Listening Skills in the FL Classroom

Synopsis prepared by Lee Risley


A. Setting the Stage for the Discussion
B. The Nature of Listening
C. Tips on Encouraging Listening
D. Focal Stages in Listening Comprehension (Insightful!)
E. References

A. Setting the Stage for the Discussion

Several writers included here maintain that not only is the skill of
listening downplayed in the FL books and classrooms, but listening may
well be the most important skill involved in the learning of foreign
language (to say nothing of one’s native language, where this
observation also applies).

You will note that TPR’s claim that listening comes before speaking is a
topic here.

Can’t you just identify with Natalie’s situation as described in the
first letter (at least when you were in your earlier years of teaching)?

96/11 From-> Natalie Paquette-Beehler <>
Subject: Listening activities

I am looking for some new ideas for communicative listening activities
for French as a Second Language (Core French) Grades 4-10. This is my
first year teaching and I have many ideas for developing Reading,
Speaking and Writing skills, but I don't feel as comfortable with the
Listening area. Also, the program my school has given me is ancient and
not communicative at all, so it is not very helpful and I'm creating
most of my own material. Thank you.

Natalie Paquette-Beehler

B. The Nature of Listening

97/03 From-> James May <>
Subject: Re: Listening activities

<<There is little value in isolating listening from the speaking skill.
The best kinds of FL teaching, even when they focus on a single skill or
aspect of the language, do not isolate it from others.>>

Sorry, I don't agree with this. I think when vocabulary is presented for
the first time, students, at least beginning students, need time to just
listen to/recognize the vocabulary (using a variety of formats, of
course) and not to produce it just yet. Certainly they should use these
words in speaking formats, but not when they are exposed to the words
for the first time. I think the listening skill may be the most
important skill we can teach, although I don't have any scholarly works
to cite supporting this. Therefore, I see nothing wrong with sometimes
isolating it from the other skills. Again, I am talking about a level
one class.

James C. May


97/03 From-> "Marilyn V.J. Barrueta" <>
Subject: Re: Listening activities

>I think the listening skill may be the most important skill we can teach,
although I don't have any scholarly works to cite supporting this.

Amen, James! The listening skill is the only one over which the learner
has little or no control; one can read, speak, and write at one's own
pace, level of vocabulary and syntax, using a dictionary if necessary.
You have to listen at someone else's pace, level of vocabulary and

Although I don't like most comparisons with how one learned one's L1,
since I don't think the situations are comparable, I do think that the
fact that the child listens for an extended period of time and *then*
begins to speak is instructive.

Marilyn Barrueta


97/03 From-> "Dr. Paul Garcia" <>
Subject: Re: Listening activities

Richard Boswell, James May, and Marilyn Barrueta reacted to a request on
listening activities and then the response by Richard elicited further
response. R. said, "There is little value in isolating listening from
the speaking skill. The best kinds of FL teaching, even when they focus
on a single skill or aspect of the language, do not isolate it from

James and Marilyn, I agree with you from my experience and my work in
listening comprehension (research/activities begun in 1973). There *is*
research out there, see for instance, H. Winitz, The Comprehension
Approach (Newbury House, 1981); an article of mine is in there, as well
as others' pieces that are more research oriented than mine. Others
recognize the importance of listening as a child-acquisition tool, and
the use of "comprehensible input" should not be forgotten.

Most importantly, I think, a research article (Carey and Lockhart, 1962,
if I have it right), was a good demonstration that production does
interfere with comprehension, something that I (and many others) talk
about in workshops and articles when we/I say "Comprehension precedes

Probably the most telling use of listening comprehension is for teachers
during the first 8 weeks, when everyone is happy and then (here I am
collapsing the image so as to make this posting briefer) the paper comes
out and the books and the problems start. Listening, speaking, and
seeing all get each other screwed up. (Even later in life, when we
improperly segment, such as saying chun-king (food co.) for chunk-ing
(act of putting sounds/words/thoughts together.) I've suggested that we
must decontextualize before we contextualize information.

Paul Garcia


97/03 From-> James May <>
Subject: Re: Listening activities

<<I do think that the fact that the child listens for an extended period
of time and *then* begins to speak is instructive.>>

Thank you, Marilyn. This is how we all learned to speak our native
language, didn't we? We didn't know what we were doing, but we listened
to those around us and eventually speech, although primative,emerged. I
also don't like to compare learning a FL with one's native tongue
either, but I do think requiring listening before speech emerges in the
FL classroom (particularly at beginning levels) is very helpful.

James C. May


97/03 From-> "Richard E. Boswell" <>
Subject: Re: Listening activities without whips

On Sun, 2 Mar 1997, Nancy Frumkin wrote:

>How to get kids to focus on a listening activity? What does *everyone*
want to understand when they hear it??

- Good question. This is why I say, the best listening activities
involve some feedback from the listener, if only a 'yes' or 'no' or
other one word response.

I'm not arguing that listening activities must ALWAYS involve some other
skill but that it is a generally true statement that the best activities
cross skill boundaries even though they may be centered on a single
skill. The child who is learning his first language through listening,
to cite Marilyn's analogy, is not going through an exercise in which he
is JUST listener. He is interacting with his parent through his eyes,
his body language, his vocalisms, etc.
It is too easy to construct listening ACTIVITIES that leave the listener

R. Boswell (defending his earlier position against those who prefer 'pure'


97/03 From-> Richard Lee <>
Subject: Re: Listening activities

Paul Garcia's anecdote about "Ale Man" made me think about an incident
in which my godson (Peruvian), who knows English quite well, asked me a
question as he was reading and stumbled on a word which he found in an
article that he was reading for his Freshman English class at Indiana
University. He couldn't understand what "man's laughter" had to do with
the bloody homicide which was referred to in the article. Being
particularly well schooled in English as a foreign language he was
disturbed by the equally shoddy work of editing, in which the space
separating the words was omitted, as well as the apostrophe.

Richard Lee


97/03 From-> "Dr. Paul Garcia" <>
Subject: Re: Listening activities without whips

Richard, good point, "pure" listening is not/was not what I wrote about
earlier this morning. There are responses of affirmation that non-FL
people hereabouts (and elsewhere, too?) call "active participation." A
nod of the head, a finger "up," a "ja" or "nein" certainly empowers
students who want to and through US culture are impelled to
"participate." What may have been my misunderstanding of your post was
the sense that many of our fl teachers nationally begin with some kinds
of "tpr, listening comprehension, pre-book" phase, and then move on if not
unconsciously then with "coverage" of textual materials aforethought.
I'm sure that Marilyn would join me in suggesting to others that
listening without speaking is important for our students.

Best, Paul Garcia


96/04 From-> Nancy Frumkin <>
Subject: Re: What is peer listening?

Kids learn "active listening skills," and then sit around and talk and
listen. They play at therapy.  This might be a good thing to fly in an
L2 class. If they want to talk, listen, what do I care what the subject

Boy, could we nail down the subjunctive!!

Nancy Frumkin


96/04 From-> "Oliver L. Dunn Jr." <>
Subject: A bit more on listening

It is true that in real life there are times when we may want to request
that something be repeated. I have no problem with that. In real life
one never knows what is coming up in conversation. However, in the
classroom, especially in the first and second year classes where we are
trying to develop good skills such as listening, we are dealing with a
limited amount of vocabulary and structure.

In a lesson in which students have been working with clothing and colors
and knowing that there will be a listening section on a quiz or test, it
is reasonable that we expect students to be prepared to handle this
activity without asking having to ask for repetitions. Such listening
quizzes that I give are dealing with a predetermined vocabulary group,
known structure and in a time frame of just a few minutes. I don't feel
that it is unreasonable to expect high school students or college
freshmen to keep their attention to this task for such a short period of

If we as teachers are confident that what we are asking students to do
in the way of listening accountability is valid then it is important to
stand firm. When students know that they can get you to repeat they will
do so over and over and over. This is true of "What page are we on?"
"What's the homework?" after you have already clearly stated it. I feel
that for their own good we are obligated to teach students

Now, as it was pointed out, in the more advanced classes where we are
trying to get more creative thinking and responses it may be quite
necessary to repeat and rephrase. I've no problem with that either.

Oliver Dunn

C. Tips on Encouraging Listening

96/04 From-> "Jeffery M. Forney" <>
Subject: Re: Listening

My students seem to like this exercise. I have a stack of colored flash
cards with the vocabulary words on them. I say a definition or give a
sentence with a blank and the students need to respond with the correct
vocab word. Examples: the place where you look at old things: the
museum. The piece of furniture that you sit on; it's longer than a
chair: the sofa. I ____ to Spain in an airplane: travel, go, fly.

