Learning a foreign involves a lot: new vocabulary to learn, grammar to acquire and sounds to master. It isn’t a challenge for the light-hearted! This couldn’t be truer for English Language Learners. Not only do they have to deal with the Language Learning Process, as for any other language, but they also have to manage a language which differs greatly between its written and spoken forms.
As languages go, English is definitely not a phonetically written language. Other languages, such as Polish or German, largely spell the language as it sounds. Of course, there are sounds and special clusters of letters you have to learn, but they generally don’t change: you could say there are hard and fast spelling rules in those languages.
When it comes to English, however, there aren’t many hard and fast rules. Rough, through and though all contain the same -ough cluster, yet it is pronounced completely differently in each one.
This, of course, has a big effect on Listening Skills. Many courses, teachers and schools teach the language from the written word. Think of all the notes you get your learners to make in a single lesson – even in the very first lesson!
Listening is an important skill that needs to be practised not only regularly but authentically. So what can English Language Learners to work on their Listening Skills, even the beginners? Continue reading to find out more…
When learning a foreign language, it is tempting to find Listening Material which has been specially designed with the learner in mind. Such materials often simplify the language, speak at a much slower pace, and avoid difficult sounds and structures.
While such materials might be useful in the Language Learning Process, they have to be complimented with Authentic Materials. Why? Simply because it is important the learner get used to how the language actually sounds and how it is really used.
Of course, listening to authentic materials is challenging, to say the least. In fact, it can even be off-putting, especially if the learner feels they can’t understand anything!
So what can the learner do to listen better but with authentic materials?
(1) Word Spotting
When listening to a podcast, a radio programme or a live debate, the learner can listen out for words that they have already learnt. Even if the learner can’t make heads or tails of what it is all about, just listening out for recognisable words is great practice. In fact, it can even help the learner to figure out the correct pronunciation and meaning of words or even help them confirm whether a word is a noun, verb or adjective.
(2) Listen Again
It is amazing how much more you can get out of a task by repeating it. Never just listen to something once – go back and listen to it again, again and again. It is almost guaranteed that the second time round you listen, you will pick words and phrases you hadn’t the first time round.
(3) Notice Things
Whether you are a beginner, an intermediate or an advanced learner, you can pick up a lot about the language just by keeping your ears sharp about features such as pronunciation, sounds and meaning.
For example, let’s imagine a beginner has learnt the word too and hears the following sentences in a radio programme on the BBC.
The French government has made a formal complaint to the EU commission, too.
Nigella Lawson has said in an interview to a newspaper that she wants to open her own chain of restaurants, too.
I would like to be included, too.
What can the learner deduct from these sentences? That the word too comes at the end of the sentence in English.
How about another example. While watching an interview on the TV, an intermediate learner might discover that the word do in questions, such as What do you enjoy most about your job?, isn’t actually pronounced as /du:/ but more like /də/.
Teachers and learners alike can react badly to the idea of listening to Authentic Texts, especially at lower levels. This is quite understandable, as the onslaught of unrecognisable sounds and meaning can be suffocating.
However, what is important here – as with the ideas above – is not to grade the materials but to grade the task. Make learners aware of this. Tell them that the aim isn’t to understand the listening text but to complete the task. That way, their focus will be on accomplishing a do-able task appropriate for their level.
If you try any of these ideas out, leave a comment below and let us know how it went.