Listening and Note-taking Skills

Michael Thompson
Delta Publishing 2013

Listening and Note-taking SkillsThis material falls within Delta’s Academic Objectives series, which also includes reading and writing skills. The current volume’s aim is stated simply: to prepare students for academic listening.

The material is intended to be used either for self-study or in a teacher- led context. The Student’s Book contains CDs with all the listening passages. The Teacher’s Book includes explanatory notes, plenty of teaching ideas, a number of extra photocopiable activities, the answer key and the whole of the Academic Word list (developed by Averil Coxhead at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, based on data from several disciplines according to range and frequency).

There are six main units in all: Higher Education, Rock ’n’ Roll Inc, Whose law is it?, Death by universe, Happiness is … and Brand new. The first is self-explanatory: the others roughly approximate to the disciplines of business, law, marketing, psychology and social studies, and general science. The very clear Contents page shows how each unit is further sub-divided into sections: topic focus, language focus, listening for production, listening for meaning and a final extension section. The progression through each unit is easy to follow, from topic and vocabulary warm-up, listening to short extracts for specific points, then finally to more extensive listening practice. Throughout each unit are a number of shaded boxes: green for “going further” (i.e. a short extra task if time and/or inclination allow) and blue indicating an information box with more extended explanations, for instance on note-taking, summarising, the AWL, the structure of talks, and so on. In addition, there are two consolidation sections, each reviewing the work done after a block of three units. The four appendices in the Student’s Book provide: 1 the pairwork data for the relevant tasks; 2 exercises related to the AWL; 3 transcripts for the audio recordings and 4 the answer key.

Each unit is self-contained and can be selected for study according to preference and interest. There is a wide range of activity types throughout. To give just a flavour, these include vocabulary brainstorming; sentence completion; recognising given lexical items in a talk; notes completion; matching exercises; reordering sentences; choosing appropriate headings for sections of text; rewriting. Quite a lot of this practice is intended to be done in pairs, and occasionally in small groups.

A good deal of the content and related activities are of direct relevance to the more specific issues associated with listening in an academic context. Most obviously, much of the vocabulary work is based on the Academic Word List, and there are a number of useful spin-off exercises to do with prefixes, suffixes and other aspects of morphology and ‘word families’ ( define–definition; territory– territorial; depend–dependable, and so on). To take a few other examples from across the coursebook, we can find work on dealing with hearing/ pronouncing numbers; recognising linking words in the development of a speaker’s argument; using common abbreviations in note- taking; recognising speech signals (of importance, or topic switch for instance); structuring summaries. It is positive to see the inclusion of an exercise (Unit 1) on mis-hearing words and phrases, a common problem in note-taking, but one that does not often feature in comparable materials.

A further positive feature of the material is the explicit attention to language work – a reminder, if needed, that language practice should have a central role in teaching English for academic purposes, alongside the discipline focus on such areas as genre, critical thinking and academic literacy. So as well as the extension vocabulary work already mentioned, we find exercises on such areas as collocations, verb and adjective choice, function words and the use of stress in English speech. That said, in the table of contents it is a little unclear why the sub-heading of ‘language focus’ mainly contains items that would more usually be recognised as study skills and their sub-skills (aspects of note-taking; organising signals), whereas language work is more likely to appear under the sub-heading of listening for meaning (vocabulary, collocations, word families, function words).

As far as the intended audience is concerned, the author makes it clear in terms of language proficiency that the material is designed for learners of English at the B2 and C1 levels of the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference), i.e. independent (B2) or proficient (C1) users. The introduction to the Student’s Book sets this out in more detail. What is, however, surprising is that there is no indication in either the Student’s or Teacher’s Book of the academic level at which the material is pitched. There is obviously a great difference in terms of knowledge and experience of study between students at pre-undergraduate level on a foundation programme and those studying at postgraduate level for a Master’s degree or a PhD. A potential user can only surmise from the nature of the material that it would be most relevant in the earlier stages of academic study, which is not to say that much of the language work would not be useful for higher-grade students. There is an oblique hint in a short video clip of the author talking about the material on the Delta website, where he says it is for students who do not necessarily wish to study in an English-speaking country, but who do want to learn something more academic than ‘general English’. This reviewer assumes that it would, therefore, also be relevant for older school students as well as those already at university.

The listening material itself (referred to as ‘the Listenings’) covers short extracts for listening to specific points of content or language, to longer stretches lasting several minutes. There are conversations, interviews and whole talks. There is a range of accents including English, Irish, North American (US and Canada), Australian and also proficient non-native English. There is a slight tendency towards North American, as there is in the content of some of the units: Unit 1 on Higher Education, for example, concerns the American university system. (The author himself is an American working in Italy.) It is surprising that the sources for the listening material are not stated, so one can only make the assumption that they were specially written and recorded for this book. They do sound rather scripted and fluent, and not really the kind of speech that would be found in an academic lecture, such as hesitation, use of redundancy and repetition.

This is an attractive-looking set of materials with a variety of content and tasks. It is strong in its attention to vocabulary development. It could fairly be described as value-added general English rather than EAP, and is certainly at the more generalist wide-angle end of the spectrum. Those seeking practice of more direct relevance to university-level students, particularly in an English-speaking environment, would more likely turn to one of the several coursebooks that use authentic lecture material, such as Campbell and Smith (2009), Lynch (2004), Sarosy and Sherak (2006). However, Listening and Note- taking Skills would certainly be useful for learners wishing to develop their language proficiency towards more formal study and professional environments.

Campbell, C. and Smith, J. (2009) Listening. Garnet Education/University of Reading
Lynch, T. (2004) Study Listening. Cambridge University Press (2nd edition)
Sarosy, P. and Sherak K. (2006) Lecture Ready. Oxford University Press

Jo McDonough was senior lecturer in ELT at the University of Essex and Director of the EFL Unit. Her main interests are in EAP and teacher research. She has been a long-standing member of BALEAP and was an inspector for Accreditation UK.