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Using lectures to improve listening skills and knowledge

In this post I'm going to make the case for making occasional use of the lecture format for delivering listening lessons with a focus on cultural knowledge. I'll provide an example at the end.

At A-level there is now a need to make sure that students have available a stock of cultural knowledge they can bring to bear in their speaking tests. Cultural knowledge is assessed within Assessment Objective AO3 and carries a significant number of marks. In addition, we want to improve students' listening skills as much as possible, especially given that students often say that listening is the aspect of learning they fear most. The lecture format allows you to efficiently deal with both of these priorities.

I strongly suspect that teachers rarely make use of the set-piece lecture to provide listening practice and cultural knowledge. Nearly all classroom listening takes place either as part of two-way conversation with the teacher or a partner or "passively" while listening to audio or video material and doing an exercise.

While it is possible to take notes from recordings, the teacher has the advantage of knowing quite precisely what students already know, the pace they need to hear language at and the degree of rephrasing and repetition which would be useful to ensure comprehension. While delivering a lecture, a teacher can also use visual aids if they think it will enhance comprehension. It is also possible that listening, being partly a social activity, may be more palatable if it's the teacher who is doing the talking.

As far as communicating cultural knowledge is concerned, the teacher is also able to control the level of complexity which might make sense in terms of the needs of the speaking assessment - students will need, for their oral exam, a stock of easily retrievable knowledge points which they can bring into their conversations when under pressure.

With these points in mind, while I would not advocate frequent use of the lecturing style (mainly because two-way listening and communicative tasks are more stimulating and probably lead to greater all-round proficiency), I do see a case for doing an occasional lecture and telling students precisely why you are doing it. Explain the aims of the exercise, then, give some advice on note-taking and make sure there is a clear outcome to be achieved. This could be in the form of a summary in L1 or L2, a grid to be completed or, say, a newspaper article on the topic in question. Or you could say, use the notes from this lecture for your knowledge portfolio which will be amazingly useful for the oral exam!

As you deliver the lecture you would need to observe if students are taking enough notes, keeping up and using eye contact with you. You could also prime them to ask you to repeat any sections they have immediate difficulty with. You may wish to provide some pre-lecture vocabulary, chunks or structures to help them, or do a pre-listening task to whet their appetite for the topic. Give the task a sense of occasion: "Today we're going to do something a bit different! I'm going to deliver a university-style lecture about.... This is what you need to do..."

So below is a passage you could read or adapt (I have put in parentheses some ideas for re-phrasings) on the A-level topic cinema (AQA).

Key words you might want to pre-teach or revise might be:

vague     cinéaste     auteur    critique     réalisateur     tourner     budget

L´expression "La Nouvelle Vague" est généralement utilisée pour décrire la nouvelle génération de cinéastes (c'est à dire des personnes qui font des films) français qui a émergé (qui a commencé, qui a débuté) à la fin des années 50. Ces jeunes cinéastes anti-conformistes voulaient transformer (changer) les règles très établies du cinéma français et permettre ainsi à un nouveau cinéma d'émerger : le cinéma d´auteur. C'est-à-dire un cinéma où le film reflète la vie du cinéaste et ou le film est personnel plutôt que le produit industriel du studio, comme à Hollywood).
Les piliers (les personnages principaux) de cette nouvelle tendance s'appellent François Truffaut (T.R.U.F.F.A.U.T.), Jean-Luc Godard (ibid), Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, Jacques Rivette et Alain Resnais. Ils ont en général une trentaine d´années (environ trente ans - alors ils sont jeunes),csont accros (fanatiques) du cinéma et pour la plupart (en général) ils sont critiques pour la revue (le magazine) "Les Cahiers du Cinéma" (créée en 1951). 

Ces jeunes cinéastes en ont marre de (ils rejettent, ils détestent) la tradition cinématographique dans lequel s´est enfermée la France depuis beaucoup années. François Truffaut dénonce (critique) ce qu'il appelle "une certaine tendance du cinéma français" dans Les Cahiers du Cinéma en 1954 (1954 - repeat).  Il déplore (attaque) le conformisme des anciens (des réalisateurs plus âgés), ce qu'il appelle "le cinéma de papa" et l'influence trop importante des dialogues. Pour ces nouveaux cinéastes, l'image est plus importante que les mots. Donc la nouvelle vague rend hommage aux origines du cinéma, le cinéma muet (où on ne parle pas).
Grâce aux progrès techniques de l´époque (caméra légère et bon marché, pellicule (film) sensible à la lumière du jour qui permet de tourner (filmer) hors studios), ces jeunes cinéastes peuvent faire des films eux-mêmes. Les budgets sont souvent modestes (Claude Chabrol a tourné "Le Beau Serge" grâce à un héritage familial (de l'argent qu'il a hérité)). Ils n'ont pas d'expérience mais ils n'ont pas peur de faire des expériences nouvelles.

Fini alors des tournages en studio, des beaux dialogues, des histoires irréelles (pas réalistes), des grandes vedettes (stars). Ils utilisent des acteurs inconnus, ils tournent dans la rue, ils racontent des histoires autobiographiques, ils improvisent. On filme la vie! Le cinéma devient plus naturel et simple.
Le succès était immédiat. Le nombre de premiers films double. De nouveaux visages apparaissent sur les écrans tels Jean-Paul Belmondo (B.E.L.M.O.N.D.O), Jeanne Moreau, Jean-Claude Brialy, Bernadette Lafond, Jean-Pierre Léaud.
Mais très vite, dès 1961, le public perd son intérêt et la nouvelle vague s'affaiblit (devient plus faible, devient moins populaire). La plupart de ces jeunes réalisateurs doivent changer de métier ou retourner vers plus de classicisme.
Cependant, même si la révolte s'essouffle (se fatigue), rien n'tait plus comme avant. L´impact de cette révolution, cette soif (ce désir) de liberté et l´attrait des spectateurs pour ce genre de films ont été entendus. Le mouvement a changé la conception du cinéma français et a influencé les réalisateurs modernes.


  1. I did O level French somewhere close to 1971; we used a book which, what with the lapse of time, I may be more or less inventing retrospectively. All the same, what I remember is: a book which was then new, which contained grammar sections and a reading story interspersed through the book – chapters, as it were, of a continuous detective story. I also ‘remember’, though I suspect this is an invented memory, that it had illustrations in the manner of late works by Fernand Leger – bold black outlines overprinted with blocks of primary colours that wildly overflowed the outlines.

    Would there be any way of identifying this book from such subjectively contaminated evidence? I’d dearly like to see it again!

  2. Hi Frederick. I did O-level in 1973. I don't recall the book you mention. Not sure I can help you identify it either. Sorry! Thanks for dropping in and leaving a comment.


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