I hand them the card when they get it right. At the end of the exercise
I give them a participation point for each card they have. They
sometimes sigh when I finish this exercise. Maybe I do it just to hear
them be disappointed that we can't continue. ; ) It's oddly gratifying.

Jeff Forney


96/04 From-> Richard Boswell <>
Subject: Re: Listening

How about putting ten magazine pictures on the chalkboard sill with
numbers above them and describing them. The students have to tell you
the number of the picture you are talking about. Then, if you want to
turn it into a speaking activity, you have students describe the

Richard Boswell


96/04 From-> Susan George <>
Subject: Re: Listening

>How about putting ten magazine pictures on the chalkboard sill with
numbers above them and describing them. The students have to tell you
the number of the picture you are talking about. Then, if you want to
turn it into a speaking activity, you have students describe the pictures.


I put the pictures on the floor (I bought a big rug so we can sit on the
floor). I gave sentences such as:

its a male.
he is tall.
he is young.
he has brown hair.

with each sentence, the students turned over the pictures that didn't
fit this description.

the game advanced into:

a student (or myself) would choose a person secretly. the rest of the
group would have to ask questions to which the student could only answer
yes or no. process of elimination by turning over pictures which didn't


students in pairs. one student is the police detective, the other is a
witness to a robbery. unfortunately, the witness was conked over the
head during the incident and it temporarily blinded (or in another city
and the fax machine doesn't work) and so can't visually identify the
suspect. he /she must identify the suspect by describing him / her to
the detective.

you can assign each witness a photo--by number--give the detective a
piece of paper---he / she can write down all the numbers and cross them
off as the suspects are eliminated. since the whole group is playing
with a different partner and suspect, its difficult to turn the pictures
over. or the witness can choose his own suspect.

have fun!

Susan George


96/04 From-> Elma Chapman <>
Subject: Re: Listening

There's a kids' game called "Guess who!" I bought the travel edition
(small, and I think under $5), photocopied the suspects, colored in hair
and hats, shirts, blouses, etc. (They're only mug shots so there isn't
much clothing) and had them laminated. That way each pair of players can
have their own set of suspects to flip over or cover with a piece of
paper or check off. The suspects are differentiated by large nose, small
nose, beard, no beard, glasses, hats, big mouth, small mouth, etc.

It's primarily a communicative activity, but I've been known to pull it
out after studying adjective endings in German--which is really painful.
Most of them will just go for the main idea, which is okay, but a few of
the stronger students will consciously try to get the correct endings on
the adjectives. Everyone can play and win at his or her own level. Also,
each partner has a different suspect and the idea is to identify the
partner's evil-doer before s/he identifies yours, by alternating

Elma Chapman


96/09 From-> Dan Joslin <>
Subject: Re: listening proficiency

Every day, at the beginning of each period, I post in the target
language a headline from important local, national, or international
news on my board. I also search for (usually on the web) and post a
quotation from literature, history or ancient wisdom which supports the
subject matter of the headline.

Students copy these while I'm taking roll and dealing with other
administrative details. Some days these headlines are very serious;
other days they are more of a human interest nature. Sometimes they are
downright silly or humorous. I then start the class period by calling on
individual students to read aloud the headline and quotation, and little
by little we piece together the English equivalent, which they also copy
into their notebooks.

I then proceed to tell them the story behind the headline for
comprehensible input, all in the target language and fully embellished
with actions, gestures, charade and mime. The actually LISTEN intently
to the full story, knowing that they will be called upon to do one of
the following in the next few minutes:

(a) Confirm orally in English a fact from the story;
(b) Take a 5-10 question True-False or short answer quiz on the content,
on a 3" X 5" card to be handed in for immediate credit;
(c) Work cooperatively with a partner or small group to list in English
5-10 facts or details from the news story;
(d) Write a 3-6 sentence summary of the news story in English;
(e) Make a list of 10 new vocabulary words acquired while listening to
the story;
(f) In higher level classes, retell the story in your own words in
the target language;
(g) Give an opinion in the target language of the actions taken by the
main character of the news story.

These "listening confirmation" activities I use most often, and there
are many more possibilities. What's important, I think, is that students
become used to hearing the target language for comprehensible input and
be able to confirm their assumptions and understandings. I've used this
method nearly every period for several years, and I find it really helps
students become proficient, polite and thorough listeners. I'd be
anxious to know how it works for others.

Dan Joslin


96/09 From-> "S. Bihari" <>
Subject: Re: listening proficiency

Dan Joslin's activities are well thought through and will certainly
motivate the students.

In his description, he writes:

>They actually LISTEN intently to the full story, knowing that they will
be called upon to do one of the following in the next few minutes.

In my view, this exercise could be adopted by English teachers (not only
ESL) with an added benefit: it helps students to focus on reading the

Martha Bihari


96/09 From-> Timothy Mason <>
Subject: Re: listening proficiency

Dan Joslin's excellent posting reminds me of what one of our colleagues
in a local Senior High school does (and I borrowed a leaf or two from
her book, as it works very well). At the beginning of the year, she
distributes a blank mappemonde to her students. She asks them to listen
regularly to the news - either on the radio or on TV - in French. She
then tapes the late news from the BBC, and chooses a piece of
international news to work on the following day.

The class may start with a recap - in English - of the main news points,
after which the students work on the news item - cloze tests,
right/wrong, and so on. They then flag the country or area which the
news item concerns, working out where it is on the map together, in
English. At the end of the year, they usually have a mappemonde that is
covered in flags , they have learned to identify the countries in
English, and how to talk about the world. It has the added bonus of
getting them to listen to the news regularly in French - which their
geography and economics teachers appreciate!

Timothy Mason


96/09 From-> Barbara Law <KDB_LAW@K12.MEC.OHIO.GOV>
Subject: Re: listening proficiency

I have used songs that contain vocabulary words with blanks where there
is a learned word for them to fill in. I have also played conversations
from the publisher with comprehension questions in English to ensure
that they do understand and are not just parroting back words they
recognize. I have done this as short answer and as multiple choice. They
are amazed at how much they pick up. I usually play the conversation
twice or even three times at first if needed.

Barbara Law


96/09 From-> Dan Joslin <>
Subject: Listening proficiency: further clarification

>Dan: do you write these down on the board for them to copy/to look
up in the dictionary?

I write these on a large white board for the students to copy and leave
them posted throughout the school day. I do require students to bring a
bi-lingual dictionary to class every day. However, the main skill I wish
to have them acquire is the ability to "use what they know" to decode
"what they don't know". Therefore, in each class we collaboratively
approach the daily headline and quotation together until the "Aha!"
moment when someone volunteers the full translation and perhaps another
finesses it to be more fluid and fluent.

>At what stage do you begin this activity? Is it EVERY day? Every class?
>>From DAY 1? How much time does it take?

Though I have only second and third levels this school year, I have done
this with first year students. During the first semester of first year,
I supply the translation for them, and I focus more upon specific words
and their individual meanings, always IN CONTEXT. The activity takes
anywhere from 5-15 minutes per class period. Sometimes I alternate this
activity with presenting actual video footage from a news broadcast from
Univision's "Primer Impacto" or "Noticiero", allowing students to infer
the daily headline from the text of the news item.

>In my view, this exercise could be adopted by English teachers (not
only ESL) with an added benefit: it helps students to focus on reading
the newspaper.

In fact, I do have one ESL class, where I am using the same approach
with great success. I actually subscribe to our local Colorado Springs
Gazette-Telegraph newspaper which is free through the "Newspapers in
Education" program. I receive one copy for each ESL student every day. I
am a great believer in motivating students to respond to what is
current, controversial and global in order to improve their
communicative skills.



96/10 From-> "Dr. Paul Garcia" <>
Subject: Re: teaching listening

One example I might give re listening comp: pictures. You might wish to
check out my article "Comprehension Training in a High School Setting,"
in Harris Winitz, Ed., The Comprehension Approach, Rowley: Newbury
House, 1981, pp. 275-99.

Also, should you wish, you might wish to check out some work that was
done for Central States 96 in Louisville, KY. One of the presenters that
I was happy to have for our program did an activity called "The Picture

Best wishes, Paul Garcia


96/11 From-> Elma Chapman <>
Subject: Re: Listening activities

This isn't original--I learned it at a foreign language state conference
several years ago, and can't credit the presenter properly because I
kept his idea, but not his name. Anyway: As kids come in the room give
them a folder with a picture in it. They are to describe the picture in
as much detail as possible in the target language. If they want to write
it out, fine, if they want to wing it--that's even better--but either
way they have to deliver it orally to the class.

