and that the institution supports this with higher level decisions such as the contents of the exams. Lots to think about and try out in class. 

Here’s one more tutorial that was created for the EVO session on teaching listening.

In this 12 minute tutorial I demonstrate
(1) how to use quizzes on tubequizard.com
(2) how to create your own quizzes based on any subtitled YouTube video
(3) how to look for YouTube videos that contain high quality subtitles (i.e. subtitles that are not automatically generated).

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Here’s a quick (8 minutes to be exact) video tutorial on how to use Aegisub to work on listening decoding skills. I created this tutorial for our EVO session on teaching listening, but decided to post it here on my blog too, because, although I’ve already mentioned this tool in a couple of posts, I have a feeling that a demonstration might be worth a dozen screenshots.

In the tutorial I mentioned that you need a video and subtitles stored locally on your computer. I used a video and subs downloaded from MIT OpenCourseWare. Another way to get a video with subtitles is to choose a subtitled YouTube video and download the video and the subs using http://keepvid.com/.

The first week of the Electronic Village Online is in full swing! I’m co-moderating the session on teaching listening, and this week, under the guidance of Lizzie Pinard, we’ve started out with the topic of encouraging learner autonomy.

One great thing about online sessions like this one is that there are a lot of participants who share a wealth of tips about the activities and resources they use. From what I’ve read in our discussion threads, it seems that a lot of teachers encourage their learners to watch TED talks out of class, and the participants have suggested a variety of ideas for activities based on the talks.

What also often happens, however, is that the teacher recommends this resource but the learners don’t start using it – and the teacher kind of knows that they don’t, but they don’t even ask because that would be admitting failure (oh haven’t I been there a lot of times?) Below are my takeaways for how to avoid this problem and really help the learners start watching the talks out of class and get the most out of them

First of all, in her live session Lizzie offered some tips how to encourage the learners to start learning out of class in general:

  • provide the learners with a concrete ‘menu’ of things they can do out of class (a handout), because otherwise the learners will feel overwhelmed with the variety of resources out there;
  • educate the learners about the ways we learn languages (e.g. in class after we do a task, spend a few minutes discussing why it was done that way. One example is activating schemata before listening: the teacher could ask the learners to recall what the learners had done before listening, and then discuss how that task helped them to understand more). In general, the more insight the learners have into the way languages are learnt, the  more responsibility they will be able to take and the more efficiently they will be able to spend their out-of-class English time. For the same reason, in the ‘menu’ mentioned above it’s important to provide the learners with concrete ideas for activities that they can do while watching  the videos.
  • make learner autonomy a social experience: if you have lessons twice a week, devote 5 minutes every week to discussing in small groups what the learners have done out of class. At the beginning, predictably, a lot of them will be saying, ‘nothing’, but that doesn’t mean that the autonomy scheme isn’t working – the most important thing is to persevere

So, if we get back to TED talks, this means that

  • the learners need to try out a range of activities that they can use while watching TED talks;
  • they need opportunities to reflect about the effectiveness of these activities for their language learning;
  • they need the social experience of discussing the talks they’d watched out of class.

Below I outline ten ideas for tasks based on TED talks

  • Mind map the talk
  • Take notes using Cornell note-taking grid
  • Evaluate your level using a CEFR descriptor
  • Notice and learn key lexis in the talk
  • Work on your fluency using the 4-3-2 technique
  • Improve your listening and pronunciation by shadowing the speaker
  • Practice listening intensively with TubeQuizard
  • Analyze the speaker’s accent using TubeChop
  • Explore the talks on learning languages
  • Negotiate!

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NB To make this list easier to use, I decided to outline sample procedures – they might be quite different from the procedures used by the teachers who suggested the activity.

Before I describe the ideas themselves, here are some tips that work with all these ideas:

  • Introduce the activities over a period of time, one at a time
  • Always model the activity in class before assigning it for homework
  • After you model the activity get the learners to recall what they just did and discuss how this procedure helps them to learn the language. The more the learners understand about the way languages are learnt, the more responsibility they will be able to take for their learning.
  • When you assign the activity for homework, provide the learners with written instructions (e.g. a handout or instructions posted in the learners’ online space).
  • The easiest way to follow up on the activities done out of class is to get the learners to
    (1) retell the talk they’d watched to a partner (if the activity involved producing notes, they can use their notes while they’re retelling) and
    (2) get the learners to discuss what they felt while doing the activity and whether they feel it has learning value for them.
  • When the learners have tried out quite a few activities, reduce the amount of scaffolding to encourage autonomy: let them choose for themselves which tasks they’re going to do while watching the talks (and maybe negotiate with the group how often they’re going to report back to the class, etc).

Mind map the talk

Svetlana Bogolepova from Russia asks her students to analyze the structure of the TED talks they’ve watched and create a mind map of the talk.

Intro lesson:

Choose a (short) TED talk.

Do a topic-related warmer, and then tell the learners that they’re going to watch and analyze the structure of the talk. Tell them a one-sentence summary (e.g. ‘In this talk the person speaks about his experience doing something new for 30 days’) and ask the learners to predict what sub-topics the speaker is going to mention, e.g. why he did this? what things did he do for 30 days? 

