Monday, October 17, 2011

ESL Listening Strategies for English Language Learners

Last week I had the opportunity to visit a country I had never visited before: Brazil. I have never studied Portuguese, the native language spoken there. I have studied Spanish, and I admit that I thought my Spanish would help. But in a country where most people speak neither English nor Spanish, I found my communication to be ineffective. This experience provided me an opportunity to recall first-hand what it’s like to be a non-native speaker of a target language.

My experience in Brazil struggling to communicate and to be understood in a language unfamiliar to me provided me an opportunity to think about language learning strategies and how I was implementing them (or how I was failing to implement them) to achieve the goal of communication and comprehension. Specifically, it provided me an opportunity to "think about my thinking" (metacognition) while listening to a language that was foreign to me and to consider the strategies I was using to try to understand what I heard. In this blog post, I thought I would provide a list of listening strategies that could be used in the ESL classroom to bring listening strategies to non-native English speakers' consciousness. I also thought I would include a simple guideline for how to develop a listening strategy lesson that I used in a teacher training when I worked at BYU's English Language Center as the Listening/Speaking skill coordinator. This guideline can be accessed on the page link to the right, or by clicking here.

Listening Strategies Reference List
Adapted in part from Brown (1994), Chamot (1995), Goh (1997), Mendelsohn (2000), Murphy (1987), O’Malley, Chamot, and Kupper (1989), O’Malley, Chamot, Stewner-Manzanares, Kupper, and Russo (1995), White (2007), and Willing (1987).

  • Try to understand the reason for a particular message
  • Seek clarification
  • Get accustomed to speed and find ways to cope with it
  • Identify listening problems and plan how to improve them
  • Ask questions for clarification
  • Ask the speaker to repeat
  • Listen to a variety of different accents
  • Recognize patterns
  • Use intonation and pausing to segment words and phrases
  • Recognize tones/intonation features
  • Recognize discourse markers
  • Identify stressed words
  • Listen for structures
  • Listen for transition words/organization markers (i.e. cause and effect, compare and contrast)
  • Listen for content words
  • Listen for details
  • Listen for linking words
  • Listen for new keywords, already learned keywords, and repeated keywords
  • Listen for phrases
  • Listen for pronunciation of vocabulary words
  • Listen for tone, intonation, stress
  • Listen for specific vocabulary words
  • Use an interactive approach: both top-down and bottom-up processing
  • Segment text into larger chunks
  • Use non-verbal cues
  • Use visual clues (pictures, body language, slides)
  • Plan what you’re going to listen for
  • Decide what the main purpose of listening is
  • Self-monitor
  • Check how well you understood
  • Check to see if you have the right idea
  • Paraphrase what you hear
  • Empathize with the speaker (try to understand why the speaker wants to communicate a certain message)
  • Motivate yourself to listen
  • Lower anxiety about listening
  • Use imagery (relating new information in context of familiar visualizations)
  • Visualize the setting/situation
  • Focus attention
  • Pay attention to repetitions
  • Clear the mind before listening
  • Refocus concentration
  • Use prior knowledge
  • Predict what language will come next
  • Predict the purpose by the context
  • Make inferences when information is not stated or missed
  • Guess the meaning of unknown words
  • Guess the overall meaning
  • Piece together meaning from words that are heard
  • Verify hypotheses
  • Selective attention (focus on specific criteria)
  • Directed attention (focus on general task and ignore irrelevant distractions)
  • Ignore unfamiliar words
  • Listen for the gist
  • Pay attention to the main points
  • Use association (keeping similar ideas together)
  • Use elaboration (relating new information to prior knowledge or other information in the new information)
  • Make associations between what you already know and what you hear
  • Personalize by making connections between your personal life and what you hear
  • Group or classify knowledge to be learned
 Additional strategies for in-class listening practice:
  • Take notes of information to remember
  •  Provide a personal response to the information or ideas presented in the listening
  • Act out what you hear
  • Use subtitles in movies/TV
  • Preview vocabulary
  • Cooperate with peers
  • Cooperate with proficient speakers in the target language
  • Engage in pair work and/or group work
  • Provide yourself with opportunities to listen
  • Talk to proficient speakers often
  • Listen to a variety of different kinds of listening texts
  • Listen to things you enjoy
  • Listen to things you are interested in
  • Activate knowledge using the title
  • Predict what the listening will be about
  • Translate into your native language

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