The majority of students wish to understand what people say in English. Learners may listen to this language when they talk to other people face-to-face, when watching TV, listening to the radio, going to the theatre or cinema. Most people say that the spoken English is different from the written English. Some of the students even consider that it is much easier to understand a written text than to grasp the meaning of a spoken one. Our role as teachers is to help them listen to spoken texts as efficiently as possible.
For learners, listening represents the way to improve their pronunciation. When they listen, students notice the manner in which individual words and blended words are pronounced; they acquire the appropriate accent, stress and intonation. Listening texts does not only help us understand speech; these texts also make us become good speakers, developing our speaking ability.
The most important listening source for students is the teacher himself or herself. The teacher can use his or her voice in order to offer pronunciation models for learners of English. It is evident that there exist dialects and variations of the English language; that is why, teachers should expose their students to as many listening texts as possible. The texts must be varied covering different British dialects and American English. The more students listen, the greater their capacity to understand will be. For example, the word „dance” is pronounced by the British in one way, and by the Americans in another. The teacher’s pronunciation cannot cover all variations in speaking the English language. Learners have to come into contact with native speakers of both British and American English, and even with speakers form different parts of Britain (London and Manchester, for example). The nowadays technology allows teachers and students to listen to almost any type and dialect of the English language. Teachers should help learners access this technology.
Learners can perform listening activities both outside the classroom and inside the classroom. The activity of listening outside the classroom is called extensive listening while the activity performed inside the classroom is named intensive listening. In the case of intensive listening, teachers try to develop their students’ listening skills. Learners are guided by their teacher while listening and follow the 3 main stages of listening: pre-listening, while-listening and post-listening. These stages are accompanied by tasks that students have to fulfil. In the pre-listening stage, students may have to explain to one another in pairs or in groups the words and expressions that the teacher gives them and that will appear in the listening text. In the while-listening stage, learners might listen to the text for identifying the gist, specific information or the speaker’s attitude. In the post-listening stage, students can summarize the information they have heard. In simple words, pupils and students are taught how to listen.
The tasks mentioned above also help learners to listen outside the classroom (to perform extensive listening). But extensive listening implies the fact that pupils listen to the text for pleasure, or for some other reasons. They choose the texts they like and absorb information. Teachers should interfere with the students’ process of listening outside the classroom. In this way, the psychological integrity of the learner is protected. Students must know how to deal with the information they hear; they have got to know how to choose the listening texts that provide useful information, and not harmful one. Children need to avoid those texts that represent a threat and they need to seek only for reliable sources.
The listening sources can be divided into 2 types: recorded extracts and live listening. The type of source which is used a lot in the classroom is represented by the recorded extracts. These extracts can be found on CDs, on tape or on MP3 players. They are produced on a commercial scale as parts of coursebooks or additional material. What is interesting is that the teachers themselves may produce their own listening materials by recording their voices or the voice of their students, friends or colleagues. It is worth mentioning that a lot of listening material can be downloaded from the Internet.
To a certain degree, all the spontaneous teacher’s talk can be considered live listening. But we also talk about live listening when visitors are brought into the classroom to talk to students or when teachers role-play certain characters for learners to listen to. The main advantage of live listening is that students can interact with speakers.
Students can listen to different genres of listening materials: announcements, lectures, phone conversations or dialogues. The question is: Should the language in the listening materials used in the classroom be authentic or not? The answer is not quite a simple one. All language should be authentic but language should be simplified in accordance with the level of the student. The passage from lower levels to the proficient levels should be achieved gradually. If it is not done gradually, the lower-level and even intermediate-level students could be discouraged to listen to and understand English texts. For example, it is difficult for a beginner to understand any type of dialogue between native speakers.
If teachers want to increase their students’ listening capacity, they should develop their students’ listening skills first of all. Besides vocabulary and grammar, learners also need to know how to listen to a text according to different techniques. Firstly, students need to be able to understand paralinguistic clues: intonation, pitch of voice and the mood of the speaker. Secondly, listening has to be performed for general understanding of ideas and sub-ideas. Thirdly, they should be able to listen for specific details (times, dates, numbers). Listening also helps students to interact with speakers of English.
It is important for techers to follow some listening principles. Students should be encouraged to listen as much as and as often as they can. Teachers ought to prepare the students to listen by offering them pictures or questions meant to help them predict or expect the content of the listening material. In this way, listeners have the opportunity to check if their predictions or expectations were fulfilled. Another principle says that listening to a text only once may not be enough for students to react to the ideas and details of the listening material. This implies the fact that listeners also need to react to ideas and details, not only to the language structures.
Teachers must follow the already mentioned listening stages and the tasks associated with the stages. In this way, the listening text is exploited to the full.
Any teacher or learner needs to keep this in mind: Nobody can be a proficient speaker of English if he or she is not a proficient listener.
1. Oxford, R.L., Language learning strategies: What every teacher should know, Boston, Heinle and Heinle, 1990.
2. Rodgers, T., Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching, Cambridge, Cambridge University, 2001.
3. Scrivener, J., Learning teaching: A guidebook for English language teachers, Macmillan, 2009.