This is part of a series of posts on teaching listening comprehension. In the previous post I outlined the procedure that I’ve been using in my listening lessons.
I ‘landed’ on this procedure back in March when, halfway through another listening course, which I was really struggling with, I came to class with an authentic interview, a transcript and only a vague idea for how I wanted to work with them. There was only one student in class, I supported him as best I could and at the end of the class he said he felt that he’d achieved great progress over those 90 minutes. So I reused the procedure again and again and eventually ended up using it as the basis for a whole new listening course (which I’ve really enjoyed teaching, as the students’ progress and the feedback I’ve been getting are just great).
Here’s that initial lesson that worked – I’ve taught it 3 more times since then. The lesson is based around this video:
Levels: B2/C1 (B1+ students who feel the need to understand Australian accent will cope with this lesson too)
Length: 90 minutes
Lesson type: listening
In this post you’ll find
- an outline of the features of connected speech which make this video challenging for language learners, along with
- suggestions for how to explain these features to your learners
- a listening lesson plan. In this lesson the students will get a chance to notice these features of connected speech and get used to the way they ‘distort’ some high-frequency words
- the accompanying worksheet
Features of connected speech
This section outlines the most prominent features of connected speech in this speaker’s accent (all audio samples exemplifying the feature come from the video). As I said above, I’ve taught this lesson four times, at a variety of levels, and I’ve invariably found that these were the features that consistently make it difficult even for C1 students to catch some very high frequency words and expressions (e.g. ‘like’ or ‘and then’).
- Elision and glottal stops (tha’ for ‘that’, u’ for ‘up’, las for ‘last’, etc)
- ‘weak’ form of ‘was’: /wz/
- shortened adverbs: (ash for actually, orignlly for originally, etc)
- frequent chunks (was like, and then, sort of, etc)
- ‘Tongue gymnastics’ (s + j gets replaced with sh + j; z + j, with zh + j)
1. Elision and glottal stops
NB If for some reason the audio samples here are not displayed, you’ll find all of them on my audioboo page.
p/k/t /d (so-called plosive consonants) disappearing or getting almost inaudible at the end of words: qui[te], u[p], li[ke], las[t], jus[t], etc
The following extract from the video contains quite a few examples of this feature:
0:16 As part of the tour grou[p] you go along an[d] they offer you extra
0:19 activities a[t] each differen[t] location.
0:20 Tha[t] was one tha[t] popp ed_up an[d]_I though[t], “Why no[t]?”
Here you can listen to individual words in isolation:
an[d]_they offer you
a[t] each differen[t] location
tha[t] (in ‘that was one’)
ed_up (in ‘popped up’)
tha[t] was one tha[t] popped_u[p]
Explaining this feature to students:
I ask the students to pronounce the word ‘that’, and then say it again but not release the air at the end. Then they repeat the same with ‘up’ and with ‘like’.
2. ‘weak’ form of ‘was’ : /wz/
originally I was
Some frequently used adverbs get shortened: ash (actually), orignlly (originally), etc
originally I was
and actually looked over the edge
Listen to ‘actually’ in isolation:
4. Frequent chunks
Highly frequent chunks pronounced as one word, very fast and somewhat differently from their dictionary form:
- ‘I was like‘ for reporting thoughts pronounced ‘uwzli[ke]’;
- ‘and then‘ (pronounced ‘[a]nthen’)
- ‘soft of’
He’s like, ‘Right, have you got any last words?’
I was like, ‘Bubbles are going this way, follow the bubbles.’
I was like, ‘Who would be calling me from Canberra?’
and then (when you)
you sort of
your brain sort of flicks
5. Tongue gymnastics (juncture)
When followed by /j/, /s/ and /z/ can be replaced with sh and zh: this year -> thish year; cause you -> cauzh you, etc
as_you go off
cause you’re going really quickly
As_you run out of oxygen
Explaining this feature to the students:
I ask the students to say ‘as’ and ask them where their tongue touches the roof at ‘s’ (near the teeth). I demonstrate the position of the tongue with my hands, like this:
After that, I ask them to say ‘you’ and ask them where the tongue touches the roof at ‘y’ (closer to the throat). I demonstrate the position of the tongue with my hands and then show with my hands the transition from s to y, which looks like a jump – like some kind of ‘gymnastics’. I say that it’s difficult to do this sort of gymnastics when you’re speaking fast and demonstrate with my hands the ‘midway’ position of the tongue, where zh and sh are pronounced.
