8 tips on improving our EFL learners’ listening skills

How can we help our learners develop effective listening skills? Here are 8 key points to consider when giving out listening tasks in an EFL classroom

  1. Focus on our learners’ specific needs

What is the purpose behind the listening tasks we give out to the class? What do we want to achieve? These are key questions we need to ask ourselves when we select or design activities for this receptive skill.

    The tasks should always be adapted to our learners’ level, age and specific needs. We need to carefully examine their level of difficulty and what the purpose behind each listening task is. In exam oriented classrooms for example these activities should provide adequate practice for the upcoming language tests, whereas with adult learners (who learn the TL for communicative purposes) the focus should be shifted to real-life listening tasks.

2. Authenticity – varietymotivation

In many cases learners do not get enough exposure to the L2 outside the language classroom. Using authentic TL input for our listening activities should therefore form an important part of our lessons. The world wide web can be a great ally in our quest for authentic audiovisual resources. Youtube videos and certain podcasts can offer great real life listening material as long as they are selected with caution.

    Variety in language input is also equally important to authenticity. Listening tasks in the EFL classroom should not just focus on conversations among native speakers. The options are endless: news broadcasts, radio programmes, listening to an interview with a famous politician/actor/singer, announcements at a train station/airport etc can all be used as the basis for effective and innovative EFL activities.

It is also important to always remember that we need to keep our learners’ motivation levels up at all times. Nobody wants to listen to something they do not find interesting or relevant to their age and needs. Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are equally important here. Our learners need to find the activity stimulating, they need to focus on it and carry it out with success.

3. Pre-teach selected key vocabulary

    We should consider pre-teaching certain words and phrases that can facilitate the comprehension of the listening task. Again, we should focus only on the words that may confuse our learners during the activity and not every unknown word or phrase they may encounter. Teachers can try to do some brainstorming with the entire class and elicit this vocabulary from the ss during the lead-in stage.

4. Give out to the ss the tasks/questions before the listening part

A discussion on the listening topic beforehand with the entire class will prepare our learners for what they are going to listen to and activate their schemata. We should try to elicit from them as much information as possible, let them ‘discover’ what the upcoming task is all about and keep them actively involved in the learning process.

    Training students to read all the relevant information before the listening task begins is also a strategy that could be useful for their language exams. This way they will be prepared for what they have to focus on when the activity begins and easily ‘extract’ the specific information they need in order to complete the task.

5. Don’t allow learners to look on the transcript

    In most cases (depending on the purpose of the activity) it is better not to give out a transcript to the students. This way we let them focus only on what they are listening to. The only information they will have will be from the lead in stage and from whatever is written in the task. The rest will be up to them to discover. After all we are preparing them to face real life situations. In the future they will have to communicate with other speakers of the language without any transcript.

6. Give them a time-limit

It will be very useful for our learners to learn to work under a specific time limit, not only for the listening task itself but also for reading all the relevant information before the task begins. Again, this is a very useful technique that will help learners in their language exams as they will learn to work under time pressure and to focus on what they are listening to. It must, however, be done with caution as we always need to think about whether the task is overloaded and whether there are too many responses demanded from our learners. Our ss therefore need to have the adequate time to absorb all the information and to complete the task .

7. Single exposure (if possible)

Since real-life discourse is rarely ‘replayed’, learners should be encouraged to develop the ability to extract the info they need from a single hearing. (This, again, depends on the purpose of the activity and our learners’ age and needs).

8. Selective listening

Similar to skimming and scanning in reading, our learners need to be trained to listen for the gist or for specific information. They must learn to identify general topics and at the same time detect specific details when needed. This will come in handy not only as exam practice but also when they will have to listen to native speakers of the language in real life situations.

Published by Joanna Nifli

Greek-Canadian ELT teacher and freelance translator with work experience at the United Nations and the European Parliament. Holder of an MA in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (MA TEFL), the Cambridge CELTA and an MA in Applied Translation Studies from the University of Leeds. Interested in innovative pedagogies in language education, TESOL, teacher training, applied linguistics and related topics

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