The renowned pianist Alfred Brendel once pointed out that the word listen contains exactly the same letters as the word silent. Not being concert pianists, few teachers would want a roomful of silent students; well, probably not all the time – unless, perhaps, like Hall Houston and Andrew Starck, a single class can have as many as 160 learners! However, many of us would like our students to be better listeners. In our main feature, Ken Lackman and Danny Norrington-Davies outline their technique for improving their students’ ability to decode and understand what they hear by making them more focused and more strategic in the way they approach listening. They start with the bigger picture, getting their students to predict what is likely to be said, based on all the information they have on the situation and on the speaker involved.

By contrast, Mark Hancock, with his ‘micro-drilling’ technique, starts his students off with the smaller picture, homing in on the minutiae of connected speech, working from the premise that learning to produce something may actually improve someone’s ability to hear it when it occurs later on in a listening text.

Michaela Casey’s ESL students frequently understand the literal meaning of the words they hear, but fail to decode their idiomatic meanings. Her ‘idiom of the day’ strategy prepares them for the sort of language they will hear when they get to college, even if it isn’t entirely successful in getting them to produce accurate idioms themselves!

Another aspect of listening is featured in Ben Dobbs and Michelle Hunter’s article on coaching. They point out that the essence of coaching is not giving advice or feedback, but listening to people in an attempt to guide them into reflecting productively on the problems they face and to enable them to come up with their own solutions.

Good listening is one of the building blocks of good communication, another theme that runs through this issue of ETp. Chia Suan Chong highlights the necessity for us to go beyond teaching the mere mechanics of the English language in order to prepare our students for situations where good communication skills are vital.

And talking of building blocks, take a look at the activities using blocks that Alex Case recommends. His article is one of those for which there are now downloadable resources available from the Resources section of the ETp website. See page 3 for details.