- if you want to play the video on your computer, you’ll need to download tbe video and the subtitles from youtube and install Aegisub
- you don’t need to read anything other then this post to teach this lesson, but if you need support downloading the video, using the interactive transcript on youtube and/or Aegisub, or if you’d like to adapt this procedure to use it with a different video, check out this post in which I explain in detail how to do this
Procedure (task numbers refer to the corresponding tasks in the worksheet):
Stage: Warm-up (Task 1)
Tell the students that they’re going to work on their listening skills in this lesson and that they’re going to watch an interview with a student. Ask them to brainstorm the topics she might talk about (my students normally suggest: studying, parties, relationships, travel, etc).
Stage: pre-teaching vocabulary (Tasks 2 – 4)
Project the following word cloud or refer the students to Task 2 in the worksheet; tell the students that this word cloud was produced from the transcript of the interview and that the words that were used more times are bigger. Ask the students to look at the word cloud and guess which of the topics they’d predicted will come up in the interview. Reply to any queries about vocabulary.
- Vocabulary that is very useful for understanding the interview and so worth clarifying (Task 3): cord (a thick rope); be stuck (can’t be moved); snap (break into pieces); yank on something (pull something sharply); bubbles
Stage: Gist & initial diagnostics (~10 minutes) (Task 5)
With stronger groups (B1+ and higher), I play the video twice: first time without showing the video; the second time, with the video.
The students watch the interview and discuss in pairs what they caught. I listen in and then conduct brief feedback (3 mins), establishing the main facts and the main points the students are still uncertain about, but without spending too much time, without correcting anything the students have misheard or letting the students listen for the second time. I also ask the students how challenging they found the speaker (all my students, even those ad Advanced level, found this speaker very challenging).
Stage: Transcribing & diagnostics (~25 minutes) (Task 6)
The following several stages are done without the projector – the students won’t need the video, which would only be distracting.
- Students listen to the first part of the interview line by line, filling in gaps in the transcript
- At the end of the stage, the students listen to the part that they have just transcribed again, just to overview what they’ve done and experience understanding the speaker. This ministage takes little time but it’s crucial for the students’ motivation and sense of progress.
Use either Aegisub or the interactive transcript on youtube to replay the lines.
Youtube interactive transcript
Varying the level of challenge
The worksheet for lower level students (B1/B1+) indicates where and how many words are missing, whereas the worksheet for more advanced students (B2/B2+) does not. C1 students can be asked to transcribe the extract without the support of a gapped text.
|The task for B1/B1+ students
||The task for B2/C1 students
|0:02I’d __________ finished uni.
||0:02I’d finished uni.
||0:02I’d just finished uni.
|0:03__________ I __________ __________ __________ going to Europe __________ __________ I remembered __________ __________ __________ cold over there so decided
||0:03I going to Europe I remembered cold over there so decided
||0:03Originally I was looking at going to Europe and then I remembered that it’s actually cold over there so I decided
|0:07__________ __________ somewhere __________ __________ __________. I started off in Egypt – so I spent two weeks
||0:07somewhere. I started off in Egypt – so I spent two weeks
||0:07I’d head somewhere a bit warmer. I started off in Egypt – so I spent two weeks
The goals of this stage are
- for the teacher to identify what features of connected speech really do pose difficulty for the students in the group and to collect some highly frequently used words that students in the group fail to catch
- for the students to (a) discover that some very high frequency English words are difficult to catch (b) to hear how these words are really pronounced in fast speech and gain an insight into why this happens
Therefore, it’s very important to
- make sure that everyone in the groups says what they caught and not just the strongest listeners in the group. I normally remind the students that we’re diagnosing their listening difficulties at this stage and insist that I want to board every single version of what’s in the gap
- whenever the students fail to catch some words/chunks that are distorted due to the features of connected speech outlined above, play the line again, elicit how these words/chunks sound, explain why the word undergoes those changes
- to help the students to make sense of various features of connected speech, set aside a section of the board to build up a list of words that get distorted in a similar way . Halfway through this stage my board looks something like this:
NB Don’t forget to play this part of the video again before going on to the next stage (Task 7)!