The learners watch to check their predictions and then discuss in pairs. As a follow-up, the teacher boards their suggestions in the form of a mind map. The learners copy the mind map.

The learners watch again and add details to the mind map, compare their mind maps in pairs and report back to the whole class.

Finally, the learners

  • recall the procedure of the task (predicting the content, watching the talk once to identify the main points and putting them in writing, watching the talk a second time to note down details)
  • brainstorm the benefits of each step (e.g. predicting the content will allow you to ‘activate’ topic vocabulary).

A sample mind-map:

mindmap

At home

The learners find an interesting talk and create a mind map that reflects the structure of the talk.
Optionally, they upload a picture of the mind map to the group’s online space.

Follow-up

In pairs, the learners retell the content of the talk they’ve seen to a partner who hasn’t seen the talks (using their mind map), and discuss the talks.

Take notes using Cornell note-taking grid

This idea was shared by Jennifer Rueda from the United States. She gets her learners to reflect on the talks they watch by using the Cornell note-taking technique.

Intro lesson

  • Ask the learners how they usually take notes. How useful are their notes? Do they ever re-read them?
  • Tell the learners that they’ll try a new method called Cornell note-taking. Elicit what they know already about the method. Then give them an article that explains the method, e.g. this one. Get the learners to read the article and, in pairs, (1) compare how they understood the article (2) brainstorm 2-4 advantages and 1-2 disadvantages of the system.
  • Get the learners to draw the Cornell grid, watch a short TED talk and write their notes in the right-hand column. The learners compare in pairs and then fill out the rest of the grid. In new pairs, the learners compare their grids and discuss if they think this method is useful

At home (instructions for the learners):

Choose a TED talk, watch it and complete a Cornell grid.
[Optionally] upload a picture of their grid to the group’s online space

Follow-up lesson

In pairs, the learners show each other their grids, briefly retell the summary of the article and discuss whether they would like to continue using this note-taking method.

Evaluate your level using a CEFR descriptor

Sidney Martin Mota from Tarragona offers a variety of listening tasks for his learners to do autonomously (suggesting they watch news and TV shows, as well as TED talks), and links each task to the appropriate CEFR descriptor for the learners’ target level, e.g. a B2 descriptor for TED talks will be ‘I can follow the essentials of lectures, talks and report and other forms of complex academic or professional presentation in my field’.

At home 

The learners watch the talk and rate their performance of the descriptor on the scale of 1 to 5.

Follow-up lesson

  • The learners briefly share what their talk was about,
  • The learners report on how well they understood the talk
  • The teacher elicits and boards what kinds of problems prevented the learners from understanding the talk (e.g. insufficient vocabulary, etc)
  • In small groups, the learners discuss what activities they can do to work on overcoming the problems

Notice and learn key lexis in the talk

Pomilla Agarwal from India suggested a task in which the learners note down key expressions from the talk and then retell the talk using the expressions.

Intro lesson

  • Choose a short TED talk. Do a warmer, then set a gist task (e.g. the learners predict the content of the talk based on the title and then watch to check their predictions)
  • Open the interactive transcript (either on TED or on Youtube). Choose a collocation that is key to the talk (e.g. ‘do a challenge’). Board the sentence containing the collocation with some parts of the expression gapped out. Ask the learners what’s in the gap, then play the line for the learners to check. Play the line a few more times for them to notice the pronunciation of the expression and practice saying it together with the speaker.
    transcript
  • Refer the learners to the transcript and ask them two find 5-10 more expressions that are key to the text. Monitor to encourage them to notice more than one word (e.g. if they choose a noun, prompt them to look for the verb that goes with the noun).
  • Board the expressions that the learners have chosen. If there are too many, the learners choose which ones to wipe out.
  • Find the expressions in the interactive transcript to analyze and copy pronunciation.
  • Get the learners to summarize the talk using the expressions on the board (step 1: in writing; step 2: orally).

At home (instructions for the learners):

Find an interesting TED talk and watch it.
Look through the transcript and find 5-10 expressions that will help you summarize the talk. Try to look for multi-word expressions that you already understand but don’t use.
Use the interactive transcript to play the expressions; try to speak with the speaker to copy the pronunciation.
Practice giving a summary of the talk using the expressions.

Follow-up lesson 

The learners briefly report on the talk they’ve seen using the expressions they’ve chosen.

Work on your fluency using the 4-3-2 technique

In this task, the learners retell the talk 3 times, each time speaking faster (this is an activity that I really enjoyed doing with a group of teens).

At home (instructions for the student):

This task is a great way to work on your fluency. 

  • Find a TED talk that is interesting for you, watch it and take brief notes.
  • Retell the talk in 4 minutes
  • Check that you haven’t forgotten any important ideas by briefly looking through the transcript of the talk (alternatively, you could watch the talk one more time)
  • Retell the talk one more time, this time in 3 minutes. You’re working on fluency, so your goal is to retell the talk as fully as possible, but speak faster than last time.
  • Briefly look through the transcript again, and then retell the talk one more time, this time in 2 minutes. Again, your goal is to speak even faster than last time.
  • [optionally] Record the final attempt and upload it to the group’s online space.

Follow-up lesson:

  • In pairs, the learners retell the talk they’ve seen to their partner in 2 minutes. After that, allow a few more minutes to discuss the talks.

