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Listening is the key

If we assume that second language learning has at least something in common with first language acquisition, it is fair to assume that listening plays a major role in learning. We should therefore build in as much listening as possible to lessons. This is why the use of target language is so valued.

It is a shame that public exam markschemes do not value highly enough this skill in their assessment objective weightings. Indeed, the Edexcel exam board do not assess it at all at A2 level, whilst the current GCSE in England and Wales has only given it 20% of the marks, compared with 30% for writing. This is bizarre.

I have become more and more convinced of the centrality of listening. So what types of structured activity can we do alongside the listening we do whilst teaching and practising new material, playing games and so on? Here is a selection:

1. Fill gaps in a transcript (gaps may be letters, parts of words, whole words or longer utterances.

2. Answer comprehension questions in English or the target language. (The latter are also a test of reading comprehension, so less good if you wish to isolate a student’s listening ability.)

3. Correct a transcript with deliberate errors included.

4. Correct false sentences.

5. Do true/false or true/false/not mentioned tasks. (The latter are better since they produce more reliable test scores.)

6. Do multiple-choice questions with pictures, or in English or the target language. (The latter are also a test of reading comprehension, so less good if you wish to isolate a student’s listening ability.)

7. Do matching tasks in the target language.

8. Note-take in English or the target language. (With the latter students can transcribe directly what they hear even if they do not understand it.)

9. Do dictation. (This is more demanding in a language such as French where the sound-spelling relationship is not always obvious. It may be less useful for Spanish and German.)

10. Complete a grid or chart.

11. Tick off statements which are true (a variation of true-false).

12. Do re-ordering tasks (e.g. song lyrics)

13. Agree/disagree statements read out or recorded

14. Interpret from the target language into English

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