Stage: Intensive training with specific words and expressions (20 minutes) (Task 8)
Say that you’re going to play more examples of the problematic expressions collected on the board.
Here are the features of connected speech and corresponding examples that I focus on working on this video (play only examples that come up after 0:49, because the earlier examples will have come up during the transcription stage):
- glottal stop/elision
Word/expression: just (pronounced ‘js’) – 3 lines; that (pronounced ‘tha[t]’); what; out (often pronounced ‘ut’); it (this one is very challenging so only do it with a strong group
- weak ‘was’ + chunks
was like (after that I also play a few examples of ‘like’ without ‘was’); I was
- frequent chunks
- reduced adverbs
- /z/ sound replaced with zh:
as you, cause you (3 samples)
Work with each feature of connected speech in the following way:
- pick a word/chunk that exemplifies the feature – ideally it should be one of the words collected at the previous stage (e.g. to focus on the weak was, you could choose was like)
- direct the group to this word on the board
- ask the class to remind him/her what the expression should sound like in fast speech (/wzlaɪ’/)
- ask them to listen to just one line that contains this word/chunk and catch just that word/expression (‘listen and catch just /wzlaɪ’/). Use the interactive transcript feature on youtube or Aegisub if you’re playing the video locally to find and play the relevant lines (again, see this post if you’re not sure how to do that).
- those students who have caught it, should try and catch the words around the expression (do board the task!)
Each time, I play the line two or three times, making sure that everyone in the group has caught the expression. If someone says they haven’t, I normally
- react to that enthusiastically (Cool, that’s the reply I was expecting!) to encourage weaker students to signal their difficulties
- help the students who haven’t caught the expression by, e.g., playing the line again, stopping it right before the word, saying it the way the speaker is going to say it and then playing the word (alternatively, you can play the word in isolation – again, see below for details how to do that
After that, I encourage the stronger students to supply what’s around the expression (sometimes new features of connected speech get identify and immediately make it to the corresponding part of the boards).
Stage: Transcribing (Task 9)
Do one more short transcribing task to allow the students to use the skills trained in the previous stage.
Stage: Listening line by line, listening for the meaning – 15 minutes (Task 10)
Ask the students to cover the transcript (I hand out colour paper :)). The students practice listening to a sentence or more from the text once and trying to understand the meaning. Stress that their task here is not to transcribe word for word / remember the sentence verbatim but to catch the meaning.
The students listen to the sentence once and, in pairs, discuss what they caught (I usually assign them letters – student A and student B – and ask them to take turns to report what they’ve heard, to encourage weaker students to pull their weight). Through that the students scaffold each other and you get a chance to assess how much they understood.
No feedback is necessary here – after the students have talked about what they caught for 20 seconds or so, tell them that they are about to hear the sentence again. Ask them not to discuss it this time (although in my experience some pairs will) but instead to read the line right after they’ve heard it, underlining everything they didn’t catch.
After that, ask them to play the line again in their head (Prepare to listen to it again and understand it without looking at the text). Before playing one more time, remind the students that you want them to listen without reading.
Repeat with the next line. If the students find the task too easy, play longer stretches (two lines, then three lines at a time).
Stage: Watching the same extract again (Task 11)
This stage is pretty straightforward: switch the projector on and let the students watch the entire extract again – having worked with the video, they will understand more or less every word.
Stage: Revision – 5 minutes (Task 12)
Ask the students to mentally go through what they did in the lesson, what features of connected speech they’d focused on and what else they learnt (any new insight into what makes listening difficult? new vocabulary? strategies for developing listening skills?); encourage them to remember specific examples; having thought for a minute, the students share in pairs.
If you use these materials, please let me know how it went! As always, I’ll also be very grateful to hear any suggestions how to improve this lesson.
Wondering what to read next? Check out this list of links to youtube channels in a variety of genres that have subtitled videos – you can use any of those videos to give listening lessons similar to the one described in this post, with minimal preparation (I recommend using interviews and not films or other video types, though). By the way, I’m still looking for more youtube channels to add to my list, so if you know of some channels that have subtitled videos, please do share!