ISSUES 6 Abstract Vol. 21, June 2008

Vol. 21, June 2008
Practical Tips on
how to Teach Listening
by Vicky Malteza
sec.ed. state school teacher,
MA in English Language Teaching (University of Reading, UK)
email: [email protected]
How do we teach Listening? Or, to put the question
better, do we really teach Listening per se? Based on
personal experience on the issue, I feel confident to
assert that Listening is hard to teach and, when taught,
it more often than not coincides with teaching Reading
Skills. This is simply because Listening is not confined
to perceiving language samples via tape or cd. Reading
aloud in class, playing a film without subtitles,
understanding oral instructions, participating in oral
discussions or dialogues involve a great deal of
Listening, too. In this article, I will try to present some of
the ways in which teachers can enhance their students'
Listening Skills. At the same time, I will provide practical
examples of how this can be achieved by making use of
the limited means we possess in a traditional
coursebook-oriented English language class.
At the outset, I feel tempted to highlight that most
EFL teachers do not teach Listening Skills as such,
either because they do not duly appreciate the
importance of the particular Skill in promoting the rest
of the Skills (that is Reading, Writing and Speaking) or,
simply, because they find class time insufficient. Others
might believe it is a Skill simulating to some kind of
talent which means that some children/adults have it
inherently, while others do not. In either case, it might
be argued that practising vigorously will not change the
results dramatically. Whatever the classroom situation
and regardless of any teaching convictions, it is worth
trying to teach the Skill, both separately and, also, along
with the other three Skills, in and out of the class with
assigned tasks. Below follows my suggestion.
Doing the Listening Task in the Coursebook
Teaching in a Coursebook-based class invariably
brings us to the Listening section where we have to play
the tape or cd and do the assigned task. Before
listening we raise the students' expectations and give
them a reason for Listening. This is normally called the
pre-listening part and/or the instructions for the
particular task. Following the coursebook's order, we
first read the instructions and then do the task. Another
way of doing it is simply asking students to close their
books, listen to a dialogue or text being read, and take
notes on a sheet of paper in order to make the listening
questions themselves. So, as this task does not sound
all that off-putting to students, we can clarify that one or
two questions referring to general points of the listening
extract would suffice. Then, students can announce
their questions in class and ask their classmates to
answer them. The above technique involves "getting an
overview", frequently referred to as "top-down
processing" (Harmer, 201).
At the next stage in the task process, we can give
our class the book questions and ask them to do as
many as they can without listening to the cd again. It is
highly advisable at this point to ask them to work in
pairs or, even, in groups of four. If they have trouble
finding any of the answers, we could play the cd again,
this time with the target questions clear in their minds.
This technique works well with older students (Junior
High School and High School) and it is a good way of
changing the routine of class-work and adding some
interesting variety to the Listening Task.
A second variation to Listening Tasks involves the
use of the tapescripts in class. After having done a
listening task, we normally collect students' answers.
How often, however, do we give them the reasons why
an answer was not correct by referring back to specific
points of the audio material heard in class? Personally,
I do this every time with my students and the feedback
they give me is always positive. They expect me to read
the part of the text that contains the answer to the
question they did not do well at and rephrase a bit so
that they fully understand what went wrong. The type of
processing needed here "focuses on individual words
or phrases" and is called "bottom-up processing"
(Harmer, 201). Alternatively, I give them a photocopy of
the tapescript of the whole text or dialogue they listened
to in class and ask them to locate the answers to the
ISSUES Vol. 21, June 2008
questions of the task by underlining them and writing
the corresponding number next to them.
the acquaintance
Using 3D and Internet Technology in Class
A good illustration of the above is the BBC site which
allows for the listening of audio clips recorded by its
journalists in the news columns. Teachers can listen to
one of them early in the morning and ask students to
listen to it at home after lunch and report back in class
the next day telling the teacher what it was about. Also,
further questions on the audio material can be asked by
the teacher to check on students' ability to retain oral
information. Apart from news, the BBC site is also linked
to five BBC radio stations covering a variety of issues
daily. Therefore, investigation of further fields (like
music and entertainment, sport, current affairs etc) can
be explored in the EFL classroom. If, however, Internet
access is not available to the majority of the class, the
school computer lab can be used.
It has been widely suggested to reinforce students to
watch films without any subtitles in order to enhance
their Listening Skills. I strongly recommend this method
although I know it can be extremely time consuming.
One way of using it without spending many teaching
hours on film viewing is by selecting a couple of scenes
from a film and showing only those we have selected.
