Developing listening skills for C2 level with free internet resources

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It was not that long ago when “listening activities” in the EFL classroom conjured images of CD players that would not work or even cassette players that would chew the cassette in the midst of a test. The material was scarce and prices for cassettes and CDs for textbooks or practice tests were exorbitant.

By Dimitris Primalis


In my early days as a teacher, I quickly learned to use the limited listening resources I had, with prudence and I knew that there was no extra material to help students who needed to develop their listening skills. However, now the landscape seems to have changed radically in terms of resources. The internet is an inexhaustible source of radio programmes, interviews, podcasts and audio files that can be used to facilitate autonomous learning and help learners develop their listening skills.
Whether you consider asking your learners to sit a C2 level exam or not, one thing is for sure. They need to develop their listening skills. Below you can read some ideas to exploit these resources.

Using multi modal texts on the media


A multimodal text is a text that combines two or more semiotic systems i.e. linguistic, visual, audio, gestural, spatial. Most websites usually host posts which feature written text, video and audio clips. For instance, an article reporting on current affairs may consist of parts like the introduction in written text, followed by a video from a correspondent and a sound file with a statement made by an official.


Once you select the text, ask learners to read the title and the introduction. Make use of their knowledge of the world (schematic knowledge) and the information provided by the text so that they can form predictions about the video or the audio file. Ask them to watch the video once, for the main idea and how this relates to the article. Paralinguistic features such as photos, gestures and expressions are highly likely to help learners feel more confident and understand. Then, they can listen again for specific details. After doing it a few times with your students, ask them to do it at home following the same steps. Alternatively, you can invite them to share multimodal texts that are interesting with you or their mates.


In a language classroom, you can differentiate tasks by assigning the easiest ones to the weaker listeners and more challenging ones to stronger students. Divide them into pairs or groups of three and assign a different task for each member. After listening, ask them to share information so that they can recreate what they have just listened to.


In this way, they can build confidence and develop note taking and speaking skills as they have to bridge the information gap with the help of their classmates so that they complete the missing parts of the “jigsaw puzzle”. The written parts of the multi modal text will also help them with lexis that they will need in order to comprehend the listening text.


Podcasts


Podcasts are audio or video files of episodic series which a user can download on their device. Their content can range from documentaries to radio programmes. Most students listen to music on their mobile phones or mp3s when they are given a lift to their extracurricular activities, on the school bus or the underground, at night in their room when they want to wind down. If they tell you that they have no time to do it, ask them to download it on their device and listen to it while commuting.
Some podcasts like “Analysis” on the BBC, are divided into parts or host two or three speakers. Ask learners to listen to one of the speakers and then report to the rest of the class the main points or the arguments he/she used on the programme.


Audiobooks


Originally recorded for the visually impaired, audio books have seen a rise in popularity. Even though the latest releases are not free, a lot of the old stuff, is available on the internet free of charge. Here are some activities you can do with your learners:
Abridged vs Unabridged
Audio books are often abridged versions of the books. Ask half the class to listen to (abridged) audio book and the other half to read the book. Ask them to work in groups and compare the versions. They can also decide on a new audio version of the book
First chapter
Ask students to listen to the first chapter of an audio book and narrate it to the class. They can decide if they want to listen to it or choose a different book.
Radio play
Ask students to listen to a chapter of the audio book and adapt it for a radio play. They can write dialogues based on the book and record it with their devices.
Closing thoughts
I have found the websites of the BBC and CNN most useful with an unexplored wealth of resources that learners can take advantage of. There are also many websites that can accommodate learner autonomy and provide up-to-standard content for your learners. Yet, the teacher has to be cautious and check carefully how appropriate the content of the audio resources and how secure the website are.

The main idea is to provide stimuli for learners, most of the times based on their personal interests (personalization). It is worth bearing in mind that helping them to become more autonomous requires investing some time in the classroom on a regular basis. From my experience, it is time worth spending, and in most cases, there is return of investment in the form of the confidence that learners build when listening to English. •

References
M.Anstey, G.Bull “Helping learners to explore multimodal texts” Curriculum and Leadership Journal: Volume 8 Issue 16

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