Teaching Listening in the ESL Classroom

September 19th, 2008

Good listening skills are essential for any ESL learner. Here are some tips for an ESL teacher to keep in mind when teaching their students listening skills:

1. Make sure the listening material is at the right level

If the material is too difficult, students can spend hours listening without making any improvement at all. They won’t just “pick up” the language if it is too hard. Imagine yourself listening to native speakers talk in a language you don’t understand at all. It just sounds like noise and you won’t learn much if anything from it. Many expats who have lived in China for over 10 years can barely utter a few sentences in Chinese even though they hear it all the time. If the material is too easy, students won’t learn much either. Their listening speed might improve a bit, but that’s about it. The key is to teach students to listen to something that challenges them but doesn’t overwhelm them. The first time through, understanding the general idea is great. After the second time, they should be able to understand more than the first time. After listening 3 or 4 times they should be able to understand about 70-90% of what is being said. That level will allow them to get the gist of new words in context.

2. Make the enjoyable and interesting to listen to.

Listening to sentences like, “Today is a beautiful day. I feel so happy when it is warm and sunny” is boring. No one talks like that anyway. Just because the students aren’t great English speakers yet, doesn’t mean deserve to be bored to death. Sentences like “That girl is really good looking. I always get nervous when I see her” is more interesting but no easier. You should make things age appropriate of course, but just remember that easy doesn’t mean boring.

3. Teach students to discuss what they heard

After getting the students to listen to something 3 or 4 times, ask them some questions about what they heard. You can start by asking some simple content questions to give them some confidence and make sure they understood the main idea. Then slowly add more thought provoking and opinion type questions. You can ask ask the boys if they get nervous around pretty girls for example. Then you can ask they girls why they think the boys might be nervous. Again, you need to know your class and what kind of content they would like. Just make sure you are providing interesting and relevant material to listen to. Don’t forget that we are in the 21st century. Listening to old fashioned language and opinions is not a great way to teach.

Try listening to some of the podcasts on this website and give your students a chance to hear them too. They are designed with all of the above points in mind. Tens of thousands of students from around the world listen daily. The talk show style of each show makes the listening experience enjoyable, and the students soon forget that they are even learning.

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4 Responses to “Teaching Listening in the ESL Classroom”

  1. maxim Says:

    September 21st, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    Hi, guys!

    I don’t wanna say something annoying or anithing. I just found couple of typos in following sentences:

    “Then slowly add more thought provoking and opinion type questions. You can ask ?ask? the boys if they get nervous around pretty girls for example. Then you can ask ?they? girls why they think the boys might be nervous”

    Check it out


  2. sandra Says:

    November 10th, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    pagina de listening

  3. Weerawong Says:

    February 12th, 2009 at 2:42 am

    Dear Andy,

    I toally agree with you how to teach students like you mentioned,because I have done by praactising since I just started learning listensing skills by listening to VOA which they speak slowly and clearly pronunciation so that I have a basic of listening like you siad it must be the right level when you started learning something otherwise nothing improves.Then when I listen to your podcast, I can get used to accent so that I can understand even not 100 percentage but I get the gist of content what you have said about the lessons and the most important thing is my accent is getting better than before, so I will try to do as you suggested to record my own voice when I speak in order to know my improvements.

    Finally,what you have done for nothing, I mean it is all for free which I think you make a big donation for everyone who wants to study or learn English as ESL but does not have enough money to pay for the course fee.And also I have never ever seen a fantastic learning materials like you both have done which I found in the movie when actors or actreses speak as you called Casual way and in the news as well.

    If you would not mind,please comments my writing skills what I wrote this mesages to you, how is it? what else do I have to improve to make it better and best as foreigners.I have never ever been aboard both of studying and working beofore but I do try to find website or English schools to make my English skills better.

    Your sincerely,

  4. nick_rolouz Says:

    April 10th, 2009 at 8:27 pm

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