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

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…

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…

Sentence Stealers with a twist

Sentence Stealers is a reading aloud game invented by Gianfranco Conti. I'll describe the game to you, then suggest an extension of it which goes a bit further than reading aloud. By the way, I shouldn't need to justify the usefulness of reading aloud, but just in case, we are talking here about matching sounds to spellings, practising listening, pronunciation and intonation and repeating/recycling high frequency language patterns.

This is how it works:

Display around 15 sentences on the board, preferably ones which show language patterns you have been working on recently or some time ago.Hand out four cards or slips of paper to each student.On each card students must secretly write a sentence from the displayed list.Students then circulate around the class, approaching their classmates and reading a sentence from the displayed list. If the other person has that sentence on one of their cards, they must hand over the card. The other person then does the same, choosing a sentenc…

The age factor in language learning

This post draws on a section from Chapter 5 of Jack C. Richards' splendid handbook Key Issues in Language Teaching (2015). I'm going to summarise what Richards writes about how age factors affect language learning, then add my own comments about how this might influence classroom teaching.

It's often said that children seem to learn languages so much more quickly and effectively than adults. Yet adults do have some advantages of their own, as we'll see.

In the 1970s it was theorised that children's success was down to the notion that there is a critical period for language learning (pre-puberty). Once learners pass this period changes in the brain make it harder to learn new languages. Many took this critical period hypothesis to mean that we should get children to start learning other languages at an earlier stage. (The claim is still picked up today by decision-makers arguing for the teaching of languages in primary schools.)

Unfortunately, large amounts of rese…

Dissecting a lesson: teaching an intermediate written text

This post is a beginner’s guide about how you might go about working with a written text with low-intermediate or intermediate students (Y10-11 in England). I must emphasise that this is not what you SHOULD do, just one approach based on my own experience and keeping in mind what we know about learning and language learning in particular. Experienced teachers may find it interesting to compare this sequence with what you do yourself.

You can adapt the sequence below to the class, context and your own preferred style. I’m going to assume that the text is chosen for relevance, interest and comprehensibility. The research suggests that the best texts are at the very least 90% understandable, i.e. you would need to gloss no more than 10% of the words or phrases. The text could be authentic, or more likely adapted authentic from a text book, or teacher written. It would likely be fairly short so you have time to exploit it intensively, recycling as much useful language as possible.

So here w…