The rest of the scenes can be orally summarised to the
students in between viewing scenes, so that continuity
is not impeded. It is important to highlight here that
viewing time should be accompanied by "watch-along"
material prepared by the teacher or found on the
internet in teacher sites. Personally, I have worked
extensively on two films ("Chicken Run" and "Simone")
and prepared pre-viewing, while-viewing and postviewing material which I have used with numerous
classes and I am happy to share any of that with
Renting DVDs from video stores makes economic
sense, that is why we can ask students to rent the film
we have selected, individually or in teams, and watch it
over the weekend. We should, also, make sure we give
them some "watch-along" material and ask them to
work on it while watching the film or right after the
viewing. This will save a great deal of class time and will
also work as a 'trust' contract we sign with our students
that they will not be tempted to watch the film with the
L1 subtitles on. If we suspect they will be having
difficulties understanding most of the film, why not give
them the alternative of watching it with the English
subtitles for the hearing impaired? It is a useful head
start with watching films for listening purposes which
also allows for the simultaneous practice of Reading
Contemporary teaching methods make frequent use
of the Internet in the English classroom. Good news is
that audio material is freely available on the Internet,
too. Using Internet material from official Englishspeaking sites acquaints the students with authentic
language samples. Thus, the above choice familiarises
students not only with "discourse rules" (Ellis, 43) but
also with communication strategies which "are […]
found in the language use of native speakers" (Ellis, 60).
While original samples of genuine native language use
are not frequently included in coursebooks, the above
reference to transforming online sources into EFL
teaching material carries significant importance in the
promotion of discoursal language-specific features and
This might also be a useful tip: we all know students
love listening to music. One way of helping them do that
in a more target language environment is to suggest
listening to English radio stations online. Radio stations,
like the BBC stations mentioned above, broadcast
interesting shows, interviews of famous people, sports,
gossip, news and much more. Thus, along with music
students can be asked to listen to particular shows and
then discuss in class what it was about. As these websearches assigned by teachers might become potential
excuses for exposure to improper online material, we
should not proceed to instructions for online use
without first notifying the parents of the "potential
dangers" (Lewis, 20) of unsupervised Internet use by
children. The computer lab can be used again if Internet
access is not the norm for a lot of our students.
Working with other Teachers
In a cross-curricular teaching and learning
environment teachers can take advantage of this
opportunity to invite colleagues into their classes. First
of all, some English songs can be played by the music
teacher on the piano (schools usually have portable
electronic pianos) or any other musical instrument s/he
knows how to play. The English teacher can hand out
the lyrics of the song and the singing might begin. It is
advisable that the song be a famous one so that
everybody can take part in this enjoyable activity.
Personally, I have been lucky enough with the music
teachers at the schools I have been in and organised
some singing with the guitar or piano and the music
teacher's voice. After having sung the song, I normally
ask the students to tell me what the song is about and
how they would direct a video clip for the particular
song. Speaking Tasks are extremely useful as feedback
for the Listening Tasks as they give us a clear picture of
how well the students understood the content of the
audio material. Alternatively, I write some expressions
or vocabulary the students are not familiar with on the
board and ask them to guess the meaning, combining
in that way Listening with Reading.
Another subject teacher the English teacher can
collaborate with is the History Master. These two
teachers can work miracles together. As human beings
are intuitively interested in and therefore can easily
retain information concerning nuances and details of
the personal life of other people, the English teacher
can look for this type of information and present it in
her/his class. The information should be relevant to the
chapter they are examining in the history lesson so that
it is easier for students to form a background context for
their listening. After the information has been found (eg.
concerning an emperor or people of a particular
historical era), the English teacher can read it in class
and then ask the students to report back what
interested them most. It is important to remember that
Listening Skills can be expanded with teacher readings
made in class and not only through recordings.
Applying some of these techniques in class might
help both the EFL teacher and the students to look at
Vol. 21, June 2008
Listening Tasks from a different perspective and prove
much better than the traditional way of teaching this
Skill after all. What is more, using alternative sources of
listening material invites students to increase their effort
to master the new tasks and at the same time might
help them overcome an underlying "initial feeling of
failure" (Ur, 110) many of them experience at the
beginning of their learning process.
Ellis, Rod. 2003. Second Language Acquisition. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Harmer, J. 2004. The Practice of English Language
Teaching: Third Edition. London: Longman
Lewis, Gordon. 2004. The Internet and Young Learners.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ur, P. 2002. A Course in Language Teaching Practice
and Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Zagliverinos, P. 2005. ‘Computer - Mediated
Communication (CMC): an Evaluation of its Observed
and Potential Roles in Language Teaching and
Learning.' Issues 15: 21-25