Classroom alternative: 

The learners watch the talks at home. After that, in class, they retell the talk they’d seen to a partner in 4 minutes. They change partners and retell it one more time in 3 minutes – don’t forget to explain the goal to them and stress that they need to speak faster. Finally, they retell the talk one more time to a new partner in two minutes.

Improve your listening and pronunciation by shadowing the speaker

This was the idea suggested by Lizzie that a lot of the session participants want to try out (especially since quite a few already have, successfully, either with their learners or as language learners).

In this (challenging) task the learners listen to an extract from the talk and simultaneously speak with the speaker, trying to copy their pronunciation. Read this post for the detailed procedure.

Practice listening intensively with TubeQuizard

At home (instructions for the learners, but first demonstrate the tool in class):

  • Find a talk that has English subtitles on Youtube. The talks with subtitles are labelled ‘CC’.
    ted_subs_1
    To check that the talk has English subtitles, click on ‘More’ under the video, choose ‘Transcript’ and look for ‘English’ (not ‘English – Automatic captions’).
    ted_subs_2
  • Watch the first 2-3 minutes of the talk without the subtitles for general understanding to make sure the topic is interesting for you.
  • Copy the Youtube URL of the talk. Go to http://www.tubequizard.com/add_quiz.php and insert the URL into the ‘Youtube video URL‘ field:
    tq_1
    Choose and do at least do 3-5 quizzes. While you’re doing a quiz, do you notice any features of the pronunciation of the grammar structure in the gaps? (E.g. how is ‘was’ pronounced in past continuous phrases? What happens to the ‘-ed’ endings of verbs in past simple?)
    Finally, watch the talk from the beginning to the end. (Click here to see the quizzes in the picture below.)

kr_tubequizard

ted_gapfill

Follow-up lesson

The learners retell the talk they’d watched to a partner and discuss the talk. They also share what grammar structures they listened to and what they noticed about the pronunciation of these structures.

Analyze the speaker’s accent using TubeChop

Maren Behrend from New Zealand gets her learners to improve their listening skills by transcribing a 30-60 second extract from the video and then using the transcript to check their work and analyze the speaker’s pronunciation, e.g. the weak sounds.

At home (instructions for the learners, but first model in class!)

  • Choose a TED talk with subtitles (see screenshots above).
  • Watch the first 1-3 minutes to make sure the video is interesting
  • If you feel that you need training in understanding the speaker’s accent, transcribe 3-4 sentences and analyze the speaker’s pronunciation. This is easier to do if you can replay a very short extract from the video. In order to do that, copy Youtube URL of your video, go to TubeChop, insert the URL and click  ‘chop it’. Choose a random 5-6 second extract from the video:

tubechop_1

Listen to the extract. If you can understand every word, choose another extract. If you can’t understand every word, click ‘chop it’ and you’ll get to the following window where you can replay any part of your 5-6 second extract (click here to try an example)

tubechop_3

Listen to the extract 4-10 times and write exactly what you hear. Go back to youtube, open the interactive transcript and find the extract in the transcript. With a different pen, copy the words that you didn’t catch.

Listen to the extract again on Tubechop and try to hear exactly how the speaker pronounces all words (to do that, replay individual words). Listen for

  • the sounds that the speaker doesn’t pronounce
  • the sounds that change from their dictionary form
  • the sounds that the speaker adds
  • the sounds that get attached to a different word

Mark these pronunciation features on your paper:

tubechop_4

Finally, put the words that you mark onto this grid (click here for a .pdf version or here for an editable .docx version of the grid):

grid_1

Repeat with 5-10 extracts, adding new words to the grid. Finally, watch the talk – after the work you’ve done, you should understand the speaker’s accent a lot better.

Explore the talks on learning languages

Anastasiia Gubarenko from Russia suggests to her learners that they watch videos that might actually help them turn into better learners (e.g. talks on how to become self-motivated)!

Also, the learners might benefit from watching the talks about strategies for learning languages autonomously.

Intro lesson:

Follow-up lesson
The learners retell the talks in groups of three and compare:

  • What ideas did all speakers mention?
  • Did any of the speakers contradict each other?

The teacher elicits and boards the ideas. The learners discuss which ones they’d like to try out and how they’d like to try them out (e.g. what will be the completion criteria? what are the best ways to incorporate these ideas into your existing life style?)

Negotivate!

This was an idea that Jenny Wright came up with: once the learners have been exposed to a range of strategies, they could negotiate which talk  (or a different resource) they will all watch next week and/or which combination of activities they will do. I think this is a wonderful idea because this seems to be a very natural way to get the learners to talk about the educational value of the activities.

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How about you – what are your favourite tasks to do with TED talks?

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that for those of my listening lessons in which the learners focus on decoding skills (i.e. transcribe part of the text and then actively analyze the speakers’ actual pronunciation), I vastly prefer to work with video and subs stored locally on my computer, because this allows me to use Aegisub to replay any word or phrase I wish. In my experience, hearing words in isolation makes it significantly easier for the learners to hear their actual pronunciation – the weak forms, elision, catenation and all the other features of connected speech.

I’ve just learned that This American Life, one of my favourite radio shows, has implemented a similar feature on their site.

