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Learner problems: Listening

One of the hardest skills to teach, Listening, has been baffling and frustrating teachers all over since the beginning of time. More often than not, teachers use course book Listening activities to measure the abilities of their students; however can we be certain that these activities are indeed appropriate for all different types of learners?

In short, the answer is no. All students are able to process and understand spoken language, but undoubtedly their timing varies greatly, and the tasks that work best for them in order to achieve that are sometimes much different than the ones offered by their books.

How do we help weak students understand longer strands of spoken text?

  • One frequent problem is not spotting the linking between words while listening. This might lead students to misunderstand the meaning or form of the words being spoken.

See some examples that might create confusion:

Go on home now /ɡəʊwɒn həʊm naʊ/

Ten boys were playing outside /tembɔɪz wə pleɪɪŋ aʊtsaɪd/

Law and order /lɔ:rən̮ɔːdə/

Use the transcript and teach phonemic awareness

In that case, it might be beneficial for the student to listen and read the transcript simultaneously. In time, this will help students to log and register the different aspects of spoken language they are not familiar with, leading them to better understanding.

Teach them the basics of phonemic awareness using linking symbols or your fingers.

  • It might also be that students lack the necessary critical thinking skills to answer a question, which goes beyond their ability to recognize and understand words. That is to say, they don’t know how to process the information they hear.

Adapt the tasks or create new ones

It would be preferable to tackle this problem by breaking one extended listening activity into some smaller, more manageable ones.

Try creating different tasks whose main focus is listening for gist or specific information. Such tasks can be giving a title to what you listened to, T/F activities, matching exercises, etc. These sorts of activities boost the learners’ confidence because they can achieve something, and more importantly, they gradually guide them into a deeper level of understanding which will hopefully prepare them for a more demanding task of listening for details.

Make them think outside the box

Another thing you might want to try is use the listening excerpt for some speaking practice. Play chunks of the audio and invite students to discuss open-ended questions based on what they heard. Integrated skills activities are particularly helpful and they challenge students to make the most of an activity. They also have more of a communicative purpose than just answering a set of questions correctly, and that is motive enough for students to try harder.

Let's take this C2 listening activity for example:

Some open-ended questions you might use for these excerpts:

Who do you think is the person talking in extract 1? (a local resident, a museum employee, etc? Pitch in a few ideas if students are struggling to brainstorm)

Are the two critics in part 2 going to write a positive review of the exhibition? Why/Why not?

What do you think could change their opinion of the artist’s work? (Maybe if his influence from famous painters was more prominent in his works they would think more positively of his paintings, etc).

You can even turn listening texts into riddles and have some fun speculating, deducing, guessing.

You may ask for example: What could the speaker's job be? What does he/she want?

Keep enjoying teaching!

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