Listening is a critical element in second language learners’ competency,
whether they are communicating at school, at work, or in the community. One major
difference between beginners and more advanced ESL students is their listening ability. Through the normal course of a day,
listening is used nearly twice as much as speaking and four to five times as much as reading and writing. Listening is a demanding
process, not only because of the complexity of the process itself, but also due to factors that characterize the listener,
the speaker, the content, as well as the context and any visual support that accompanies the message. Teachers, then, must develop listening activities and content into the curriculum which take into account
real world and academic contexts as much as possible, in order to develop their
students’ listening proficiency in the best possible ways.
Interest in a topic increases the listener's comprehension; the listener may tune out topics that are not of interest.
A listener who is an active participant in a conversation generally has more background knowledge to facilitate understanding
of the topic than a listener who is, in effect, eavesdropping on a conversation between two people whose communication has
been recorded on an audiotape. Further, the ability to use negotiation skills, such as asking for clarification, repetition,
or definition of points not understood, enable a listener to make sense of the incoming information.
Colloquial language and reduced forms make comprehension more difficult. The extent to which the speaker uses these language
forms impacts comprehension. The more exposure the listener has to them, the greater the ability to comprehend. A speaker's
rate of delivery may be too fast, too slow, or have too many hesitations for a listener to follow. Awareness of a speaker's
corrections and use of rephrasing ("er. . . I mean . . .That is . . .") can assist the listener. Learners need practice in
recognizing these speech habits as clues to deciphering meaning.
Content that is familiar is easier
to comprehend than content with unfamiliar vocabulary or for which the listener has insufficient background knowledge.
Visual support, such as video, pictures, diagrams, gestures, facial expressions, and body language, can increase
comprehension if the learner is able to correctly interpret it.
Listening should be relevant.
Because learners listen with a purpose and listen to things that interest them, accounting for the goals and experiences
of the learners will keep motivation and attention high. For example, if learners at a worksite need to be able to understand
new policies and procedures introduced at staff meetings, in class they should be helped to develop the abilities to identify
main ideas and supporting details, to identify cause and effect, to indicate comprehension or lack of comprehension, and to
ask for clarification.
Material should be authentic.
Authenticity should be evident both in language and
in task. The language should reflect real discourse, including hesitations, rephrasing, and a variety of accents. Although
the language needs to be comprehensible, it does not need to be constantly modified or simplified to make it easier for the
level of the listener. Level of difficulty can be controlled by the selection of the task. For example, in a unit on following
instructions, at the beginning level, the learner might hear a command ("May I borrow your hammer?") and respond by choosing
the correct item. At an intermediate level, the learner might hear a series of instructions ("Go to the broom closet, get
the floor polisher, take it to the hall in front of the cafeteria, polish the floor there, then go to the . . .") and respond
appropriately by tracing the route on a floor plan of the worksite. An advanced-level learner might listen to an audio tape
of an actual work meeting and write a summary of the instructions the supervisor gave the team. Use of authentic material,
such as workplace training videos, audio tapes of actual workplace exchanges, and TV and radio broadcasts, increases transferability
to listening outside of the ESL classroom context--to work and to community.
Opportunities to develop both top-down
and bottom-up processing skills should be offered.
Top-down oriented activities (global / summary comprehension) encourage
the learners to discuss what they already know about a topic, and bottom-up practice activities (specific / accuracy decoding)
give confidence in accurate hearing and comprehension of the components of the language (sounds, words, intonation, grammatical
The development of listening strategies should be encouraged.
Predicting, asking for clarification,
and using non-verbal cues are examples of strategies that increase chances for successful listening. For example, using video
can help learners develop cognitive strategies. As they view a segment with the sound off, learners can be asked to make predictions
about what is happening by answering questions about setting, action, and interaction; viewing the segment again with the
sound on allows them to confirm or modify their hypothesis. See Video Guidelines.
should teach, not test.
Teachers should avoid using activities that tend to focus on memory rather than on the process
of listening or that simply give practice rather than help learners develop listening ability. For example, simply having
the learners listen to a passage followed by true/false questions might indicate how much the learners remembered rather than
helping them to develop the skill of determining main idea and details. Pre- and post-listening task activities would help
the learners to focus attention on what to listen for, to assess how accurately they succeeded, and to transfer the listening
skill to the world beyond the classroom.