If you click on ‘CUT THIS’, this opens up the transcript, where you can select any portion of the text and play it with word precision. tal_1

tal_2

The transcript is also searchable and long, so for instance if the learners couldn’t catch ‘used to’ from the first listen, there are eight more examples in this transcript alone for them to listen to and train catching (I normally turn this into a separate activity that follows the diagnostic transcription activity).

Not only this, they’ve also made it possible to share the snippet on social media or even to download it perfectly legally, e.g. if you want to create a listening gapfill (like this really nice listening discrimination activity by Anthony Schmidt).

And the best bit is that the listening material itself on This American Life is usually amazing – great human interest stories that a lot of teachers use anyway regardless of technology. Can’t wait to show this to my learners!

In a few days’ time, we’re starting an Electronic Village Online session on teaching listening. The session syllabus was heavily influenced by the following three articles:

Nunan, D. (2002). Listening in Language Learning. In Richards, J. and Renandya, W. (eds.) Methodology in Language Learning. An Anthology of Current Practice. Cambridge University Press.

Field, J. (2002). The Changing Face of Listening. In Richards, J. and Renandya, W. (eds.) Methodology in Language Learning. An Anthology of Current Practice. Cambridge University Press.

Hill, D. and Tomlinson, B. (2003). Coursebook Listening Activities. In Tomlinson, B. (ed.) Developing Materials for Language Teaching. Bloomsbury.  

Over the past few years I’ve been finding that I’m re-reading these three articles again and again. I’ve decided to collate the ideas and suggestions for classroom tasks and approaches that are offered in these three articles in one post. There are very few additions of my own, and they are in grey italics.

First of all, why teach listening? Here are the aims that Nunan, Field, Hill and Tomlinson mention:

  1. To provide input for the learner, as listening is necessary for language acquisition.
  2. To help the learners cope with the listening that is similar to the listening they will experience outside of class.
  3. To develop the learners’ awareness of the processes underlying their learning, so that they will be able to take greater and greater responsibility for that learning.

Collated below are some of the implications of these aims on listening instruction that the authors mention. The authors don’t suggest that we replace all our listening with these activity types – only that these activities are necessary.

  1. To provide input for the learner, as listening is necessary for language acquisition.

Language acquisition is maximized when the input is cognitively and/or affectively engaging and when the tasks promote multidimensional representations of the text – visualizing, inner speech, making connections to already known and affective response (Hill and Tomlinson, 2003).

Implications for listening instruction:

  1. What to listen to? To facilitate language acquisition, we need to use sources of input that have relevance to the learner, and which have affeсtive appeal and have the potential to engage the learner both cognitively and emotively. The learners need to have some control over the content of the lesson, and bring something to the task.
  2. Who to listen to? Not only coursebook CDs: other learners talking about something engaging (e.g. telling jokes/anecdotes), the teacher, guest speakers (e.g. other teachers, learners from other classes, invited speakers – in person or over phone/skype, etc) and materials chosen by the learners.
  3. What tasks facilitate intake of language from listening texts?  Tasks that don’t encourage concentration on ‘micro-features’ of the text (e.g. not comprehension questions focusing on specific details). The tasks that involve the learner in the listening event either as an interactant of a listener with a need or purpose. Tasks that to help the learners use mental processes that go beyond simply decoding and understanding what was said: imagining visually what we heard; using inner speech to repeat some of what we hear; connecting what we hear to our lives and to our knowledge of the word; responding affectively to what we hear.

Sample task 1 (Nunan): The learners listen to someone describing his/her work, and then collaborate to create a set of questions for interviewing this person.

The idea to interview a ‘mystery guest’ reminds me of a Facebook post I recently saw: a friend of mine had organized a Skype event for his secondary school students with students from Norway. One of his students got particularly excited by the event and said that, before this event, foreign people for her were very much like ‘aliens’.

Sample task 2 (Hill, Tomlinson): the learners listen to a story and retell the story to someone who hasn’t listened to it. This task is especially good for lower levels, because it focuses on what the learners did catch, and thus builds listening confidence.

The task in which different learners listen to different texts is called jigsaw listening. One very simple to use source of material for such tasks is Youtube videos that offer lists, e.g. ‘Top 10 places to see before they disappear‘ or a number or tips, e.g. ‘3 Tough Job Interview Questions And Answers’). A sample lesson might go like this: after a warmer, the learners listen to the beginning of the video for gist, to understand the overall topic, e.g. that they’re going to focus on tough interview questions. They they try to guess the content of the video, e.g. what questions the speakers will be talking about. They then split into three groups and each group listens to the answer to one question on their own devices, e.g. mobile phones – if necessary, replaying the bits of the video (in order to make sure that the learners listen to exactly the portion of the video they’re supposed to, use TubeChop.com). Finally, in new groups of three (one learner from each group), they share the tips they listened to, and discuss whether they agree with them.

Sample task 3: a teacher’s story. This was an approach a groupmate of mine Cecilia Lemos tried for her Delta Module 2 Listening LSA. The teacher tells a real story that happened to him/her. The learners compare what they understood in pairs, and then ask the teacher to repeat the parts they missed and/or to expand on some part of the story.

