What’s wrong with listening? (1)
Some basic problems and ideas on how to solve them in a Student-friendly way
Many, if not most Teachers (I am sorry, but I will often intentionally generalize for the sake of simplicity) will automatically reply: “There’s nothing wrong with listening.
Why should there be anything wrong with it? Students come to the classroom, open their books, listen and do some listening tasks. The answers are then checked – that’s it – done! No problem at all!”
Well… Maybe, but…
1. Why is it “doing listening” and not “teaching listening”?
Obviously, at any level of competence, Students can still improve their listening skills. Unfortunately, they often don’t, as if stopping at a certain stage of development. Why? Many Teachers treat listening tasks as assessment, rather than educational tools. Such tasks are often solved to “get the right answers” or to “check how much you can understand,” without any other defined educational goals and teaching outcomes. As a result, Students usually get stressed trying to solve the tasks using their intuition and some self-invented methods. Teachers just play recordings and read answers from an answer key, instead of encouraging their Students to listen actively and giving them some proven recipes for obtaining the required information successfully.
In my opinion, our role is to make sure that, apart from real assessment situations, we should use listening tasks not to TEST our Students’ listening skills, but to TEACH our Students how to understand spoken language better in its different forms, genres, varieties, accents, etc., as well as how to extract specific or general information from what they hear.
That is the first and probably most serious problem with listening. To solve it, we simply need to change our perception of the role of listening tasks done in the classroom. To be more Studentfriendly, let’s teach rather than test using them.
At higher levels, if your Students assume they already understand everything, expose them to a variety of accents, jargons and more complicated communicative situations that will make them more sensitive to the subtleties of spoken language. In this way, you will make them prepared to deal with different real-life and professional communicative challenges more effectively in the future.
2. The stress…
If it is “testing listening,” not “teaching listening,” Students get stressed. As a result, they may panic while listening, assume that they are not able to do such tasks at all and really believe they’ll always fail, copy answers from other Students or from an answer key (as “they’re not talented enough to get the right ones”), etc.
- Make your Students relaxed: assure them that you don’t actually aim to test their skills, knowledge and competences when you give them a listening task. Explain how you see the process of teaching listening. Tell them you want to help them gain or improve their listening skills. Explain why such tasks are extremely important (understanding spoken language is the core of communication – you need to be able to understand others well in order to exchange information effectively). Nobody said it would be easy, but if they decide to follow your practical advice, they will see gradual progress. Step by step, day by day, they will upgrade their listening skills. If they are able to notice that, they will become less stressed with time.
- Always give your Students an opportunity to listen to a recording more than once (at least twice), unless everybody in the classroom really agrees that once is enough. It is worth playing your CD twice even for one person (others may, for example, do a different task in the meantime). Sometimes, if a recording is really difficult, you may decide it is necessary for Students to listen to it a few times. That will help reduce stress, too.
- Make sure any listening task is carried out with a proper introduction and preparation stage. You need to explain clearly what your Students are supposed to do and what knowledge, skills and competences they will train/gain/develop by doing a given task. In other words, you need to set clear goals and present an accessible method of achieving them. Also, it would be advisable to pre-teach the most important vocabulary items.
- Allow your Students to practice specific types of listening tasks that they will need to solve during their final tests or exams. Practice makes perfect: if your Students master certain listening comprehension techniques that will allow them to pass a test, they will feel more comfortable taking it or preparing to take it.
- Let your Students cooperate while solving listening tasks. For example, allow them to compare their answers after they have listened to a recording for the first time. It is a simple solution, but it really works! Of course, make sure that Students don’t simply copy from one another, but rather discuss the answers that they have.
- If you have the time, let your Students listen to a recording once just “for pleasure” or “for general understanding.” That will make them more confident (“I already know that!”) and less stressed (“It’s not a completely new thing!”) when they listen two more times to do the given task.
- Present some simple, but effective techniques of solving different listening tasks to your Students. For example: “When you listen for the first time, give as many answers as possible – do your best, try to understand as much as you can. While listening for the second time, check your answers, correct them if necessary and complete what is missing (CCC: check, correct and complete).” Or: “When you do a gapfilling listening task, try to guess the missing words or phrases before you actually listen. If you cannot determine what is missing, at least identify the part of speech or type of word (e.g. number, date, name, adjective, etc.). That will help you understand what you need to ‘listen for’ when you hear the recording.” Believe it or not, most Students will find these simple suggestions extremely helpful. Armed with an effective technique, they will work under less stress.
To be continued…