The rest of the class takes notes in whichever language they choose and
then after all the students have given their descriptions, all the
pictures are placed on the blackboard, given a random number, and the
class' job is to decide who described which picture (That's why you have
the folders: to keep the picture hidden until the end.) I did this with
first year students in Chapter 3 of "Komm mit!" last week using pictures
of rooms.

Some kids could string together some pretty fair sentences and others
just gave lists of items found in the rooms, but everyone really paid
attention, listened, took notes, and nearly everyone got them all right.
And boy, do they have a sense of achievement when their classmates call
out, "Slow down! You're speaking too fast!" Giving everyone in the room
a picture is an all-hour activity. You could just give the first four
students in the room pictures and use it as a warm-up activity before
you go on to something else. You can do this with any level, any topic.
It's fun to collect pictures that are really similar and see what they
can come up with.

We also give oral weather reports when we hit the weather chapter. I
have a plasticized map of Germany and some laminated weather symbols: a
snowflake, a raindrop, a cloud with a sun peaking out from behind it, a
sun, a cloud, lightning, etc. Each student has to be a TV weatherman,
starting with introducing himself or herself, giving the date, and the
weather. As they say what the weather will be they have to put the
appropriate symbol on the map in the place where they said it would be.
Some kids plan out where the weather will be rainy, cold, etc., but most
of them realize it's easier to be extemporaneous and say "It's raining
in. . ." and then pick a place on the map. They also have to give a high
and low temperature for the day. Some of them get carried away and wish
someone a happy 100th birthday, too.

So how is this listening? I give each kid a blank chart to fill out and
they have to note where it's raining, storming, etc. for each
weatherman. At the end of the hour I give them a true-false quiz with
one question per weatherman, such as "Paul says it's snowing on the
Zugspitze." (My questions are in the target language, too, of course.)
They use their charts to find the answers, and I can grade the "quiz" in
about five minutes because all I have to do it look at t-f-f-f-t-t etc.
This is defintely a full hour project and sometimes spills over to the
next day, depending on class size. All this and a little geography
thrown in on the side, too!

Elma Chapman


97/03 From-> "Laerte J. Silva" <>
Subject: Re: Listen Actv.

>Can you give me some suggestions for listening activities? Here are
some I have been using:

Chart completion
Gap filling
Word discrimination
Matching sentences
Discrepancies spotting
Answering pre-assigned questions (this gives a chance for weaker
students to participate since the better ones tend to give all the

Thank you very much.

Laerte J. Silva


97/03 From-> "Richard E. Boswell" <>
Subject: Listening activities

>Can you give me some suggestions for listening activities?

The best listening activity may very well be the most obvious: the
teacher talks about a topic that is of interest to the student and
attempts to draw the students into the conv., even if, at the novice &
intermediate levels, they give little more than a 'yes' or a 'no' or a
one-word answer to a question. Talking about the topic might be preceded
by watching a video or reading an article on the topic.

There is little value in isolating listening from the speaking skill.
The best kinds of FL teaching, even when they focus on a single skill or
aspect of the language, do not isolate it from others.

Among the above activities the one I would find most useful is having
the students prepare answers to assigned questions, whether singly or in

R. Boswell


97/03 From-> Nancy Frumkin <Nancy.Frumkin@ATLAS.MOA.NET>
Subject: Re: Listening activities without whips

How to get kids to focus on a listening activity? What does *everyone*
want to understand when they hear it??

1) Soap operas. If everyone in Mexico tuned in every night, it must be
intrinsically interesting. Corazon Salvaje has my 4th year students
mesmerized. Even La Catrina (2nd yr) does a pretty good job.

2) Interesting tidbit:

When the phone rings in my room, the kids perk right up. I only speak
Spanish on my phone--if you don't expect Spanish, you have the wrong
number. (The office uses the damned PA). My daughters speak Spanish,
too, so they can call me whenever they need to. My mother and my husband
have learned to ask me yes/no questions. The kids listening so closely,
they are holding their breath, trying to guess who is calling me and

Sometimes I tell them the truth (in Spanish, of course), "It was my
mother. She wants me to stop over on the way home." Sometimes I tell
them a whopper: "It was the President. He needs some advice on a matter
of national security, but I told him I'd have to call him back, because
school isn't over for another half hour."

Once my pool company got their only Hispanic to call me at school. A few
minutes later, when a kid asked if he could say something in English, I
told him, "In my class, even my pool man speaks Spanish." End of

I'm thinking about staging some intriguing calls, sort of a one-sided
soap opera. Any teacher with a conference hour could ring my phone and
then just hang up, and I'll do the rest. If I submit plot summary to
administrators beforehand, I could get the kids really buzzing!! "The
Secret Life of Señora Frumkin."


Nancy Frumkin


97/03 From-> Kathy Paxton <>
Subject: Re: Listening Activities

The ESL teacher at my school (elementary) has found her students'
listening comprehension has greatly improved just by her reading stories
to them for a short period several times per week.

Kathy Paxton


97/03 From-> Dee Friel <>
Subject: Re: Listen Actv./Take-home exams

For listening activities, here are two suggestions:

The first one is from Dr. Robert DiDonato of Miami University in Oxford,
OH. Bob calls this "Truth or Lie." He has students divide a sheet of
paper in half. Label one side TRUTHS and the other side LIES (in the
target language, of course). Then tell the students a story. It can be a
familiar tale, a personal story, or some occurrence at school (EX: the
latest ball game). Part of the story must be truths and another portion
should be lies. As you tell the story in the target language, students
write (in the target language) the truths on one side and the lies on
the other. When you are done, ask the students what (they think) the
truths were and what the lies were. They have to answer in full
sentences. Write the responses on the board in the correct column so
they can double check their answers.

Bob uses a story about some relatives who used to own a mom-n-pop
grocery but turned it into a porno shop (true) and how this uncle ran
away with a 19 year old in his "twilight" years (true). There are other
things about prison, the Mafia, and some other things that really make
it interesting.

The second activity comes from Jim Becker of Iowa called "Louma Malou."
He used a photo from a magazine of a beautiful young woman from an
African francophone country. He told a short story about the life of
this beautiful young woman. When he was done, he told the story again,
but this time the listeners were supposed to write down any changes he
made in the story. After he was done, students were supposed to tell
what changes were made.

As a variation, he also let the listeners interrupt him (in the target
language) with a correction. "No, no. Louma is not 26 years old.  She is
23 years old." "No, no, no. She is not a stewardess. She is a fashion

I have used both of these exercises in my classes. My first year
students think it is very difficult, but the ones who complain are the
ones who haven't learned their vocabulary very well. And if you don't
know the vocab, well, . . . .

Dee Friel


97/03 From-> Ron Takalo <>
Subject: Re: The Learnables

Dear Keith:

I have used the Learnables in both English (ESL) and Spanish. I found
them quite good if not used too much at one time. I did half a lesson at
a time. After going through three or four lessons with the tape, then I
went back to the first lesson just using the pictures, and calling on
students to give me the Spanish word or phrase for each picture. I
thought they were worthwhile as an auxiliary activity. I no longer use
them because our new textbook has various listening comprehension
activities. I think the Learnables would be good if your current text
lacks listening comprehension activities. The program was also good for
vocabulary acquisition, in my humble opinion.

Ron Takalo


97/03 From-> Nancy Frumkin <Nancy.Frumkin@ATLAS.MOA.NET>
Subject: Re: Listening activities without whips

Richard Boswell wrote:

>It is too easy to construct listening ACTIVITIES that leave the listener out.

I agree that responding to a "listening activity" is important, but even
I get balky when I don't feel a need to respond but I have to because
someone told me to. I can follow directions and trace a map or answer
questions for a while, but I can do real stuff much longer and with more

One of my best conversation profs at Eastern Michigan was Reynauldo
Ruiz. He would take an outrageously conservative stand on an issue, and
some of the students couldn't stand it --they HAD to talk, they had to
argue and explain and convince him. Those of us who were older (30-40)
recognized his trick, and we could join in, taking the conservative
route or taking a ridiculously liberal stand, just to see what happened.
It was intrinsically motivating. We really were exploring ideas and
opinions, and the time flew, and everyone wanted to listen and respond.

And if there were jokes, they weren't contrived and there was no forced
laughter at the end.

