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Gianfranco's recommendations for teaching listening

Like some of you I have enjoyed Gianfranco Conti's blogposts in recent weeks. His blog is, a far as I know, unique the MFL world in presenting a mixture of detailed research findings and practical implications for the languages classroom. I suggested he might do a compendium of his classroom advice, divorced from the research, but he is too busy writing interesting new blogs so with his permission to quote I am doing it myself!

The following are very slightly adapted extracts taken from Gianfranco's blog. The focus is in LISTENING. Gianfranco believes that listening in classrooms too often takes the form of comprehension tests from an audio sources, divorced from a teaching sequence and during which students do not get the opportunity to develop detailed listening skills by doing "top-down" and especially "bottom-up" processing activities. I think he may be right.

This is what he has written. You'll see some very good ideas, some of which you probably use.

Teaching listening skills

Listening activities should feature in most lessons, the long-term goal being: students listening to L2 audio material for pleasure and/or personal enrichment at home or in class.

Listening activities should focus on bottom-up processing skills through:
  • Phonological awareness tasks.
  • Word (meaning) recognition tasks. This could start from simple matching tasks (e.g. match picture to word) to translation tasks (e.g. teacher says word/lexical phrases and student writes meaning on mini whiteboard/iPad).
  • Metalinguistic awareness tasks (e.g. identification of what word-class lexical items fall into).
Teachers should practise top-down processing skills through:
  • Jigsaw listening or ‘predict what comes next’ activities; 
  • Explicitly modelling of and practice in effective inferential strategies (e.g. using context and key-words identification to infer meaning; contextualized brainstorming before listening). Comprehension tasks can be used here. Challenging listening comprehension tasks should come at the end of a sequence of listening (or listening + reading/speaking/writing tasks). 

Good questions to ask yourself
  • Am I actually teaching listening skills through this task or am I merely testing students on their inferential ability?
  • What skills am I teaching: top-down / bottom-up or both? How? 
  • How can I make sure that as many of my students as possible will succeed at the task I am planning?
  • What are they going to find difficult about this task and how am I going to prepare them for these challenges? 
  • How can I exploit the full potential of this text for learning?

"Micro-listening enhancers"

These are for use with beginners. The reader should note that these activities are not always applicable to all foreign languages (I mainly use them in teaching French and English). One particularly useful application of these activities is with students who need remedial pronunciation instruction.It should also be noted that the content of these activities should be semantically related to the lesson focus and not include just random words (as some of my examples below may seem to suggest).

Broken words: the students are given words with missing letter clusters (missing ‘bits’ may be provided aside) . Ideally, the instructor will remove more problematic sounds or sounds which are the focus of a specific lesson. The words chosen should belong to the same semantic field
Example (French) :  man_ _ _  ;  ch _ _ _ ;  _ _ _ mpignon;  b _ _ re;  v _ _ ; Options:   oux – cha – oi – in – ger – eu – ie – eux.

Spot the ‘foreign’ sounds : in this activity, the students are provided with a list of words or a sentence, and as they hear the teacher or the recording, they have to highlight any sound that does not exist in English, by underlining/circling the relevant part of the word. This activity is very useful in order to enhance learner awareness of how the graphemic (written) system and phonemic (sound) one relate to each other in the target language. Example:  sœur ; père; famille; grandparents; moins .

Spot the silent letters : the students are given a list of sentences like the one below and hear them uttered by the instructor. The task is to highlight the letters that have not been pronounced by the teacher – as they are silent in the target language.
Example: je suis étudiant dans une école internationale en Malaisie. 

Listen and re-arrange : this activity is for absolute beginners. Students are provided with series of four or five words or short sentences. The teacher will read the words in a different order to the one given to the students who need to rearrange the words accordingly.
Example: (student’s series)  Chambre, Lit, Armoire, Tapis, Mur (teacher’s series):  Mur, Armoire, Chambre, Tapis, Lit .

Spot the mistake: students are provided with series of words like the one above. The teacher pronounces all the words correctly but one. The task is to spot the mistake in each word series

Minimal pairs: this is a classic. The teacher pronounces two words containing very similar sounds or which students may mistake for homophones and the students need to spot the correct spelling.
Example:   moi  / moins   ;    bon / bonne ;   achète / acheté.

Rhyming pairs: the students are given a list (on paper/whiteboard/google classroom) of five words all with different endings, chosen based on their difficulty or simply because they contain sounds they may need to pronounce during the planned lesson. The teacher then reads out six or seven words (the extra one or two are distractors), five of the words rhyming with the five words provided initially (see example below). The task is for the students to identify which words rhyme with which.
Example: (student’s words)  moi – ville – famille – travailleur – brillant (teacher’s words – which the student cannot see)  bois – mille – peur – soleil – ailleur – dur – jouet – cédille – mer – souriant 

Gapped sentences with multiple choice: this is a classic word recognition task. The teacher utters sentences and the students need to fill in selecting the correct word from a choice of three or four provided aside. Using tongue twisters for this kind of activities can make it more fun. Songs can be used too, as motivation enhancers.


Transcription tasks


The following are three transcription tasks I use quite a lot. Teachers should note that for the first two it is preferable not to use lengthy texts. Moreover, as I am sure it is evident, teachers should use easy texts to start with and may want to carry out vocabulary building pre-transcription tasks involving the language items found in the target text – especially the more linguistically challenging ones.

  • Pure transcription of video or audio recording – students simply transcribe the passage they hear, writing down every word. This is more suitable for highly motivated and able groups.
  • L1-scaffolded transcription – students are provided the L1-translation of the to-be-listened text on the left-hand side of a piece of paper and, whilst listening to it, they write out what they hear in the target language on the right-hand side. The rationale for providing the L1 translation is that it gives the learners some badly needed support when they struggle with more challenging words.
  • Partial transcription tasks – the students are provided with a gapped transcript of the recording. The gaps involve entire sentences. This type of transcription task is useful in that the sentence preceding each gap helps the students in the decoding of the missing sentence, thereby eliciting the application of inference strategies.



Comments

  1. Gianfranco , thank you for all your thought-provoking blog entries. It is refreshing to be able to think about the reasoning behind the language acquisition and as you mentioned in an another one of your articles especially when you have been teaching the same topics for a while. It is refreshing;))

    ReplyDelete

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