Listening, Beginners and Authentic Materials

When you’re learning a new language, authentic materials can be quite scary and off-putting. While this is true for all skills, such as reading a newspaper or trying to maintain a conversation with a native speaker, it’s particularly true when it comes to listening. When turning your ear to an authentic radio programme, TV episode or eaves dropping on a conversation in a café, it can be so hard to make heads or tails of what’s being said.headphones-791078_1280

This is because listening is live: the words are spoken and then are gone again in a split second. You don’t have the option to go back and look at the words again, like in reading, or check that you’ve understood it correctly, like in speaking. Listening happens in real-time and you’ve got to get it the first time, otherwise you might not get it right at all.

Listening is a challenge for language learners of all levels. However, where higher level learners can manage to understand a lot of what they hear, lower level learners are lucky if they can pick out a word or two from what must seem like a sea of noise.

Listening isn’t easy for lower levels, which is why we often use specially-made materials for these levels. Such materials often take the form of dumbed down texts, with high frequency words, clear pronunciation and a slow pace. Of course, the pedagogical justification for this can be found in theories of learning, such as Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development.

However, despite the methodologically sound reasons for simplifying listening texts, is there any justification for exposing lower level learners to authentic listening materials? Keep reading to find out… Continue reading

Authentic Listening | 3 Ideas

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.3261686821_2b0aced89c_o

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… Continue reading

Acrostic Poems in ELT

When starting out in teaching, Newly Qualified Teachers tend to be enthusiastic collectors of in-class activities. It’s not unusual to hear in the staff room cries such as “Anyone have any good ideas that I can do with my intermediate group?” or “That sounds like a great activity, I’ll use that!” In short, new teachers will try just about anything once.IMG_0058

With a bit of time and experience, however, teachers come to realise that some activities work better than others. They tend to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t work with their learners, making statements such as “that sounds like a nice idea but I just don’t see it working with my group.” And sometimes you have to stop using an activity because you fear you might over do it – this rings particularly true of vocab games.

With years of experience and plenty of development, some teachers then start to question the value of in-class activities. They cast a critical eye over them and start to ponder what principles of learning are behind the activity. This is when you start to hear statements, such as “well, this activity is good fun and they enjoy it, but what are the learners actually getting out it?” That is to say, you start to take a Principled Approach to activities and their design.  Continue reading

Revising KWL Charts

I have just finished reading David Harbinson’s post on KWL charts, which contains a neat suggestion of adding an ‘how to find out’ column to the chart, changing the ubiquitous acronym from KWL to KWHL.

When I first started out in ELT, I put a lot of focus on the activities learners did in my lessons. I often thought about activities in terms of:

  • How engaging they were
  • How much time they took up – the more the better!
  • How fun they were

Now, a few years into teaching and post Delta, I take a very different approach to classroom activities. Before using any activity in class, I actually do the activity myself. This sounds like a logical thing, but you would be amazed at how many teachers take a look at an activity and instantly ‘know’ what it involves, without going through the motions themselves.

I feel it is important to do an activity yourself before giving it to your learners for one fundamental reason – that reason being namely the following:

To know what the learner is really doing linguistically and cognitively during the activity 

In education in general, but particularly in ELT, there is a lot of talk about how lessons help learners to develop and expand on their skills, knowledge and cognitive abilities.

Bearing in mind the fundamental principle above, after reading David’s post I read an article and did a KWL chart myself. The results were surprising. Continue reading

How Do We Teach Listening?

Regardless of whether they are NQT’s or have many years of teaching experience behind them, I always like to ask teachers: why do we teach listening?

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The answers have been wide and varied. However, they are usually one of the following: we teach listening because we have to, it’s what our CELTA course taught us to do, it helps the learners to learn connected speech.

Is that really why we teach listening skills?

Continue reading

Let’s Go…. Mimio?: Technology in the Classroom

Mimio Gotye

In an interview for a post with the British Council, I was asked about how I used technology in the classroom. My response was quite simple: I don’t. Or rather, I didn’t. At the time I had believed technology did nothing but present difficulties for a teacher. Since then, my opinion has moved 180 degrees in the opposite direction – I’ve embraced the technological ELT classroom.

  Continue reading