Sample task 4:  I tried to encourage visual imagination using the following activity. First, I asked the learners to imagine a rose and share what their rose looked like. Then they nominated a few more objects, imagined them and shared the visual details in pairs. After that, we listened to a story (e.g. this story from StoryCorps) – first for gist, and then line by line. After hearing each line the learners shared not only what they caught, but also the visual details of how they saw the scene in their inner eye. 

  1. Help the learners cope with the listening that are similar to the listening they will experience outside of class.

Listening outside of class is listening to authentic materials – that is, materials that haven’t been graded to the learners’ level and in which they can’t be expected to understand everything. Moreover, most authentic materials are unscripted (i.e. the speakers speak spontaneously), and such speech is normally more difficult phonologically than scripted materials found in most coursebooks.

Implications for listening instruction:

What to listen to? The learners, even at lower levels, need to listen to authentic materials at least occasionally

The learners also need to listen to the type of input they’re likely to listen to outside (e.g. being taught to do something they need/want to do; listening for information, e.g. weather forecasts; listening to radio/TV for enjoyment).

Finally, they also need to do some listening interactively (e.g. teaching somebody else to do something and listening to their questions and requests for clarification; taking part in discussions with friends about topics that interest them, etc).

What tasks help the learners cope with authentic materials?
Principle #1: grade the task, not the listening text.  
Principle #2: the goal is not for the learners to arrive at ‘correct answers’, but to (1) equip the learners with listening strategies, and (2) to diagnose the source of listening difficulties in order to do remedial practice.

Sample task 1 (Field, focus: an authentic level activity for lower levels – an example of grading the task not the text). The learners listen to a recording of a real-life conversation between a fruit vendor and a customer. The task is to write down the vegetables mentioned.

Sample task 2 (Field; focus: listening strategies). The learners listen and write down the words they understand. They form and discuss inferences, listen again and revise their inferences, and then check them against what the speaker says next. This procedure reflects the effective L2 listening strategy (less effective L2 learners might see the need to guess something as a failure, or might not be accustomed to revising their inferences).

Sample task 3 (Field; focus: phonetic features of the target language which are likely to cause decoding problems for L2 listening). The teacher plays a sentence from the listening text, for the learners to transcribe. The teacher and the learners analyze which words are difficult for the learners to catch, e.g. weak forms (/wəz/ for ‘was’, /tə/ for ‘to’). Later he/she plays a series of very short extracts that all contain the problematic feature, for the learners to transcribe. The learners write them down, compare their understanding and then listen again. The discussion phase is necessary to make listening a less isolating and more interactive activity.

Sample task 4 (Nunan; focus: learning to listen interactively): The teacher takes a coursebook monologue and edits out one side of the conversation. The learners listen and write the second side of the conversation. After this, they compare the resulting conversations in pairs.

  1. Develop learners’ awareness of the processes underlying their learning, so that they will be able to take greater and greater responsibility for that learning (Nunan).

Implications for listening instruction:

To take an active part in their learning, first of all, the learners need to be aware of the instructional goals. Secondly, they need to be taught and learn to flexibly adopt a variety of listening strategies.

In real life we normally have some idea what we’ll hear about – so when they listen in class, the learners need to prepare for listening tasks (e.g. be given the topic and predict what they’ll hear, to activate schemata and raise motivation to listen).

In real life we also very rarely listen to ‘understand everything’. We might be listening for enjoyment with no task (although we might choose to retell the most interesting bits to a friend). We might listen selectively, assessing if the extract is interesting or relevant, and ‘zooming in’ and ‘out’, i.e. listening to more relevant parts a lot more attentively. Changing ‘the mode’ of listening is a separate skill that needs to be practiced. 

Suggestion 1 (Hill, Tomlinson): the learners analyze what they do when listening experientially (e.g. to television) in the L1. They’re then encouraged to try listening in the same ways when experiential listening is appropriate in the L2.

Suggestion 2 (Nunan): get the learners to listen to the same text several time, each time with a different (increasingly difficult) task. E.g. they listen to a news broadcast reporting a series of international events. Task 1: gist (identify the countries). Task 2: match the places with the list of events. Task 3: listen for detail, discriminating between specific aspects of the event, or comparing the radio broadcast with newspaper accounts of the same events and noting factual differences or the differences of emphasis.

_______________

Finally, here’s a sample lesson plan that I find very inspiring. The plan comes from the article by David A. Hill and Brian Tomlinson and it incorporates work on all three aims listed above: it encourages the learners to concentrate on their feelings in relation to the text, use visual imagination and provide a lot of the content themselves; it incorporates the use of authentic materials; finally, it includes a focus on listening strategies. 

Lesson plan (spans two lessons).

In the first lesson the learners are told that they’re going to plan their visit to a country. They look at some photos and then listen to information about the country, deciding what they find interesting and what they want to do. They mingle to find people who want to do similar things and work together to plan their visit, listen to the extract again and revise their plans. For homework, they imagine their trip to the country – some things went very differently from the information in the listening extract!

In lesson 2, in the same groups they tell each other about their imagined trips and prepare a presentation about their trips and all the problems they encountered. After listening to each other’s presentations, the learners listen one more time to the extract and spot all the ‘wrong’ information. In new groups, they write a better script with information about the country and record a new extract. They listen to each other’s extracts, give each other constructive criticism and scores out of 20 and determine a winner.

