teaching listening skills

Education Evolutions

Teaching Listening Skills: 5 Strategies

Lana Learn instructors in Vietnam are teaching listening skills that provide English language learners with real-life experiences.

Lana Learn is supporting the Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense achieve its goal of having 30% of the Vietnam Armed Forces fluent in English by 2030. One aspect of our English language training program is to improve the communicative skills of students. Some of our students have an English grammar knowledge but lack exposure to native-speaking teachers. Our instructors are prioritizing teaching listening skills to provide students with real-life experience. 

Listening is a vital and challenging skill for English language learners. It requires understanding not only the words, but also the context, purpose, and cultural nuances. Therefore, English teachers need to teach their students effective listening strategies that can help them enhance their comprehension. 

Below are five common problems for teaching listening and some strategies to solve them. 

Problem 1: Lack of exposure to authentic listening materials 

Many students rely on textbooks or scripted dialogues to practice their listening skills. However, these materials may not reflect the real-life situations and varieties of English that they will encounter outside the classroom. As a result, students may feel unprepared and frustrated when they listen to native speakers or different accents. 

Strategy: Use a variety of authentic listening materials 

Teachers can expose their students to a range of authentic listening materials, such as podcasts, videos, songs, news reports, speeches, interviews, etc. These materials can provide students with opportunities to hear different voices, styles, speeds, and topics of English. Teachers can also select materials that are relevant and interesting for their students and match their level and goals. 

Some examples of authentic listening materials are: 

  • TED Talks: short and engaging presentations on various topics by experts and speakers from around the world. 
  • BBC Learning English: a website that offers audio and video materials for learners of different levels and interests, with transcripts and exercises. 
  • Lyrics Training: an online game that challenges learners to fill in the blanks of song lyrics while listening to music videos. 
  • ESL Video: a website that allows teachers and learners to create quizzes based on YouTube videos. 

Problem 2: Lack of confidence and motivation 

Many students feel anxious and demotivated when they listen to English. They may think that they are not good enough, or that they will never understand everything. They may also lose interest or concentration if the listening task is too easy or too difficult for them. 

Strategy: Build confidence and motivation through scaffolding and feedback 

Teachers can help their students build confidence and motivation by providing them with appropriate scaffolding and feedback. Scaffolding means giving students support and guidance before, during, and after the listening task. For example, teachers can: 

  • Activate students’ prior knowledge and expectations about the topic or genre of the listening material. 
  • Pre-teach key vocabulary or expressions that students may encounter in the listening material. 
  • Set clear and achievable objectives and sub-tasks for the listening activity. 
  • Model or demonstrate how to use listening strategies, such as predicting, inferring, summarizing, etc. 
  • Encourage students to use visual aids, such as pictures, graphs, maps, etc., to help them understand the listening material. 
  • Allow students to listen more than once or pause or rewind the audio or video as needed. 
  • Check students’ comprehension and provide corrective feedback. 
  • Praise students’ efforts and progress. 

Problem 3: Lack of metacognitive awareness 

Metacognition refers to the ability to think about one’s own thinking and learning processes. Many students lack metacognitive awareness when they listen to English. They may not know how to plan, monitor, evaluate, or regulate their own listening performance. They may also not be aware of their strengths and weaknesses as listeners. 

Strategy: Teach metacognitive strategies for self-regulation 

Teachers can teach their students how to use metacognitive strategies for self-regulation in listening. These strategies can help students become more independent and effective listeners. According to Goh (1997), there are three types of metacognitive strategies for self-regulation: 

  1. Planning: This involves setting goals, choosing materials and methods, and allocating time and resources for listening. 
  2. Monitoring: This involves checking one’s comprehension, identifying problems, applying solutions, and adjusting strategies during listening. 
  3. Evaluating: This involves assessing one’s performance, reflecting on one’s strengths and weaknesses, and setting new goals after listening. 

Teachers can help their students use these strategies by asking them questions such as: 

  • What do you want to achieve from this listening activity? 
  • How will you prepare for this listening activity? 
  • What difficulties do you expect to face in this listening activity? 
  • How will you overcome these difficulties? 
  • How will you check your understanding during this listening activity? 
  • How will you know if you have achieved your goal in this listening activity? 
  • What did you learn from this listening activity? 
  • What can you do better next time? 

Problem 4: Lack of bottom-up processing skills 

Bottom-up processing refers to the ability to decode the linguistic input from the smallest units (sounds, words, phrases) to the larger units (sentences, paragraphs, texts). Many students lack bottom-up processing skills when they listen to English. They may have difficulties in recognizing sounds, words, or grammatical structures. They may also miss important information or misunderstand the meaning of the listening material. 

Strategy: Teach bottom-up processing skills through focused practice 

Teachers can teach their students how to use bottom-up processing skills through focused practice. This means giving students specific tasks that target their listening sub-skills, such as: 

  • Sound discrimination: This involves distinguishing between similar or confusing sounds in English, such as /p/ and /b/, /l/ and /r/, /s/ and /z/, etc. 
  • Word recognition: This involves identifying words in spoken English, especially when they are reduced, contracted, or connected with other words, such as wanna, gonna, don’tcha, etc. 
  • Grammatical parsing: This involves recognizing the grammatical structure and function of words and phrases in spoken English, such as subject, verb, object, modifier, etc. 
  • Information extraction: This involves locating and extracting specific information from the listening material, such as names, dates, numbers, facts, etc. 

Teachers can use various activities to help students practice these sub-skills, such as: 

  • Minimal pairs: This involves listening to pairs of words that differ by only one sound and identifying the difference, such as pin and bin, light and right, bus and buzz, etc. 
  • Dictation: This involves listening to a short text and writing down what is heard, paying attention to spelling, punctuation, and grammar. 
  • Cloze: This involves listening to a text with some words missing and filling in the blanks with the correct words. 
  • Note-taking: This involves listening to a text and taking notes of the main points or details. 

Problem 5: Lack of top-down processing skills 

Top-down processing refers to the ability to use prior knowledge and context to infer meaning from the listening material. Many students lack top-down processing skills when they listen to English. They may not activate their background knowledge or expectations about the topic or genre of the listening material. They may also not use clues such as titles, headings, pictures, tone of voice, etc., to predict or infer meaning from the listening material. 

Strategy: Teach top-down processing skills through interactive activities 

Teachers can teach their students how to use top-down processing skills through interactive activities. These activities can help students activate their schemata (existing knowledge and experience) and use them to make sense of the listening material. Some examples of interactive activities are: 

  • Brainstorming: This involves generating ideas or questions about a topic before listening to a text related to it. 
  • Prediction: This involves making guesses about what will happen or what will be said in a text based on clues such as titles, headings, pictures, etc. 
  • Inference: This involves drawing conclusions or making assumptions about what is implied or suggested in a text based on evidence or logic. 
  • Summarizing: This involves restating the main idea or message of a text in one’s own words. 
  • Discussion: This involves sharing one’s opinions or reactions to a text with others. 

To conclude, listening is a complex and dynamic skill that requires both bottom-up and top-down processing skills. Teachers can help their students improve their listening skills by using a variety of authentic materials, building confidence and motivation, teaching metacognitive strategies, providing focused practice on sub-skills, and engaging students in interactive activities. By doing so, teachers can help their students become more competent and confident listeners of English. 

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