Nancy Frumkin


97/03 From->
Subject: Re: listening comprehension

I think showing students the complete transcript of a dialogue or
announcement would defeat the purpose of listening comprehension

However, to maximize the student's understanding, make sure that the
students have the situational context for what they are listening to. A
lot of times, with text book listening activities, providing a chart or
diagrams an advanced organizer is helpful to let the students know what
to listen for. Another technique that I use is to have students read
through the questions or t/f statements before listening so that they
have some clues as to what to listen for.

After these activities have been completed and follow-up has been
accomplished, a section of a recording can be used as a dictado to
target key words.

Bill Heller


97/03 From-> Paul Conley <>
Subject: Re: listening comprehension

For years, I've tried to develop my students' listening skills by
playing a 5-6 minute pre-recorded cassette tape for them at the
beginning of the period.

The tape consists of 2 minutes of DJ banter and commercials (in Spanish)
taken from a local radio station. It is followed by a song. I make a
transcription of the tape and type the lyrics to the song, so that
students can sing along.

Each day, I type up 5-item forms that the students fill out while
listening to the tape. (First-year students fill in missing words; upper
level students answer questions). Students listen to the tape for two
weeks, then take a 10-item test at the end of the second week. The next
week, they get a new tape and song.

When the singing starts, I grade the students on a chart with grades
that run from "A" - "F". The first week, students receive a good grade
if they do a pretty good of reading the lyrics and singing. The second
week, they have to make eye contact with me in order to get an "A" or
"B". The grading chart consists of of the students' names, plus a column
for each letter grade. I put a check mark in the appropriate letter
grade column each day, grading about 1/2 of the students each time.

At the end of the grading period, I total up the letter grade column
that has the most check marks and that represents the students' singing
grade. It's worth 100 points.

The song that we are currently singing is Flaco Jimenez's "El gallo
copeton" (off of his most recent c.d.). Following, is the first
paragraph of the transcription, plus sample questions.

"Saludos muy cordiales de Maribel para Martin, Tila, Juan, y Hugo. Todos
en sintontia de radio romantica, con la mejor variedad y mas musica.
Quédese con nosotros. Viene en camino Los Bukis, Lucero, Ana Gabriel, y
Los Mismos."

L1 Item: Todos en sintonia de radio romántica, ___________ la mejor

L2 Item: ¿Quién es la primera cantante que viene en camino?

I hope this makes sense to you. Believe it or not, EVERYBODY sings. The
average grade on L1 tests is "B-"; the average grade on upper level
tests is "B+." It's a good way to have fun with part of the culture.

Paul Conley


97/03 From-> Dave Henry <>
Subject: Re: listening comprehension

As with all language activity, listening comprehension must have a
purpose, not for the teacher, but for the student. For beginners, an
activity where they have to catch a single word or phrase from a longer
speech segment might be a starting point. (E.g., Where are they? Did he
give an address or a phone number? Are they watching a comedy or a

Another activity that I have used is a 'fill in the blanks' for a song
e.g., "Hakuna Matata" from Le Roi Lion sound track or Celine Dion's
"Destin". The words they need are at the bottom (about 15-20 to pick
from, can only be used once). Usually playing the song three times is
enough for most students to get most of them. Then they fill in the
answer key on the overhead. Usually the whole class is now ready to sing
it through, and days later some complain they can't get it out of their

Dave Henry


97/03 From-> Timothy Mason <>
Subject: Re: listening comprehension

>Another activity that I have used is a 'fill in the blanks' for a song e.g.,
"Hakuna Matata" from Le Roi Lion sound track or Celine Dion's "Destin".

Gail Ellis suggests giving the learners the text of the song beforehand,
and selecting blanks in such a way that they can pick out clues that
allow them to predict what words might fit - using rhyme, meter and
meaning. They then listen to the song to check their predictions. I've
used this activity and it is quite effective.

The idea, obviously, is to empower the learner, giving her usable
comprehension strategies that do not rely on the dictionary and asking
the teacher. Anyone interested may want to check out 'Learning to Learn
English ; a course in learner training', by Gail Ellis and Barbara
Sinclair, CUP, 1989.

Timothy Mason


97/03 From-> "Dr. Lucinda Hart-Gonzalez" <>
Subject: Re: listening comprehension

Keiko Kawanabe Schneider wrote in response to Dennis Harrod:

>>[Dennis Harrod] We're in the middle of a debate over the best way
to practice listening comprehension. One side says there should be no
text available whatsoever; the learner either gets it or not entirely through
the ear. The other side says it's OK to have text available, as long as the
learner does not access it until after listening and understanding to the best
of her/his ability.

>[Keiko Kawanabe Schneider] [...] However if you are into improving
their listening comprehension, I think the text should be available and
encourage them to listen to again with the text. Like reading, listening
can be done to get the detail and the gist and I personally use listening
practice in different kinds accordingly.

Yet another way to improve listening comprehension (which Keiko might
use since she uses different kinds, but just didn't mention) is to give
the text *before* the listening. The students then know exactly what
they're going to hear. Without the element of surprise and the noisy
"What did he just say?" rattling around in their heads, the students are
free to hear what those meanings *sound like* when they're actually
spoken. By knowing what's going to be said, there's little room for

Nothing succeeds like success. Getting the feel of really understanding
spoken language on the fly is the first and most important step in
listening comprehension. It involves: (1) coming to the unexpected
realization that you *can* understand another language, (2) getting a
sense of what it feels and sounds like, and (3) starting (vaguely at
first) to develop strategies for capturing what was missed. You can help
this process along by asking people what the speaking was about, then
what they said (in their own words), and then asking *exactly* what was
said. You have just demonstrated and can then point out that
all-important learner listening concept that you don't have to
understand *every word* to *understand*.

Personally, I recommend reading *before* for this kind of task because
reading at the same time distracts a portion of concentration, and there
may be an unfortunate tendency in *some* students to link what they hear
too closely with what they see (configurations of letters), rather than
with the meaning, which is fine if you test by dictation, but may not be
at the heart of listening comprehension.

As Keiko suggests, a variety of types of listening activities is the
best. Cycling through all of them, you'll find they all serve different
learner needs. To do less is like asking which is the most important
skill: reading, writing, listening or speaking? To which I answer

Cindy H-G


97/03 From-> Yezer - Renee <>
Subject: Re: French Listening Comprehension activities

Lots of good listening activities with the Glencoe Bienvenue, A Bord &
En Voyage series.. They're at the back of the student workbooks, with
lots of graphics, variety...makes it convenient too.

Also, having students draw figures according to commands is also
effective. For prepositions, have them draw a square (un carre) &
numbered points according to "sur", 'a droite', 'a gauche', 'sous',
'loin', etc… Body parts, clothing, the house, can all come up with
some fun results that kids can then share with each other in target

Renee Raffini


97/12 From-> Kathy White <>
Subject: Re: Listening comprehension activities

In response to someone's request for suggestions about developing
listening comprehension, here are a few general types of activities that
we all use.

Have students:

-Draw what they hear.

-Indicate which word doesn't belong in a given sequence.

-Act out what is said.

-Complete grids, pictures, or sentences with missing information.

-Respond to questions about message content in a variety of formats.

-Supply possible titles for listening passages.

-Supply the missing portions of a telephone conversation.

-Supply the ending for a story.

-Participate in chain activities in which each person repeats what the
preceding people said and then adds a detail.

-Indicate the number of words heard in a sentence.

-Respond to nonsense questions (ex. "Did you eat shoes for breakfast
this morning?").

-Follow oral directions.

-Participate in various types of dictation exercises.

-Choose the picture that corresponds to the description.

-Indicate if they heard a particular statement in a passage.

-Indicate incongruities in a passage.

-Engage in guessing games based on message content.

-Repeat a description as accurately as possible.

-Categorize words heard.

-Write what they remember.

-Signal (by standing, raising hand, clapping, etc.) recognition of
grammatical features (tense, gender, etc.).

-Distinguish sentences, questions, and exclamations.

-Respond to possible, impossible, and unlikely statements.

-Distinguish between homonyms.

-Indicate the moment when they realize the topic of a conversation.

-Place items heard in proper chronological order.

-Listen for a particular word or piece of information.

-Paraphrase what is said.

Kathy White

D. Focal Stages in Listening Comprehension (Insightful!)

95/09 From -> Bettylou Leaver <>
Subject: Focal Stages in Listening Comprehension

<Some students give up and quit listening when they miss a phrase or
two. >

Actually, ALL students quit listening when they miss a phrase or two. In
a research study I did a number of years ago, at least with the group of
students I had, all went through this phase. In fact, I found that there
were a series of phases all students went through, regardless of
ability, language learning experience, or learning style. I call these
phases "focal stages," because students focus on one or another aspect
of language in each stage.