Finally, the learners go mentally through both lessons, reflect on all kinds of listening skills they needed to use in the activities. The skills are boarded, after which each group focuses on one skill to prepare a presentation: describe the skill, give examples of when it’s useful and give advice on how to develop and use the skill. Finally, the learners give the group a listening task which involves using the skill.

Have you ever heard of EVO (Electronic Village Online)? These are five-week free professional development sessions that take place at the beginning of every year.

This year I’m extremely excited to invite you to an EVO session on Teaching listening that was developed by Lizzie Pinard, Elena Wilkinson, Jennie Wright, Sheila Thorn, Richard Cauldwell, Richard Chinn, Marina Kladova and me.

evosession

The topics we’re going to cover are:

  • encouraging autonomous listening out of class
  • the structure and the dos and don’ts of a traditional listening lesson
  • beyond the comprehension approach: critical thinking and high order thinking (HOT) listening tasks
  • classroom activities and tech tools for teaching listening decoding skills

This is going to be an very practical session and every week the participants will get the chance to

  • share and discuss their experience and tips teaching a particular aspect of listening with English teachers from around the world,
  • read articles and watch videos on the week’s topic and
  • design a listening activity informed by research, try it out and get feedback from other participants and session moderators.

Over the course of five weeks, the participants will also expand their knowledge of online resources and tech tools for teaching listening.

To read more about our syllabus, the team of moderators and for the information how to enrol, visit this page. If you’d like to connect and discuss teaching listening matters with other session participants on Facebook, feel free to join our group.

Also, check out the remaining 15 exciting EVO sessions on a variety of topics, including using QR Codes in ESL/EFL classes, experiential learning for teacher trainers, using technology for Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), teaching English to young learners, using Minecraft to teach English, conducting classroom-based research, teaching pronunciation differently, and more. 

Hope to see you at EVO 2017!

In this post I’m sharing with you TubeQuizarda new free Youtube-based service that makes it possible to (1) find Youtube videos that contain a large number of examples of target grammar and vocabulary and (2) automatically create listening quizzes that allow learners to practice catching this language in authentic speech. It also features a collection of over 80 ready-made Grammar for listeners and Pronunciation for listeners quizzes.

I’ll also

  • briefly explain the rationale behind the service and explain why I think listening practice belongs in grammar lessons
  • explain how to look for videos using the service and share some tips how to consistently incorporate receptive grammar practice into your course
  • share six key questions that I ask myself when deciding if a video that I found through this service will provide good input for my learners.

What are listening decoding skills and what do they have to do with grammar?

So to start with, if the term ‘listening decoding skills’ doesn’t sound familiar, here’s a quick recap. Listen to this short extract from an interview with Daniel Radcliffe (2 min 16 seconds to 2 min 39 seconds) and notice the way the words highlighted in the transcript are pronounced:

I’d rather know eight reason why you’re a terrible boyfriend.
Okay, I can do…
We don’t have to do eight.
I was going to say eight is like… I want to give myself somewhere to go in the public’s
estimation like… I can come up with a few.

You could notice that can was pronounced very close to /kn/, was to /wz/ and don’t lost the /t/ at the end. According to research, these and other features or real life pronunciation (very weak pronunciation of the schwa in functional words, the loss of /t/ at the end of a word, etc) tend to make it very difficult for the learners to catch –decode – the words that contain them. I myself discovered well past reaching C2 level of English that what I wasn’t catching in British and American series were very ‘basic’ words like ‘cn’ (can) and ‘thz’ (there’s), ‘ut’ (out) and ‘dosy’ (does he). What is more, not only are these features challenging, they’re extremely frequent – for example, it is difficult to think of a grammar topic at A2 – B2 levels that isn’t associated with one of these features. For instance, regular verbs in 2nd and 3rd form lose ‘-ed’ ending, past continuous contains weakly pronounced ‘was’ and ‘were’, and so on and so forth.

How to make sure the learners can catch these words despite their pronunciation? Awareness raising is one important step, but it’s not enough because decoding these pronunciation features in real time is a skill that needs to be practiced. The books on teaching listening (notably, Listening in the Language Classroom by John Field and the Real Lives Real Listening series by Sheila Thorn) make a strong point that learners need intensive decoding practice, i.e. short exercises during which they transcribe decontextualized phrases that contain the same feature. My own and my learners’ experience convinced me that intensive practice is indeed extremely efficient – the learners report that they feel progress after decoding about a dozen instances.

This is why I feel rather strongly that whenever we cover a grammar feature with my learners, I really ought to give them a chance to listen to this grammar feature in authentic speech, focus on the way it’s pronounced and then practice decoding this feature.

Basic functionality of TubeQuizard

Now, what material can I use to give my learners listening decoding exercises targeting features of grammar? John Field recommends simply reading out sentences for the learners to transcribe, but that doesn’t really work with my learners because they generally understand my accent too well. Also, the coursebooks that I use don’t feature any listening decoding tasks (although there’s at least one coursebook that does – check out Nagivate!) This is why about three years ago I started creating intensive listening decoding quizzes from scratch using free audio editing tools like Audacity to locate and cut out 2-5 second extracts with target language. As you can imagine, those first listening decoding exercises took me ages to create.

