Listening Techniques for the ESL Classroom

Listening is one of the four core skills of language acquisition along with reading, writing, and speaking. This post will explain several broad categories of listening that can happen within the ESL classroom.

Reactionary Listening

Reactionary listening involves having the students listen to an utterance and repeat back to you as the teacher. The student is not generating any meaning. This can be useful perhaps for developing pronunciation in terms of speaking.

Common techniques that utilize reactionary listening are drills and choral speaking. Both of these techniques are commonly associated with audiolingualism.

Responsive Listening

Responsive listening requires the student to create a reply to something that they heard. Not only does the student have to understand what was said but they must also be able to generate a meaningful reply. The response can be verbal such as answering a question and or non-verbal such as obeying a command.

Common techniques that are responsive in nature includes anything that involves asking questions and or obeying commands. As such, almost all methods and approaches have some aspect of responsive listening in them.

Discriminatory Listening

Discriminatory listening techniques involve listening that is selective. The listener needs to identify what is important from a dialog or monologue. The listener might need to identify the name of a person, the location of something, or develop the main idea of the recording.

Discriminatory listening is probably a universal technique used by almost everyone. It is also popular with English proficiency test such as the IELTS.

Intensive Listening

Intensive listening is focused on breaking down what the student has heard into various aspect of grammar and speaking. Examples include intonation, stress, phonemes, contractions etc.

This is more of an analytical approach to listening. In particular, using intensive listening techniques may be useful to help learners understand the nuances of the language.

Extensive Listening

Extensive listening is about listening to a monologue or dialog and developing an overall summary and comprehension of it.  Examples of this could be having students listening to a clip from a documentary or a newscast.

Again, this is so common in language teaching that almost all styles incorporate this in one way or another.

Interactive Listening

Interactive listening is the mixing of all of the previously mentioned types of listening simultaneously. Examples include role plays, debates, and various other forms of group work.

All of the examples mentioned require repeating what others say (reactionary), replying to others comments (responsive),  identifying main ideas (discriminatory & extensive), and perhaps some focus on intonation and stress (intensive).  As such, interactive listening is the goal of listening in a second language.

Interactive listening is used by most methods most notable communicative language  teaching, which has had a huge influence on the last 40 years of TESOL.

Conclusion

The listening technique categories provided here gives some insight into how one can organize various listening experiences in the classroom. What combination of techniques to employ depends on many different factors but knowing what’s available empowers the teacher to determine what course of action to take.

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