These stages are:

1 - stopped by unknown words

2 - pick out isolated, known words

3 - pick out known phraseology (the beginning of selective listening)

4- use known phraseology to construct general meaning (often incorrectly
and often full of nonsense -- this is my favorite stage, because the
misinterpretations are often very funny)

5 - reality checking begins -- students check out the constructed
general meaning against their own schemata (does it make sense that the
Montreal Airport is located in Moscow, which is what they thought they

6 - processing of language as language and not as pieces of linguistic
information (in Russian and German this means that students' selective
listening focuses on those aspects of the language through which meaning
is conveyed; e.g., in Russian attention is diverted to verbs and to
morphology (as opposed to syntax) and in German to verbs and to word
order); this occurs at proficiency level 3, for the most part

7 - a focus on unknown words (this proficiency level characteristic
really surprised me at first, since it seemed as if highly proficient
students had retreated to focal stage 1 strategies; however, it turned
out that the external phenomena were the same, but the internal
processes and phenomena were different -- the level 4 students were
simply fascinated, when they heard a new word and actively recycled it
in memory until they were able to figure it out from context or from an

The differences in students were, as follows:

A. Global students ran through stages 1-5 *much* faster than analytic
students; some global students were already at stage 3 by the end of the
first few *minutes* in class, whereas analytic students would take weeks
to get to that same stage; however, analytic students moved from stage 5
to stage 6 much faster than global students and it was almost
exclusively analytic students who reached stage 7 during language study
(especially in intensive courses less than a year long).

B. Experienced language learners leapt to stage 3 almost immediately.

C. Students who tested as having greater foreign language aptitude in
general moved through the first 5 stages faster than those who tested as
not having a very high aptitude.

Don't know, if all of this is of much interest, but it may explain why
some students look at teachers wide-eyed in fright and become frustrated
in classes where they have access to the foreign language only. These
wild-eyed/wide-eyed types are usually focusing on what they don't know,
and in a class taught entirely in the foreign language, they can find a
lot that they don't know.

There are activities that can bring students from stage 1 to stage 3
pretty quickly. Mostly they focus on making students aware of their own
strategy use and getting them to use more useful strategies.

If there is any interest in this topic, I will provide some ideas for
these kinds of activities, although y'all can probably dream them up
just as fast as I can.

Betty Lou Seaver


95/09 From -> "Robert D. Peckham" <bobp@UTM.Edu>
Subject: listening-viewing

This is an excerpt from an unpublished (probably unpublishable)
presentation I gave in 1992. Here I use Susan Bacon's article as a point
of departure. The matrix I refer to is like the one in the Lund article.


In the September 1992 Foreign Language Annals , there is a research
summary article by Susan Bacon which should be seriously considered
along with that of Lund. Bacon monitored the reactions of Spanish
students listening to excerpts from VOA (Spanish) radio broadcasts, in
order to find out what kind of strategies the most successful listeners
would develop on their own.

The extensive list of metacognitive, cognitive, social and affective
strategies she found operative in successful learners include self
planning, self set up, self questioning, self evaluation, self
correction and motivation; the use of advance organizers, hypothesis,
hypothesis evaluation and reconstitution. It included numerous bottom-up
and top-down signal processing strategies, along with relating signals
to personal, linguistic and global knowledge, limited and judicious use
of English as well as questioning of the monitor and, quite importantly,
an ability to remember the strategies developed.

While acknowledging the individual nature and cognitive style dependency
of these strategies, it is my goal to encourage the development of
effective decoding techniques in all students. I believe that a careful
sequencing of the kind of activities I have suggested will be conducive
to such an evolution. Exploiting the correspondence of pictorial and
verbal discourse, tapping the ideas of group members, the large variety
of bottom-up and top down exercises implicit in a thorough application
of the matrix, all should move students toward two final goals: a
resourceful capacity for self instruction, and an ability to gather
information from authentic non-print sources. Both will be vital in our
department's anticipated competency and outcomes based curriculum, where
exit tests may well include radio and television components.

PREVIOUS TO MY MENTION of the Bacon article, I discuss the use of
non-graded authentic materials and attempt to justify my own use of TV
commercials. I also outline the tasks and functions that form Lund's

An article by Rogers and Medley ["Language With A Purpose: Using
Authentic Materials in the Foreign Language Classroom." Foreign Language
Annals , 21, No. 5 (October 1988), pp. 467-76.] provides ample defense
for early use of non-graded materials. One more argument is the fact
that the variety of articulatable and pertinent topics I can offer my
students is nearly unlimited.

Indeed, the topical variety afforded by the use of 30 second
"t=E9l=E9publicit=E9s" from French Canadian Parliamentary television
allows for integration of video-based instructional activities into many
chapters of our beginning and intermediate French textbooks. They can
also be used along with supplemental materials as a conversation/
composition core in more advanced courses. Instead of reaffirming the
impression that watching television is essentially a passive activity, I
can train students to watch television in new active ways; ways that
require constant alertness for response and that encourage group

The activities suggested in the last principle are directed by
pedagogically logical criteria. In an article published this April,
Professor Randall Lund* reasons that since we are trying to teach
students the rudiments of how to listen, then function should have the
most significant role in determining what we do to facilitate the
acquisition of L2 listening proficiency. He defines listener functions
as "the aspects of the message the listener attempts to process" (p.107)
cautioning that these are "statements of potential" or intention which
the listener may or may not have the skill to carry out. They are as
follows: identification, orientation, main idea comprehension, detail
comprehension, full comprehension and replication". Lund combines these
with nine kinds of tasks (or "responses"): doing, choosing,
transferring, answering, condensing, extending, duplicating, modeling
and conversing in his function-response taxonomy, whose matrix is
displayed on page two of this proposal.

Here are the general virtues of my strategy:

1)The short "telepublicite" is a good length, especially for beginning
levels. Longer videos make it difficult for the echoic memory to grasp a
significant part of the text or image sequence. Consequently, if an
instructor aims for full comprehension or textual replication, work with
these videos must replace, rather than be integrated into units of a
learning program. Also, using shorter texts makes it easier to adapt
from listening to viewing the Lund matrix, which necessitates multiple
passes at whole messages.

2) Doing exercises in groups of three or four students mediates much of
the anxiety created by the use of authentic documents and assures that
many seemingly difficult tasks can be accomplished.

3) Since not only every word, but every visual detail in a carefully
scripted TV commercial is significant, students arriving continuously at
or near full comprehension will be acquiring habits and skills for
detailed observation which will facilitate comprehension of other kinds
of video.

4) both my exercises and questions run the whole range of the global
function continuum. Therefore, contact with any or all of the videos can
be calibrated to work either on a proficiency floor or to peak in higher
levels. Finally, video is a contextualized experience; listening skills
are developed in contiguity with others, and the activities provide many
bridges to the productive skills.

Robert D. Peckham


96/08 From-> "Robert D. Peckham" <bobp@UTM.Edu>
Subject: Re: focal stages in acquisition of listening skills

Listening comprehension is really about 70% of communication, yet it is
the most neglected skill. For a while, it was called, along with
reading, a "passive" skill. I hope that the person who created this
egregious misnomer was focusing solely on muscle movement, because, from
Betty Lou's description of the integration of metacognitive factors, it
seems that the negotiation going on during successful listening is
anything but PASSIVE.

It has long been my contention that the coordination of the cognitive
and metacognitive in L1 listening, imperceptible to the average
listener, gets a real shock when that listener moves into the L2
environment, where the foundational knowledge and habits of those
metacognitive activities are absent until they are built back.
Resourceful and successful learners develop temporary strategies which
get them through until they have built up an appropriate base for more
appropriate and efficient ones. See

Bacon, Susan M. "Phases of Listening to Authentic Input in Spanish: A
Descriptive Study." Foreign Language Annals 25, No. 4 (September 1992):

Bacon, Susan M. "The Relationship Between Gender, Comprehension,
Processing Strategies, Cognitive and Affective Response in
Foreign-Language Listening." Modern Language Journal 76, No. 1 (Spring
1992): 160-78.

I would like to see how all of this works out in terms of progression in
text type. Do learners progress in comprehension of text type the way
they do in the text type of their own verbal utterances?

What Betty Lou says about getting students to the 2nd focal stage is
very interesting: "An easy way to move these students to the second
focal stage is to help them focus their attention on the known, which is
what the second focal stage is all about.