Around that time Kirill Sukhomlin, a software developer at my company, offered to help me automate this work. What followed was almost three years of collaboration that resulted in a service that we dubbed TubeQuizard. Below is a video demonstrating its basic functionality: looking for words and expressions in Youtube subs. You’ll notice that our service is similar in concept to a variety of other services out there:

  • Ted Corpus Search engine, which searches for words and expressions in TED videos (both on TED.com and on TED youtube channel);
  • YouGlish, which searches for words and expressions in Youtube subs;
  • PlayPhrase.me, which  searches for words and expressions in popular TV series.

What I am lacking in all those services is the ability to exploit them for listening work by looking more than one word / expression at a time and creating listening gap-fills.

So as you will see in the video, TubeQuizard allows one to look for and play

  • individual words, e.g. someone saying awesome
  • expressions, e.g. I’m not sure 
  • alternatives, e.g. someone saying awesome or amazing
  • any word using * as a wildcard, e.g. a * of will return a whole range of expressions, like ‘a lot of‘, ‘a bit of‘, etc.

You can also tick the ‘Create a quiz’ box to generate a listening gap-fill that will look something like this:

a-_-of

Looking for examples of grammar structures using TubeQuizard

Combining alternatives and wildcards one can find a variety of grammar structures. For example, the following search will return lots of examples of questions in present simple: (do|does) (you|they|I|he|she|it|we) (want|mean|know|think). However, in my experience new users find it quite difficult to formulate such searches, so we’ve been working on filters – click on ‘Grammar filters’ under the search field to pick a grammar structure you’d like to find. Just like in the example above with present simple questions, we use lists of top frequency vocabulary for the filters, so the resulting quizzes can be meaningfully attempted even by lower level learners (I normally start at A2).

filters

Incorporating focus on decoding grammar into your teaching using TubeQuizard

So now that I can look for examples of grammar features, what can I do with them? I think there are at least three options:

Option 1.

Supplement regular video-based activities (e.g. video-based discussions) with a focus on decoding skills (either in class or done for homework). In order to make this easier to do, we’ve created a feature that can be accessed under the Train with your video tab. If you have a subtitled Youtube video, insert a URL and we’ll automatically run it through all our filters and generate the quizzes for you. I always check one of the quizzes to make sure that the subs are in sync with the video. Below is a video that demonstrate this functionality – you can check out these quizzes here.

Just in case you don’t know how to look for subtitled videos on Youtube: run your search, then click on ‘Filters’ right above your search results, choose ‘Subtitles/CC’.

subtitled-videos

Option 2.

Provide the learners with fully decontextualized practice of target grammar – i.e. during a lesson on, say, past simple, get the learners to spend around five minutes doing a video-based gapfill without working with the videos in any other way. It’s true that one has to think twice before doing decontextualized work, but I think there’s a case for using this type of exercise provided that it’s kept brief and provided that the teacher uses it to encourage the learners to notice the features of pronunciation associated with the grammar structure – in this case, elision of the /d/ and /t/ sounds at the end of the verbs.

Option 3.

Find a video that contains a lot of instances of target grammar and build a whole lesson around the video. This is the most time-consuming option and it’s rather tricky because, as Chris Jones rightfully pointed out on twitter, a random video would not always engage the learners.

To make it less time-consuming to find the right video, we’ve implemented a few filters, accessible under the channel tub. You can specify the topic, e.g. Business / Entertainment / Films (trailers) / News, etc. You can also look for short videos and specify a minimum number of instances of the grammar structure in the video. For example, in the screen cast below I’m looking for videos that

  • contain at least five instances of modals (can|could|should|must) * and
  • are no longer than 3 minutes

Some key lessons I’ve learnt about choosing the videos and working them

A while ago I posted a lesson plan based around the video that I found in the screen cast above. I think it took me less than 5 minutes to find the video – although creating the lesson plan itself was a lot more time-consuming. The lesson was based on the following video of a speaker talking about the features of his favourite mobile browser. It went really well with my learners (and the follow-up which allowed them to talk about technology that they can’t stand worked even better :)).

Generally, I’ve been using a lot of video-based activities lately, now that I can easily find video snippets that exemplify the language that I want to target. Below are six key questions that I ask myself when planning a video-based lesson.

1. Does the video that I’ve found provide a useful model for a task? In other words, are the speakers doing something that my learners might want to do?

The video above was a useful model for my learners who sometimes need to explain why they like / chose to use a certain technology.

2. Would the challenge presented by the video lie in the features of pronunciation or in the language used in the video? In other words, would the learners have trouble reading the transcript?

If the video contains too much vocabulary and grammar structures above the learners’ level, it won’t be appropriate. Unfortunately, with lower levels this eliminates most Educational videos.

3. Is the speakers’ accent clear enough for my learners to cope with it?

This is based entirely on intuition and experience. As a rough pointer, in my experience Pre-Intermediate learners need a video like the one above: one speaker talking extremely clearly, preferably filmed in a studio. B1-B1+ learners will need something a bit less well-articulated, but still something that generally sounds very clear to me, like this video. I feel that the majority of talks on channels like Talks at Google and TED Talks fall under this category. For levels B2 and higher, it actually becomes rather difficult to find videos that will be challenging for them to transcribe because most talks and interviews are too clear. The video in this post and this interview with Elon Musk are good examples of the level that was right for my B2 – C1 students. Also, the videos in the Entertainment and Films categories tend to be quite challenging.

