Skip to main content

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

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The latest research on teaching vocabulary

I've been dipping into The Routledge Handbook of Instructed Second Language Acquisition (2017) edited by Loewen and Sato. This blog is a succinct summary of Chapter 16 by Beatriz González-Fernández and Norbert Schmitt on the topic of teaching vocabulary. I hope you find it useful.

1.  Background

The authors begin by outlining the clear importance of vocabulary knowledge in language acquisition, stating that it's a key predictor of overall language proficiency (e.g. Alderson, 2007). Students often say that their lack of vocabulary is the main reason for their difficulty understanding and using the language (e.g. Nation, 2012). Historically vocabulary has been neglected when compared to grammar, notably in the grammar-translation and audio-lingual traditions as well as  communicative language teaching.

(My note: this is also true, to an extent, of the oral-situational approach which I was trained in where most vocabulary is learned incidentally as part of question-answer sequence…

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

Dissecting a lesson: using a set of PowerPoint slides

I was prompted to write this just having produced for frenchteacher.net three separate PowerPoint presentations using the same set of 20 pictures (sports). A very good way for you to save time is to reuse the same resource in a number of different ways.

I chose 20 clear, simple, clear and copyright-free images from pixabay.com to produce three presentations on present tense (beginners), near future (post beginner) and perfect tense (post-beginner/low intermediate). Here is one of them:





Below is how I would have taught using this presentation - it won't be everyone's cup of tea, especially of you are not big on choral repetition and PPP (Presentation-Practice-Production), but I'll justify my choice in the plan at each stage. For some readers this will be standard practice.

1. Explain in English that you are going to teach the class how to talk about and understand people talking about sport. By the end of the lesson they will be able to say and understand 20 different sport…

Designing a plan to improve listening skills

Read many books and articles about listening and you’ll see it described as the forgotten skill. It certainly seems to be the one which causes anxiety for both teachers and students. The reasons are clear: you only get a very few chances to hear the material, exercises feel like tests and listening is, well, hard. Just think of the complex processes involved: segmenting the sound stream, knowing lots of words and phrases, using grammatical knowledge to make meaning, coping with a new sound system and more. Add to this the fact that in England they have recently decided to make listening tests harder (too hard) and many teachers are wondering what else they can do to help their classes.

For students to become good listeners takes lots of time and practice, so there are no quick fixes. However, I’m going to suggest, very concisely, what principles could be the basis of an overall plan of action. These could be the basis of a useful departmental discussion or day-to-day chats about meth…

Responsive teaching

Dylan Wiliam, the academic most associated with Assessment for Learning (AfL), aka formative assessment, has stated that these labels have not been the most helpful to teachers. He believes that they have been partly responsible for poor implementation of AfL and the fact that AfL has not led to the improved outcomes originally intended.

Wiliam wrote on Twitter in 2013:

“Example of really big mistake: calling formative assessment formative assessment rather than something like "responsive teaching".”

For the record he subsequently added:

“The point I was making—years ago now—is that it would have been much easier if we had called formative assessment "responsive teaching". However, I now realize that this wouldn't have helped since it would have given many people the idea that it was all about the teacher's role.”

I suspect he’s right about the appellation and its consequences. As a teacher I found it hard to get my head around the terms AfL and formative assess…