This can be done by giving them assignments in which all they are
required to do is to list all the words they hear or read that they
know. After practicing this form of selective attention for a while,
they usually move into the second stage, where the assignments might be
various, but selective attention will be required as a strategy working
continuously in the background. Data collection devices also help, as do
cloze exercises."

It seems to confirm some of what Randall Lund has suggested:

Lund, Randall. "A Taxonomy for Teaching Second Language Listening."
Foreign Language Annals 23, No. 2 (April 1990): 105-15.

Using the matrix is a constant reminder of the stages and what they
involve. It is also a good way to suggest to us what we might do at a
certain stage to help the process along.

If our goal is to facilitate active and increasingly accurate listening
with authentic materials, I believe good prelistening activities help to
focus student attention on the task and can provide some of the
background for the metacognitive activity which we know plays a
prominent role in listening.

This is why, in my amateurish way, I have suggested using WWW material to
prepare French students to watch the France 2 news. I cannot say that it
works, but I can say that I myself have significantly better
comprehension since we started using these techniques.

One begins to grasp the intentional irony in the Biblical "He who has
ears, listen", spoken to a crowd of people with no more of a notion of
what comprehension is than we. For so long we have done the wrong
things, speaking louder and slower, making sure that students listened
to sanitized speech, carefully scripted, isolated from the colloquial,
hesitation devices and background noise. Worst of all, we have heard the
false claims that the OPI will show us how well our students listen.

Betty Lou's description seems to confirm in principal and in some detail
the ACTFL breakdown of listening. With the knowledge that she gives us,
we should be able to do a more intelligent job in this the most
important of the four skills.

My question about Betty Lou's paper is this: Does this assume that
students are working entirely with authentic materials, in an immersion
situation, in a classroom situation where some materials are authentic
and some of the sanitized variety, or with all standard sanitized

My next question is this: Since I am not involved in the articulation
process in interpreting and integrating standards, I wonder if anyone
could tell me if the articulation statements about listening take into
account that listening comprehension is a process with stages rather
than a result.



96/08 From-> (Jonathan Centner)
Subject: Re: focal stages in acquisition of listening skills

>The first stage that most students pass through is the tendency to
be stopped by unknown words. Teachers recognize this kind of student.
Whenever a new word appears in either a reading or listening text, the
student simply tunes out, focusing all his or her attention on that word
and missing what comes next. This is dysfunctional selective attention and
represents more of a cognitive, than a metacognitive, application of this strategy.

Unless I have seriously misunderstood this problem, this particular
stage is not at all dysfunctional, except in terms of overcoming it, and
the phenomenon is entirely rooted in metacognitive experience. It is the
first draft (Dan Dennett _Consciousness Explained_) of the collection of
Multiple Drafts which becomes Krashen's Monitor. The accommodation of this
problem without overlearning it is what eventually becomes fossilized
language learning.

There is the issue of concentration here, which is metacognitive.

(I think...)

Jon Centner


96/08 From-> (Jonathan Centner)
Subject: Re: focal stages in acquisition of listening skills

Bob Peckham wrote:

>My question about Betty Lou's paper is this: Does this assume that
students are working entirely with authentic materials, in an immersion
situation, in a classroom situation where some materials are authentic
and some of the sanitized variety, or with all standard sanitized samples?

It would be an interesting exercise to see whether the focal stages are
observable largely independent of method, as I suspect is the case,
since the goals of most methods are to acquire the target language.

Since this thread comes to the heart of my interest in SLA (Second
Language Acquisition) I am looking forward to any discussion which
should come of this.

I would also like to know whether there is an aural counterpart of
saccading. I believe most listening exercises provoke just such a
thing, where the ear _darts about_ in a process analogous to what the
eyes normally do. I think this top down phenomenon is something which
sharply distinguishes SLA from the learning of L1.

Hoping I have not made a complete ass of myself...

Cheers Jon Centner


96/08 From-> "Robert D. Peckham" <bobp@UTM.Edu>
Subject: Re: focal stages in acquisition of listening skills

No, Jon, with your brains, you can't make an ass of yourself. The
question is can you, Betty Lou, I and a few others get folks interested
in this difficult, but important subject. I think that one of the
problems with anything which comes in SLA discourse is that it can sound
doctrinal. Since I have, for a BA holder, an a somewhat extensive
background in the sciences, and I know to what extent things can be
argued. I also understand the role of maverick and anecdotal date in the
revolution of hypotheses. What I think is important for everyone is to
understand how important listening comprehension is, that it is not just
a matter of vocabulary and auditory acuity, and that SLA research can
be very helpful in resolving some of our students problems in this area.

I do hope the discussion will not fail here.

Excuse me sir, but I can't understand any of this. My teacher last year
used to write everything on the board. Every time a different person
speaks that language, I think it is a different language, and I have to
start all over again. ...Uh my teacher used to pause about 5 seconds
between words. Excuse me, but you slur all those words together; where
are the individual words? I can't tell if I'm listening to the beginning
of one word or the end of another. I tried to listen carefully, but
while I was working on the 3rd word, you were on about the 30th.

TennesseeBob (who echoes the wisdom of Talking Heads: "Stop Making


96/08 From-> "Marilyn V.J. Barrueta" <>
Subject: Re: focal stages in acquisition of listening skills

I join the list of people who feel this is an important issue. For
virtually all of my career I have preached (and I'm sure it sounded that
way -- sorry!) that the listening skill is both the hardest and the most
important. The other three skills can all be under the control of the
learner -- you can speak, read, and write all at your level of syntax,
vocabulary, and speed. Listening, however, must be done at someone
else's level. And it doesn't help a lot to be able to ask a question if
you can't understand the answer.

A few years ago I and my students participated in a longitudinal study
of 3-4 years on learning strategies; my particular focus was on
listening, although the total project also dealt with the others. The
conclusion was what was expected -- students need to be taught specific
strategies; the best achievers clearly applied a number of them. I truly
feel that we can't devote enough time to this skill -- although I don't
normally hold with (TBob's type of phrasing!) too many comparisons with
native language learning, this one I do -- think of all the time a baby
has to listen in L1 before it starts to actually talk.

On with the thread!
Marilyn Barrueta


96/08 From-> "Robert D. Peckham" <bobp@UTM.Edu>
Subject: Re: focal stages in acquisition of listening skills

Please forgive me, Betty Lou and Jon; I am a rank amateur at this here

I think I always fall into the danger of sounding like a derridian
theorist when I talk about listening. What many assume is that speaking
is an information or meaning transfer task. Once the listener has
captured the sounds in a way that all the words are there and has an
adequate semantic skills (lexical, phrasal, colloquial, slang, etc.) the
meaning is transferred in tact.

Think about what we must assume in order for this to fall into place.

1) That speaking is an information/meaning transfer process. (It's
crackers to slip a roser in the dropsian snide. A boom is only a
dingdong, but a good cigar is a Clide) ...need I say more?
Unfortunately, we teach as though this is what our students will be

2) That a spoken message has one meaning, and/or makes no attempt to
revise that meaning.

3) That a spoken message organizes information/meaning into a
recognizable pattern, using appropriate words and transparent structure.

4) That no other messages are uttered at the same time.

5) That the intended transfer is entirely verbal (with no kinesic

6) That there is no intended irony transferred through the verbal message
or otherwise.

7) That the speaker chooses a time when it is evident that the listener
is ready to listen.

8) That there are no background noises to block the sound of the

Notice I don't claim that there is no meaning, or that you make your own
up ex nihilum.

In L2, our ability to form and constantly revise the horizon of
expectations against which we play and compare our developing
interpretation of what is unfolding when we listen to extended oral
discourse from another speaker, is somewhat dependent on our ability to
form holistic, though temporary scenarios from what we have processed.
The problem is that if we tend to gravitate to the sound we cannot seem
to interpret instead of reaching for a synthesis of the whole, we cannot
use our best processing strategies.

Ironically, the same forces that make us stubborn or prejudiced
listeners are also among the tools that allow us to extract at least
some overall meaning from what we think we hear

One of the key control variables here is text type. If you know certain
phrases and these match the completed utterances of the speaker, things
become easier to process, provided the speaking is not too fast. The
problem is that short utterances from untalkative caustic people, who
use them almost exclusively, tend to be slurred or fused together in an
almost unrecognizable way. Other speakers mix these phrases into more
extended discourse.

