Teaching or Testing Listening?

Dear Me probably in even 2010,
You get a CD in the back of your shiny book. The shiny book that has a picture of a loudspeaker to show you the track number. You ask the preset questions underneath and you play the CD and there are the lovely voices of the polite English-speaking people, all waiting to speak enthusiastically, one at a time with a handy grammar point in their throats. They are all lovely people who speak in a standard (prestige) variety with as much of their regional accent scrubbed away as possible.
Then you wonder why your students ‘cannot listen’.
Did you teach them how to listen, or did you only check their (lack of) comprehension again?
Nobody taught me how to teach listening. I doubt that the in-house trainers that trained me ever received anything other than a quick mention to ‘make sure you do some listening‘ when they were trained as teachers.
Students learn to listen by metaphorically being thrown in at the deep end. Unfortunately, like swimming, it only works the first time for a few people. Nobody learns to decode at phoneme or syllable level. Sometimes there might be word-level listening but it’s magic and accident. ‘Listen for the word “useless”. What is it used to describe?’
If we want to give students listening practice, all well and good, but don’t call it teaching. Call it listening to the CD, which could be done at home. Teach some connected speech and have students listen for examples of it. Teach some intonation patterns and have students listen for speaker attitude and intention or even how many items they are listing.
You could even ditch the stupid CD, find something online that has real conversations about something the students are interested in (such as a podcast about video games or a YouTube video about a country they want to go to) and play that instead, having them listen for words stressed in the tone units and make sense of it that way.
But don’t press play and tell the students that you’re teaching listening.
Lots of the key ideas here are not mine. Probably most of them come from:
Field, J (2012) Listening in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: CUP.
Prince, Peter (2013) ‘Listening, remembering, writing: Exploring the dictogloss task’. Language Teaching Research: 17(4) 486–500. London: Sage. Retrieved 9 October 2014.
Other #youngerteacherself posts at Joanna Malefaki’s blog.

8 Replies to “Teaching or Testing Listening?”

  1. I think the same kind of letter could, and perhaps should, be written by many teachers to their younger teacher-selves. I certainly know that I never really taught listening myself, pre-delta. And I’m not sure how good I was post-delta. I suppose that my focus shifted to trying to raise awareness of the things you mention (connected speech, sentence stress). If I do get back into regular classroom teaching then it’s definitely an area for development for me. Thanks for the reminder of this!

  2. I am a newbie teacher, fresh off the CELTA, and this gave me lots to think about – thanks! I’ve really loved this series Joanna started!

    1. I hope you start your new job with aplomb. If you can con your DoS into buying the book by Field that I mentioned it has *loads* of useful listening activities to build skills as opposed to practising through exposure alone.

      1. I might just try that 🙂 I also used to work with John Field when I worked in Editorial at Routledge and he’s a lovely chap! Thanks again, I’ve enjoyed hopping around your blog 🙂

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