How do you design an Authentic Listening course? What kind of guiding principles should you use to compile your course? Why are they useful? In the final part of her Authentic Listening series, Chiara shares the answers to these questions by describing understanding listening difficulties, making independent decisions, making useful comparisons, getting to grips with sounds and using meaningful topics all helped and much more besides!
If you are still here reading this, and learning about my Authentic Listening course, then congratulations: you’re almost as big a listening nerd as I am!
Just in case you missed the previous blog posts in this three-part authentic listening series, in my first post, I discussed why a course focusing on listening may be useful and in my second post, I shared details about my intro lesson, with some sample activities.
In this last post in the series, I want to talk you through five principles I followed to design my course. If you are thinking about designing your own Authentic Listening course, read on: these may be useful for you!
1. Understanding listening difficulties
The first principle relates to the fact that more often than not, students only have a superficial understanding of their difficulties: they stop at “It was too fast!” or “I don’t understand that accent.”. As I discussed in Understanding the reasons behind our successes and failures – insights from the Attribution Theory, if students think that their difficulties are external and uncontrollable, this is unlikely to make them want to persevere in the face of difficulty.
To foster a deeper understanding of what makes listening difficult for language learners, it is a good idea to have brief post-listening discussions where students are challenged to go beyond simplistic conceptualisations of their difficulties. Another useful activity is to encourage students to experiment with potential remedies for their difficulties: for example, I like to let students reduce the speed on their videos when they watch them. This can be done easily on YouTube. When they do this, they often find that lower speed does not necessarily equal better comprehension! This also echoes some research finding (Derwing and Munro, 2001).
2. Making independent decisions
Listening is often a solitary activity. As such, listeners need to develop the ability to regulate themselves. In a course, this can be fostered by giving learners a certain degree of autonomy in making decisions. For example, it does not always need to be the teacher who controls the video: this was true when Chambers (1996) first pointed it out, and it is even more relevant now, with online teaching and the possibility for students to use their own devices!
In my course, I gave students time to watch by themselves, decide whether and when to pause and rewatch sections, adjust the speed and activate or deactivate the subtitles. This helps learners develop autonomy and also an awareness of their own difficulties and needs, and how to address them individually.
3. Making useful comparisons
If the course is to focus on developing listening processes, a useful way to develop learners’ awareness is to help them compare their experiences. This may include:
- Comparing their pre-listening expectations of what a video will be about with its actual content. This helps especially those learners who over-use their top-down knowledge when listening to monitor their expectations in light of what they hear.
- Comparing their ideas of what English sounds like to what it actually sounds like: for example, learners will often have an idea of what famous songs might say, but without ever checking their lyrics, these will be approximations. Working with the transcript will help them realise there are differences.
- Comparing their comprehension when they listen the first time with their second and third time. Learners can make notes and then compare how their understanding changes (or does not change) and discuss what types of information they had originally missed or misunderstood.
- Comparing their comprehension with and without subtitles, or with/without the transcript. This is especially helpful because it can show learners words and phrases they thought they had understood but perhaps they actually had not.
4. Getting to grips with the sounds
One of the aspects of the course that learners most appreciated was the focus on bottom-up listening and the sounds of English. Many commentators in the listening research field claim that bottom-up listening is neglected in the language classroom: in my course, I introduced a variety of activities focusing on decoding sounds, syllables and words.
A fun and low prep activity is to work with songs. I like to use LyricsTraining for this: you choose a song and you can blank out any words you like to create an interactive gap-fill. For example, you can blank out words containing specific sounds (e.g. the long and short /i/ sounds) or features of connected speech (e.g. elision of a final sound). This increases the learners’ awareness of how spoken English actually works. It also helps them see that the problem is often more to do with features of connected speech than speed of delivery.
5. Using meaningful topics
Like I said in my previous post, a Needs Analysis shows our students that we care. After I collected information about the students’ professional and personal interests, I used this information to select meaningful topics that they would enjoy engaging with.
These ranged from the representation of women in science to videos by comedians on history topics. This is not only important for engagement, but also for working on top-down knowledge. For instance, one of my favourite activities is watching a comic video and then going through the world knowledge that is needed to make sense of the jokes: it helps learners really appreciate the role of their top-down knowledge in listening comprehension!
This brings me to the end of my series on Authentic Listening. I do hope you have gained something from it, whether in terms of knowledge or ideas for classroom activities.
What is one thing you are learned in this series that you are planning to do in your classes? Let me know in the comments and on social media!
Chambers, G. N. (1996). ‘Listening. Why? How?’ The Language Learning Journal 14 23–27. London: Taylor and Francis Group.
Derwing, T. & Munro, M. J. (2001). ‘What speaking rates do non-native listeners prefer?’ Applied Linguistics 22 324–337. Oxford: Oxford Academic.