The only way to control text type is to script and sanitize speech,
rendering it quite artificial and convincingly unlikely. The pen of my
aunt is on the table of my uncle. I believe that the time for these may
be after students have already struggled to extract bits and pieces from
real speech. I do not mean that students should enter the fray naked and
unprepared. Here pre-listening strategies make lexical and contextual
contributions to a student's bag of tricks, but they also serve to focus
the student's attention on the nature and the subject of the task,
giving a student practice, using a variety of skills, in considering the
topic of the message he/she will hear.

I have a feeling that we all have slightly different ways of processing
L1, but I am not sure what impact this should have in learning to listen
to L2.



96/08 From-> James May <>
Subject: Re: focal stages in acquisition of listening skills

The book by Bill VanPatten and James Lee "Making Communication Happen"
has excellent ideas for the listening skill. In short, they propose
teaching grammar via listening activities. They say (and I agree) that
it is not productive to present a grammar point and then expect students
to use it immediately; they really have nothing to access because no
input (examples of the FL grammatical point presented where they have to
attend to meaning) has occurred. They propose doing listening
comprehension exercises after a very short grammatical explanation to
get input into the heads of the students.

The "problem" is that no textbook I know of presents grammar in this
way. There is an explanation and students are immediately plunged into
activities where they must produce the grammatical concept in question.
The book is well worth reading.

James C. May


96/08 From-> "Robert D. Peckham" <bobp@UTM.Edu>
Subject: Re: focal stages in acquisition of listening skills

One of the sadly neglected but absolutely necessary stages on the
learning continuum is "recognition". You would expect that if a book
teaches any point, there would be written exercises where students would
have recognition activities, both reading and listening. Perhaps it is
in the commercial nature of textbooks to want to move students
immediately into speaking and writing or reproducing forms and creating

Our former chair, Steve Mohler, co-author of a now out-of-print
textbook, complained that things were hardly ever treated as though they
held a place in the continuum. Part of the problem is that lab books and
technology, which present recognition material, are often so separate
from the classroom activity that students fail to see any connection
except that both are on the test. This, in itself is an argument for the
electronic classroom and the partial integration of lab and class.



96/08 From-> "Dr. Paul Garcia" <>
Subject: Re: focal stages in acquisition of listening skills

Some 20+ years ago, Harris Winitz, Jim Reeds, and I did some research on
listening acquisition, which resulted in a few articles but most
importantly helped us to see how often the classroom teacher does not
have a clue/did not have a clue about how to make matters visual.

One of the "baker's dozen" of SLA precepts that I have worked with among
teachers and students is "comprehension precedes production," in itself
not a brain-stirring act of faith, but a heckuva good starting point to
test out how teachers introduce vocabulary. (I might mention one article
you might wish to check out, it's in Harris Winitz, Ed., The
Comprehension Approach, Rowley, MA: Newbury House, 1981, 277-300,
"Comprehension In the High School Setting.")

Essentially, how successful we are in developing the silent skill is a
marker for me--and others?--as to the success of the "student" in other
areas of the FL class. More anon. Suerte!

Paul Garcia


96/08 From-> Homayoun Abghari <>
Subject: Re: focal stages in acquisition of listening skills

Marilyn wrote

>I join the list of people who feel this is an important issue. ...The
listening skill is both the hardest and the most important. The other
three skills can all be under the control of the learner -- you can speak,
read, and write all at your level of syntax, vocabulary, and speed.
Listening, however, must be done at someone else's level. And it doesn't
help a lot to be able to ask a question if you can't understand the answer.

I quite agree with Marilyn. I would like to make a few additional

1. When making use of productive skills (speaking and writing), a
person can always resort to what is technically called the "avoidance
strategy". If one cannot formulate a thought with a certain form of
language, one can always make use of a paraphrase. This strategy is not
available to language users when they are engaged in receptive skills
(listening and reading).

2. Reading is very much like listening in that reading is also a
receptive skill.

3. It seems that production springs from reception. Once a certain
amount of recognition skill has been gained, production becomes easy. It
should be remembered that in the course of first language acquisition,
long before a child can speak anything, s/he can listen to and
physically respond to a lot of verbal stimuli.

4. Therefore, the rate of speed at which a foreign/second language is
presented to the students is of great importance. Students should get
accustomed to listening to the language as it is spoken naturally and
normally, not too slowly and not too fast. I believe that the only times
an FL teacher should slow down in her/his language class is when s/he is
providing the class with the explanation of a grammar rule or the
example sentences for a grammar lesson that is meant to be learned
inductively through discovery learning.

5. Naturally, the greater the students' exposure to the foreign/second
language the better and more rapid their improvement in the area of
receptive skills. Therefore, I earnestly and strongly disapprove the use
of the students' native language in the course of FL teaching.

Homayoun Abghari


96/08 From-> Bettylou Leaver <>
Subject: focal stages in acquisition of listening skills


Receptive skills appear to develop in accordance with changing foci of
attention, a phenomenon that might be called focal stages. These stages
are circular, beginning with a focus on unknown words, progressing
through selective attention, until the focus is once again on unknown
words (Leaver, 1986; Atwell, 1992). The stages are defined by what kind
of selective attention strategy the student uses for sentient and
short-term memory and whether or not any strategy other than selective
attention is used for purposes of recognition.

The first stage that most students pass through is the tendency to be
stopped by unknown words. Teachers recognize this kind of student.
Whenever a new word appears in either a reading or listening text, the
student simply tunes out, focusing all his or her attention on that word
and missing what comes next. This is dysfunctional selective attention
and represents more of a cognitive, than a metacognitive, application of
this strategy.

Most students move rather routinely after a short period of time to the
stage in which they focus on the words and phrases that they do know but
as discrete items. Authentic listening and reading tasks that require
students to stop paying attention to unknown words and to pay attention
to known words is the way in which most students naturally move forward
into this stage and ultimately, out of it. This is an emergent form of
selective attention; at this point, selective attention is probably a
bifurcated strategy, sharing elements of both cognitive and
metacognitive processing. Students are also using the cognitive strategy
of adherence to the known but in its most narrow definition. Strategies
other than cognitive ones play little role at this stage.

The third stage that students go through is using known words and
phrases to establish context, into which they force unknown words and
phrases (often with hilarious results). At this stage, they rarely apply
their background knowledge; it is as if they think that the foreign
language is completely divorced from commonsense. At this point the
strategy of selective attention has slipped into its full metacognitive
sheath. In addition, students have now added the strategies of inductive
reasoning, analysis, synthesis, cognate recognition, activating, and
recombining from the group of cognitive strategies.

At the fourth stage, which is sometimes reached rather early, students
routinely and subconsciously attempt to confirm their hypotheses about
the context and content of what they are hearing or reading. It is at
this stage that students with a greater range of content schemata begin
to outperform their peers with lesser content schemata but greater
linguistic schemata.
All students, however, can learn to routinely check their hypotheses
against commonsense. Students are using a range of metacognitive,
cognitive, and social strategies. In addition to the ones already in use
from earlier stages, which are now becoming more refined, they have
added monitoring from the metacognitive group, application of world
knowledge and adherence to the known from the cognitive group, and, if
the discourse is live, questioning and negotiation from the group of
social strategies.

The next, or fifth, focal stage is a big step for most students: in
Russian, they begin focusing on verbs - they have located the source of
meaning in Russian structure. (In other languages, they begin to focus
not on verbs but on wherever one finds the locus of meaning; for
example, students learning Romance languages learn to focus on word
order.) It is at this stage that phonology and lexicon becomes less
important and morphology becomes more important and meaningful. Most
students reach this stage as they approach level 3 proficiency. This
represents fine-tuning of the selective attention strategy that has been
used up to now. It also represents the orchestration of concurrent
application of a number of cognitive and metacognitive strategies, and
if the discourse is live, of social strategies.

The sixth and last focal stage that students seem to reach is at very
advanced levels of proficiency and here they tend to once again focus on
unknown words. They have not come full circle. What has happened is that
they are now processing the foreign language much as they would English,
with the result being that if they hear a new word, their interest is
piqued, as it would be in their own language. At this stage, they are not
stopped by the new words, but continue to process speech in its full
complement in the background, while in the foreground their mind is
working on analyzing, interpreting, and categorizing the new words. This
is the most sophisticated form of selective attention, and at this point
it is likely that some form of autonomous metacognitive strategy
network, into which cognitive and other kinds of strategies are woven,
is in place.

There are two important considerations for teachers in looking at focal

First, tasks that take into account students' current stage of
development tend to be much more effective tasks than tasks that do not.

Second, some students need to be helped along the trail, as they pass
from focal stage to focal stage.

