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Developing listening for specific information at C1
by Esther Ratcliff
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This is a receptive skills class which helps develop listening through looking at some aspects of phonology for use in CAE sentence completion task. It is the second time that most of the students have encountered this type of listening, therefore they should be able to apply some of the exam technique already studied, and help the other students who haven’t done it before. The lesson helps students to combine various skills necessary for the sentence completion task, and aims to give them more confidence in doing this type of task. As Abbas and Mohammed point out, ‘listening requires two subsuming cognitive processes. Bottom-up (data driven) and top-down (conceptually driven) (2011: 977)

The students in the class generally have good abilities to follow the gist of listening, and are interested in most topics and so don’t have difficulty applying prior knowledge about topics. However, a common problem is combining top-down knowledge, and bottom-up listening processes. The strongest students have difficult at word level and so will benefit from seeing how connected speech can affect understanding. Similarly, the weak students, even though some struggle with following the gist of a listening, they will also benefit from looking at how to improve word level interpretation. This will in turn strengthen their listening awareness through learning about the sounds of English. As Rost and Wilson point out, ‘to become proficient listeners L2 learners need to become comfortable with fast speech. Active training in the sounds and sound patterns or the L2 (in regular, small doses) is necessary for all learners’. (2013:12)

The rationale behind introducing students to features of connected speech is based on the theory that there has been shift in focus of teaching phonology, Brown (1996: 1) and that this has had an impact on students’ listening skills. In addition, coursebooks do not utilize the tapescript in order to raise awareness of phonology. As such students are never able to practise exam technique presented in coursebooks, whilst also analysing the language or phonology. Field refers to this as the ‘comprehension approach’ (2009:12), but, there is an argument that students need to understand the process of getting the correct answer. It is also particularly necessary in this task as students have to write a correct written response.

Ur (1984:18) gives some examples of when words can sound very different from their written form.

Rost and Wilson suggest that to overcome this, students need 'multiple exposure' (2013:11) to words, and also suggest a way to help raise awareness is by exposing students with ‘little and often’ to connected speech. However, in the time that I have for the lesson, students will learn about some examples of weak forms and elision in connected speech. It would be impossible to analyse the whole tapescript for examples of connected speech, instead this approach will help to sensitize them to some potentially difficult areas. As these students are at the beginning of the course, these techniques will help them as they gain more linguistic competence as the course continues.

Abbas, P & Mohammed, R 2011 A study of Factor affecting EFL learner's English Listening Comprehension and the strategies for improvement Journal of Language Teaching and Research vol 2 no: 5 pp.977-988
Brown, G 1996 Listening to Spoken English Longman
Field, J 2009 More Listening or better Listeners? English Teaching Professional
Rost, M & Wilson JJ 2013 Active Listening Pearson
Ur, P 1984 Teaching Listening CUP

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