Cover Image
close this bookEnglish for Specific Purposes (ESP): Teaching English for Specific Purposes (Peace Corps, 1986, 110 p.)
close this folderChapter Three: Developing language skills
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentListening
View the documentReading
View the documentWriting GRAMMAR
View the documentSpeaking
View the documentStudy skills


Listening comprehension, although vital for communication in English, is usually the most neglected of the language skills in English programs. As a native speaker, you have a unique advantage in developing listening comprehension skills in your students. Everything that you say in the classroom can be useful in developing the students' listening abilities.

To be effective, however, your spoken communications with the class must be comprehensible. Language which is not understood is just "noise" and does not lead to student language acquisition. For this reason, it is important for you to gauge your students' level of comprehension and adjust your speech to reflect their understanding. You should spend some time at the beginning of your course to be sure you are understood. Your students may be accustomed to hearing a British accent, for example, and may need time to adjust to yours. Look at your students carefully as you talk to get cues about their comprehension. Check comprehension frequently by asking questions about content which require listening comprehension, or by asking for questions or comments.

The cloze exercise is a good way to check your students' listening comprehension. Give them a short passage with some words deleted. Read the passage aloud twice. If they are unable to fill in the missing words, they are unable to make sense of the passage. More information and examples of cloze exercises can be found on pages 38, 64, and 68 of this Manual. Other ways of using cloze exercises include deleting articles or verbs, for example, if you are working on these forms, to focus students' attention on these language structures.

The tape recorder is a valuable asset to the language teacher. If you have a recorder available, you can tape _listening exercises in advance to allow yourself the freedom to circulate in the classroom as students complete them. You can also record other native English speakers reading craze or other passages to give the students practice hearing other accents and speakers of the opposite sex.

Give students practice taking notes as they listen. Your students may be used to writing notes down verbatim, as a dictation exercise, and will need practice in listening for main points of information. Help them to recognize clues to meaning introduced by the speaker. Figure 2 illustrates the types of clues you should bring to your students' attention. A summary of such clues includes:

a) Numerical statements, such as "There are two reasons... "

b) Rhetorical questions.

c) Introductory summaries: "Let me first explain...n; "The topic which I intend to discuss is interesting because... "

d) Development of an idea, signalled by statements such as: "Another reason... ";; "On the one hand... ";; "Therefore... ";; "Since... ";; "In "; etc.

e) Transitions, such as "Let us turn our attention to...n; "If these facts are true, then...n; etc.

f) Chronology of ideas, signalled by "First...n; "The next... n; "Finally...,"; etc.

g) Emphasis of ideas, such as "This is important because...n; "The significant results were... ";; "Let me repeat..."; etc.

h) Summary of ideas, signaled by "In conclusion... n ; "As I have shown..."; etc.

(adapted from Richard C. Yorkey, Study Skills for Students of English as a Second Language,. Used by permission of McGraw Hill Book Co.)

Use graphics and visuals whenever possible with listening exercises. Figure 3 shows how a graph can be used to keep students engaged in active listening. Students may also need help in learning to read graphics (maps, charts, etc.) because they may have had little experience with this skill. Listening comprehension activities can help them see how graphic information is read and analyzed.

Figure 2. Notetaking Clues

Figure 3. From Fluency Squares by Philip L Knowles and Ruth A. Sasaki. Copyright ° 1981 by Regents Publishing Company, Inc. Reprinted by permission.

Figure 3. Continued.

Following are general objectives for the teaching of listening comprehension. General objectives are given in each section of this chapter for the teaching of language skills, but you will need to develop specific objectives for your particular program after you assess student needs and select teaching materials. Guidelines for the development of such objectives are given in Chapter Four, Program Design.

Objectives for Developments of Listening Comprehension

1. Students will understand short lectures in the content area when vocabulary is familiar, as demonstrated by their ability to answer questions about the lecture.

2. Students will understand spoken numbers, including percentages, fractions, decimals, and other numerical expressions common to the specialty field, as demonstrated by their ability to write those numbers when they hear them in context.

3. Students will be able to follow instructions given in class regarding assignments and activities, as demonstrated by their correct performance of such instructions.

Activities for Teaching Listening:

1. Mini-lectures. Give a short lecture every class meeting to provide students with opportunities to develop notetaking and other listening skills. Make your mini-lectures as contextualized as possible. Demonstrations are particularly effective. Use visual aids and real objects at every opportunity to increase the comprehensibility of your presentation. If possible, go into the laboratory with your students and demonstrate an experiment or process. Organize practical, hands-on activities for student participation. Following your presentation, ask true/false and yes/no questions to give students the opportunity to check thei comprehension. You can do this orally, or make it a paper and pencil task and call it a self-evaluation test to allow students to assess their own progress.

If you have sufficient preparation time, it is also useful to construct a cloze exercise in which, fallowing your mini-lecture, you re-read some parts to the students while they follow along and fill in the blanks. This exercise can be checked immediately in class so students receive feedback on their understanding. An example of such an exercise is given in Chapter Four.

2. Reading aloud to your students. They will enjoy listening to you read short passages aloud as they read them silently. They can listen to your intonation patterns and pronunciation and absorb some of the features of native speaker spoken language, which will provide additional clues for the interpretation of complex sentences which might otherwise be beyond the students! competence. If possible, tape recordings of reading assignments can be made available to students out of class.

3. Number recognition. Any technical field requires that students understand spoken numbers. From your initial needs assessment, you will have identified certain math language that students will need to understand in English. Number recognition exercises give them practice doing so. Such exercises develop listening comprehension and numeracy in English and can easily be constructed in advance of each class period.

Ask the students to number a piece of paper from 1 to 10. Then read a sentence which has a number in it. Ask them to write the number they hear. Initially, the numbers you use can be the simple cardinal numbers (differences between sixteen and sixty, for example, often give students problems), but as the course progresses this exercise can become more challenging, as you include numbers in the thou-sands or millions, monetary expressions, decimals, fractions, percentages, and other specialty uses of numerical expressions which occur in the content area.

Read each sentence twice. Have a student at the blackboard, and as you read the sentence a third time, ask the student to write the number so that the others can check their and get immediate feedback about whether or not they understand. An example of this type of exercise is given in Chapter Four.

4. Dictation exercises. Dictation combines listening and writing practice. When dictating, read the whole sentence at normal speed three times, allowing time for writing between each repetition.

When evaluating dictation, do not focus on spelling as ; primary goal of the exercise. If you think of dictation as a listening comprehension exercise, you can evaluate the product according to whether or not meaning is reflected in what is written. For example, plural endings or past tense endings are necessary for correct interpretation of meaning. Spelling errors which reflect the irregularities of English orthography may not affect meaning.