Listening Lesson Format
The teacher can facilitate the development of listening ability
by creating listening lessons that guide the learner through three stages: pre-listening, the listening task, and post-listening.
the learners in a pre-listening activity.
This activity should establish the purpose of the listening activity and
activate the schemata by encouraging the learners to think about and discuss what they already know about the content of the
listening text. This activity can also provide the background needed for them to understand the text, and it can focus attention
on what to listen for.
Do an introduction or review of the applicable listening skills
and strategies required for the activity. There are a variety of listening skills
and strategies which can be successfully used to enhance student performance. As
native listeners, Americans and other native-speakers receive so much practice throughout our lives that we learn how to listen
in a variety of situations at home, in school, on the job. But nonnative listeners
do not receive such massive amounts of input and practice. Therefore, they can compensate somewhat for this by using more
metacognitive strategies which focus their attention on how specific listening skills can best be developed and mastered. Some listening skills and strategies include:
stop talking and just listen;
listen actively with a definite purpose to understand, which
means you will need to do some thinking while you listen, in order to understand;
identify the present listening situation and recall (and even
imagine) as much as you can about what you already know about such contexts;
look at the physical or social context for clues to what is being
use pauses in the audio text to summarize what has been said
so far, to answer target questions, and to predict what will be said next;
don’t allow what you don’t understand to interfere
with what you do; that is, use whatever words you do hear, to construct meaning as best you can;
use intonation and facial expressions in order to understand
emotions and attitudes;
listen for key words (negatives, modals, synonymous expressions
in a question which match the conversation, …) which hold the answer to what you want to know; and
infer from clues in the text as to what the answer might be.
Do the listening task itself.
task should involve the listener in getting information and in immediately doing something with it.
Engage in a
This activity should help the listener to evaluate success in carrying out the task and to
integrate listening with the other language skills. The teacher should encourage practice outside of the classroom whenever
For example, for an American homestay situation, students will need to learn to practice recognizing such
information involving names, family relationships, places, times, and dates, within a longer stream of speech. A audio or video tape where Japanese students meet their host family for the first time might have a lesson
built around it as follows:
Do a pre-listening activity:
Ask the learners questions about what happens when people meet for the first time.
Have students identify some typical expressions and questions for an introduction.
Do a listening skills review:
Ask the learners to remember to try to recognize the roles of
who is speaking as quickly as possible. Show pictures and ask them to identify
the probable roles: mother, father, doctor, patient, …
Describe the task:
Tell the learners they will be watching a video of an American host family meeting their homestay students.
Give students information questions they will have to answer about the persons
speaking in the tape.
Where are the Japanese students from? What
are the names of the host father and mother?
Have the learners do the task:
Play the video while the students
answer the questions.
Do a post-listening activity:
Ask the learners how they thought they did. Was it easy
or difficult? Why? They may listen again if they want to. Have them compare their answers and practice asking one another
the answers to the given questions. Have the students ask and answer similar
questions about their own lives. Have the students make new questions about what
they heard, and practice answering them in pairs and in the class as a whole.
Have students act out their own homestay introductions.
actual aural texts for lesson activities can be based on conversations among the students and teachers, recorded audio tapes
or CDs, computer software, the Internet, or from videos. Some listening activities
to choose for developing listening skills include:
Directions: the listener responds physically
such as in Total Physical Response (TPR), or in building / arranging objects;
CLOZES: any missing words or expressions
from a conversation are filled in
3. Distinguishing: deciding which expression is correct among similar sounds or
4. Duplicating: the listener simply repeats, writes as in dictation or note-taking,
or translates the message;
Local Information Questions: the
listener selects from alternatives such as pictures, objects, text, or actions, or may write short answers, or write complete
sentences; for senior students, the question itself can be spoken..
Global Information Questions: the
listener determines the main ideas, topics, contexts-situations, from the message;
otherwise, the same can be true as written for Local Information Questions.
Gaps: the listener gathers information
from another person or tape and completes a matrix cross-referencing data, such as biographical.
8. Summarizing: the listener takes selective and / or summarizing notes, such
as in making an outline;
or Predicting: the listener goes beyond the
text by continuing the story or solving a problem;
10. Inferring Information: the listener deduces or induces the required answer from given
11. Conversing: the listener is an active participant in a face-to-face conversation.
12. Misinformation Corrections: Students listen
to the audio, likely several times, while reading a text which contains words which are different from the audio. Their task is to correct the written text so that it matches what is heard.