Using Autonomous Learning to Improve Listening Skills

By Yolande Deane
DELTA qualified EFL teacher with 5 years’ teaching experience

Listening Skills

In the last blog I wrote on autonomy I said that it was not an easy task for students to work out what they need to do in order to improve their individual language problems.  Within a class there are always varying needs, which cannot always be focussed on in detail within a lesson.  As a teacher you will need to devise ways to encourage the students to help themselves outside of the classroom.

In this blog I am going to focus on helping students to be more autonomous in the skill of listening. I have taught many students who struggle to understand a listening text. The features of connected speech that exist in English are a great challenge for them, while others seem to have no problem recognising individual words and sounds.  It can be very frustrating for students and they tend to try and listen “harder” and attempt to work out each individual word or sound and the result is that they miss the meaning of the text as a whole.

In cases like this I often try to do listening tasks where the students will have time to listen on their own at their own pace. For example, if we have been listening to a song or a section of a radio programme in the computer lab, I will hand out the tape script with missing words and ask them to fill in the gaps while listening on their own.  They have the chance to listen to it as many times as needed before we get together as a group to discuss any new lexis.

Everyone does not have access to a computer lab so encouraging students to do their own listening at home is very useful.  Students should transcribe a section of a programme. YouTube and many podcasts are freely available and the terrestrial channels repeat their programmes on line with subtitles, so the students can check what they have transcribed.

It is quite an intensive activity so it is important that they keep the listening short in order not to lose concentration, a two to three minute section of a programme is adequate.  After a while their ability to distinguish between sounds and words gets better, and they gradually grow in confidence.  I often do this activity myself with Italian texts and I find that after a while I can even predict what the speaker is going to say, which is the advantage that native speakers have and our students do not. It is quite a full on activity but I believe worth it in the end.

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