There are a number of ways to assist students in passing from one focal
stage to another. Typically, students get stopped at the first focal
stage - dysfunctional selective attention. They also typically get
stopped at the third and fourth stages. Most students, having reached
the second and fifth stages, seem to pass through rather effortlessly.

Students who stop at the first stage need some assistance with selective
attention. Typically, they are not students who have developed the
selective attention strategy well in conjunction with any field of
study. Therefore, they try to pay attention to everything and end up
confused. In fact, they may not have developed many metacognitive
strategies in general (in which case, metacognitive strategy
will help with language learning in general, as well as with moving
beyond this focal stage). An easy way to move these students to the
second focal stage is to help them focus their attention on the known,
which is what the second focal stage is all about.
This can be done by giving them assignments in which all they are
required to do is to list all the words they hear or read that they
know. After practicing this form of selective attention for a while,
they usually move into the second stage, where the assignments might be
various, but selective attention will be required as a strategy working
continuously in the background. Data collection devices also help, as do
cloze exercises.

Students who get stopped at the third stage are applying the strategy of
selective attention, but they are not applying the strategy of
application of background knowledge. So, these students need help with
developing the latter strategy. They may be the same students who had
difficulty applying the strategy of selective attention, or they may be
different students. Typically, the two groups are different, because the
two strategies are associated with different learning styles. To help
students apply background knowledge, pre-reading and pre-listening
activities can be used to elicit and confirm background knowledge.

For some students, additional assistance may be needed through such
devices as 1) recall protocols (where students write down in English
what they think they heard or read in the foreign language), in which
teachers ask them to check what they thought they heard against what
they know about the subject, and 2) data collection devices that help
build the schemata (such as tables and charts that they use for
collecting information to be used later in various tasks and

Where background knowledge is not applied in the recall protocols, the
protocols can be returned to the students for a commonsense check. After
a few such episodes, they usually start applying background knowledge on
their own. A few need to be hand-held through the process by going over,
individually or in a group, the recall protocols and discussing the
background knowledge that should have been applied. The data collection
devices are simpler to use than recall protocols, because there is not
memory loss in gathering and writing down the information. Although very
useful for all kinds of purposes, beyond moving students into more
advanced stages of focal attention, for the purposes described here,
they can sometimes become crutches, since they lay out the content
schemata from the very beginning. If this is the case, teachers may wish
to substitute recall protocols to see if students really are applying
background knowledge on their own.

In some classes the strategy is not applied because students do not have
the necessary background knowledge to begin with. In theses instances,
teachers need to supply the missing content knowledge via pre-listening,
pre-reading activities, pre-speaking, and pre-writing activities.

Many students cannot seem to reach the fifth focal stage. It takes time
to fine-tune selective attention to the point that it hones in on the
meaningful linguistic features (in Russian, these are verbs), especially
since in English the need is often for selective attention to be paid to
different features (e.g., nouns) at higher levels of proficiency.
Students will need to have built a pretty solid internal structure of
the foreign language linguistic system, before they will have the
scaffolding needed for focusing on the most salient items of the
language. If they do not have the scaffolding, then attention needs to
be first paid to the development of the scaffolding. If they do have the
scaffolding, then attention can be paid to fine-tuning the strategy of
selective attention. Using Russian as an example, this can be done
through cloze-like exercises, through pre-reading and pre-listening that
focuses on the verbs, and through a discourse analysis of texts that
illustrate the saliency of verbal structure in Russian discourse.

excerpted in part from "Teachers and Textbooks: Today's Teaching
(Betty Lou Leaver) copyright ACTR forthcoming

E. References

96/04 From-> Bob Peckham <bobp@UTM.Edu>
Subject: Re: Listening

Richard and others. Many years ago I published an article reviewing the
research on the effects of using visuals for listening comprehension and
for prompting speaking:

"The Use of Visuals in the First-Year Foreign-Language Class (with
Examples Applicable to French)." The Baylor Educator , 4, No. 1 (Spring
1979): 40-46.

Not a journal on everybody's shelf, but the topic was very thoroughly
researched, and I have used my findings for a lot of further research. I
do see listening as a teachable skill, but I fully believe that the
strategies we impart must be joined by those which may be native (though
dormant) in the students themselves.

I do not mean to sound like a theorist, but I believe that meaning is
negotiated between the listener and the text or whoever has authored or
delivered the text, if that person is available. I further believe that
our understanding of a text ranges form recognition to a degree of
actual comprehension (in different sections of an extended text). With a
foreign language I believe that a number of cognitive and metacognitive
filters used in this process, and taken for granted by most of us, are
stripped away from us, and we have to scramble to either recover them in
an appropriate form or build new ones from what is available to us.



96/10 From->
Subject: Re: teaching listening

We are in our first year of using the Glencoe series. This year, we are
using it in Level one classes only, and I think their recorded materials
(audio and video) do a great job of teaching listening skills. The
recordings include words and expressions that the students have not yet
learned, and the students are told that they will not understand every
word, but that they should be able to get the gist.

For the videos, there are pre-viewing activities, activities to do while
viewing, and post-viewing activities. The video tapes, especially, use
conversations recorded at normal conversational speed. The kids are
getting a taste of "real" language early on, and have some guidelines to
help them understand.

Stan Oberg


96/11 From-> Virginia Jackson <>
Subject: Re: Listening activities

I strongly recommend anything by Rebecca Oxford, especially her Language
Learning Strategies--What Every Teacher Should Know. Full of all sorts
of activities for all four skills.-

Ginny Jackson


Subject: The Learnables -Reply

The Learnables
International Linguistics Corporation
3505 E. Red Bridge Road,
Kansas city, MO 64137
1-800-237-1830 (phone)
1-888-765-2855 (fax) (no cost to call)
no e-mail available

We've used the Learnables for years - with ESL and as a supplement to
beginning level classes. We've used them in elementary through
secondary. Students enjoy them When we did the first booklet, I found a
couple of errors which I explained to the students. Good for listening
comprehension and vocabulary building.

Jean Teel


97/03 From-> Maria Silva <>
Subject: Re: listening comprehension

>Dear FLTeachers:

>We're in the middle of a debate over the best way to practice listening
comprehension. One side says there should be no text available whatsoever;
 the learner either gets it or not entirely through the ear. The other side says
it's OK to have text available, as long as the learner does not access it until
after listening and understanding to the best of her/his ability.

>Does anyone know of research to support one or the other claim? I'd
appreciate anything anyone has to offer on the subject.

With or without the book depends on the learner. At our school, we kinda
tailor to the students' needs or learning styles. Some are
analytical some are global. I don't have any articles here (at school)
but there are some written by Rita Dunn. Also, Allyn and Bacon has a
book out titled Teaching & Learning through Multiple Intelligences. Some
kids "get it" better visually and/or verbally (listening). Hope it

Maria T. Silva


97/03 From-> Mary Young <>
Subject: Re: French Listening Comprehension activities

MEP School Division sells (or did last year--I can't find it in the
97-98 catalog) graded FL magazines by ELI (Midwestern Publications).
These come with cassettes on the articles and stories in the magazines.
MEP's Customer Service number is 847-866-6289. Toll free: 800-380-8919. (sorry I don't know how to make it do that blue

An old book I have called Learn French the BBC Way (still being
published, but under a new title) has a book and cassette with short
skits on tape. The transcriptions are in the book. There are also
interviews with "real people" where the language, while controlled,
sounds perfectly natural and uncontrived. (My copy is at school. I
bought it at a local bookstore that doesn't specialize in FL materials)

Videos are a good source of listening material because they provide so
much more contextual support than audio tapes. You can rent them. Just
tape a strip of folded paper across the place where the subtitles show
up. I don't know if the constant stopping and rewinding is bad for the
tape, though.

You can get a cassette of Carmen (the opera) that includes a transcript
and turn it into a cloze. Imagine high schoolers listening to opera!

Mary Young

Our contributing FL teachers are:

Homayoun  Abghari
Marilyn Barrueta
Martha Bihari
Richard Boswell
Jon Centner
Elmas Chapman
Paul Conley
Oliver Dunn
Jeff Forney
Dee Friel
Nancy Frumkin
Paul  Garcia
Susan George
Cindy Hart-Gonzalez
Bill Heller
Dave Henry
Virginia Jackson
Dan Joslin
Barbara Law
Bettylou Leaver
Richard Lee
Tim Mason
James May
Stan Oberg
Natalie Paquette-Beehler
Kathy Paxton
Robert Peckham
Renee Raffini
Maria Silva
Laerte Silva
Ron Takalo
Jean Teel
Kathy White
Mary Young


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