Teaching listening strategies is one of the most important things a language teacher can do for his or her students. Without the ability to hear sounds, parse speech, and make sense of spoken language, students won’t be able to extract new words from their environment. What’s the point of maintaining a target language rich lesson if your students can’t learn from the input you are providing? Listening is also crucial in the communicative classroom. Teaching a student to be a good listener reduces anxiety and can help them improve pronunciation, enhance comprehension, learn new words and perform better on exams.
But listening in a second language is not always easy. Everything from different accents, hard to hear sounds, proper nouns, poor audio quality and speakers who are of the same sex, young, old or overlapping can cause problems for students. However, the most difficult aspect of listening occurs in activities when no context is provided to accompany the audio. Just as in real life, context is key for comprehension because it allows students to make use of their prior knowledge and listen in real time. As a teacher, you can provide context by describing what you are about to play or asking questions which generate discussion on the topic.
You don’t need a teacher to learn how to listen in your mother tongue so why do you need to be taught strategies in a second language? Listening is one of those skills that comes to us naturally in our first language, but beginner language learners (particularly monolinguals) tend to listen in a very unnatural way. Instead of allowing their ears to pick up on familiar words, they become anxious when they hear words they don’t know. This causes them to panic and miss out on the rest of the message being communicated.
Did you know you can listen to something without understanding all of the words and still take a good guess at the gist? You can convince your students of this by writing down key terms and asking students to guess what the audio might be about. You might also try blacking out every fifth word in a paragraph written in their native tongue and then reading it out loud. Most likely, your students will be able to understand the text without any problems.
That’s because words don’t always add up to meaning in the order in which they are spoken and not every word contributes to the main idea. Try teaching students that instead of focusing on the words they don’t known, they should listen for vocabulary they recognize and make meaning based on what they know about the situation and speakers.
Strategies used by the good listener
Brainstorming a list of key terms- Before beginning a listening activity, write down vocabulary and consider phrases which you expect will be used in the conversation.
Looking at an image or reading an article related to the topic- This will help activate the relevant vocabulary in your mind and make it easier for your to recognize language when you hear it.
Listening without focusing on meaning- Make a list of every word you heard that you understood. Look at your words and try to guess at how they might come together to make meaning.
Focusing on gist- Take a guess at what the listening means and write out several variations of the main idea. Listen a third time and try to confirm your guesses.
it can be useful to put yourself in your students’ shoes and try various listening exercises in a foreign language you are learning. Which strategies do you use and how do you keep your anxiety levels low?
Staying calm is the best way to prevent high anxiety levels which cause students to do poorly on the listening sections of language exams. Practice beforehand by teaching learners what to expect for the format of the prompt and explaining how to skim multiple choice questions for contextual clues.
Tips for teachers
Explain – Start off by teaching students about the strategy, including how it is used and when it might be useful
Model – Show students how to use the strategy by modeling it for them
Practice – Have students try their hand at the strategy and provide immediate feedback
Go over key terms – Teach students the vocabulary they will need to understand a text
Discuss proper nouns – Names of places, people and events can be tricky for learners so write down proper nouns in advance so they don’t confuse them with new vocabulary words
You might also want to provide resources for students to use outside of class.
Songs, news, sports broadcasts - Recommend a variety of target language sources and remind students to consider text type and make a list of what they expect to hear before they begin any practice.
Standard pronunciation - Always start by teaching sources which contain standard pronunciation and leaving the accents for more advanced level learners.
Male and female voices - The easiest audio to understand is either a monologue or a dialogue between a male and a female speaker.
Do you have any tips on teaching strategies to language learners? Please share them in the comments!