4. Is the grammar feature that I want to explore through the video essential for the task that is suggested by the video?

For the video in the example above, the answer was yes, modals are key to talking about the features of the browser.

5. What other language features in the video are key to the task?

The video above contains a lot of expressions for listing – key to enumerating a number features, so we focused on this language too.

6. What scaffolding will the learners need?

Here are my top tips here.

First, the beginning of the video is crucial. Often that’s where the speakers set the context and explain what the video is about, and if the learners don’t get these few sentences, they will be lost and won’t cope with the gist task. Unfortunately, the first sentences are also the most challenging, because the learners haven’t got used to the speaker’s accent yet. Possible task types:

  • give the learners the print-out of the first few sentences with gaps, to listen and fill in before watching the video
  • scramble the sentences – the learners unscramble and then listen and check. To make it less challenging, don’t scramble into individual words – keep chunks, e.g. 
    hi / one of the / I’m / my name is Leland / user experience designers on Android
  • get the learners to transcribe the sentence

Second, what comprehension tasks can I give to the learners? I normally try to replicate the real life experience – i.e. I don’t give the learners any questions in advance. Instead, they watch the beginning, predict what they will see and then check their predictions.

Third, what scaffolding do they need with the meaning, form and pronunciation of target grammar? I won’t go into meaning and form here, but I’d like to comment on pronunciation. As I pointed out before, I feel that these authentic videos provide me with a crucial opportunity to get the learners to notice what sounds are missing from the natural pronunciation of target grammar and train catching them in real life. On the other hand, I’ve observed a good number of lessons and I notice that a lot of teachers tend to scrap pronunciation work altogether. So my top tip is to make sure that there is focus on pronunciation, and also that the learners do a listening decoding quiz during which they tell you what target language sounds like in authentic speech. I also focus on pronunciation of any other useful language that we explore. In this lesson, we were looking at expressions for listing, like one of the things I like / another thing I like / the last thing I like this language naturally prompted focus on sentence stress.

———–

Phew, I wonder if this was the longest post on this blog? I do hope that other teachers and learners of English find this service useful. Let me know what you think I myself can play with it for hours on end and have learnt an incredible lot about English discourse, the use of lexis, pronunciation and what not. And I can’t express how grateful I am to Kirill who has invested hundreds of hours of his free time into creating this tool.

I might write more posts about how I’ve been using the service in the next few weeks. I’ll also be doing a workshop for IATEFL Business English Special Interest Group on 10 December about the ways I’ve used it with Business English learners. If you’re interested, you’re very welcome to join!

A lot of posts on this blog are listening lessons and worksheets. In this post I wanted to share a story that is related to listening, but doesn’t involve teaching any decoding skills, or actually any language teaching at all.

A while ago I was teaching an A2 group of IT professionals. One of the learners had just joined a project with a British customer, and the customer was visiting the office, giving several hours’ worth of presentations every day. We’d done a couple of lessons on authentic listening with that group, but of course the task of following several hours of presentations every day would be exceptionally challenging at A2 level and I seriously doubted that the learner would cope.

At one point I met him in the corridor and asked how he was doing. He beamed and said, ‘Thanks! It worked!’ At first I was at a complete loss what he meant, but then I remembered that I’d met him a couple of days before and he’d complained that he was getting extremely tired in those meetings and couldn’t follow at all after about 30 minutes. This was only to be expected of course, but I thought of some finger fitness exercises that I had used in order to relax while I was preparing for my Delta exam, and so I showed them to my learner on the off chance that they would help.

And apparently they did help. Actually, it’s pretty obvious that for that learner the 2 minutes that he spent learning those exercises were a lot more useful than the two 90-minute lessons on authentic listening that he’d had, and I don’t quite know what to make of this fact. I’ve taught a few courses devoted exclusively to listening, and among all the decoding and meaning-building work it had never occurred to me to teach my learners anything of the sort, although I know that a lot of them have to listen in on long meetings and that they must get extremely tired. It’s almost like, no matter how principled the approach and how comprehensive the syllabus, there will always be a gaping hole in it which I might only notice by chance. Also, one of the reasons I avoid showing these finger fitness exercises to my learners is that I fear to be thought a complete freak. I guess at least this problem is now solved, as next time I teach a group, I could simply tell them this story and let them decide for themselves if they’d like to try out ‘the freaky finger yoga’ or not..

 

I’ve posted quite a few listening lessons on this blog, and up to now they were all worksheets meant to be used by a teacher in class. This time I’m sharing an online self-study lesson, for B1 level and higher, that allows learners to explore the features of connected speech and train listening decoding at their own pace. The lesson is based on a snippet from an interview with Malcolm Gladwell, an American journalist, at Toronto Public Library.

Lesson_gladwell

The web tool that I used to build this lesson is still in a bit of experimental stage (e.g. unfortunately right now you can’t save or print out your answers, and there might be other minor snags). Still, I hope that it will be useful for learners who need to train themselves to understand fast authentic speech.

If you try the lesson, I’d be very grateful for your feedback.