Teaching Listening: Shifting the Practice

This entry is part 7 of 9 in the series Teaching Listening

I was doing a flickr search for  Creative Commons licensed  images of Listening and found a few gems and have included a couple for them in this post.  Aside from being “vintage” and interesting on a lot of historical fronts (cassette tapes! records! wow!)  I think they also depict quite nicely how listening has been “taught” in the L2 classroom in the past.

Teaching Listening has been up until now, I think,  a misnomer.  Teachers don’t teach it as much as they create exercises around it, exercises that last only a few minutes or are assigned as tasks for homework.  These exercises are more like spot checks, dictation, comprehension checks… and very teacher vs learner centric.  Success is how well you hear what is being said.

But I would argue that is only part of what listening should be about in our classes. Listening needs to be about hearing, yes, but then also about creating meaning and responding and interacting with others. That’s the hard work of listening that we tend to ignore or overlook when we teach it.

We need to include our students in the selection of listening materials. And we need to use that interest to help them engage more fully in the materials…to listen more deeply. To use listening as a catapult to other important tasks like writing and speaking and even reading.

“If learners are involved in what they are doing, if they are more conscious about the underlying processes of learning, then learning will be more effective….Students should be  involved in the structuring and restructuring of their understanding of the language and for building their skills in using the language”–Gary Buck: “How to become a Good Listening Teacher,” A Guide for the Teaching of Second Language Listening




Image:  “English Books Listening Comprehension”  Michael Dr Gumtau  CC by-NC-SA 2.0

Listening practice is a prime opportunity for teachers to engage their students’ wants, needs, and desires in the learning process. But we need to make time to teach listening…it can’t be just a throwaway activity as it has been in the past. Listening is hard work and should be seen as such.  But that burden could be lessened if the students, I believe, were engaged in the choice of the materials as well as the time and strategies needed to explore them.





Featured image: by “Actual Business Letters”  James Vaughan CC by-NC-SA 2.0

Series Navigation<< Teaching Listening: The Lesson PlanTeaching Listening: ACTFL 2014 Presentation >>

Barbara is a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at a small liberal arts college in Maine. Rumor has it this was also her alma mater. She used to work for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for almost 20 years as a teacher and language center director. Prior to these adventures in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and making stuff out of clay. To see her online portfolio please click here!

1 Comment

  1. #RAintheClassroom @ #ACTFL2015 | Language Lab Unleashed · November 17, 2015 Reply

    […] listening comprehension exercises (which is also something our textbooks perpetuate and are, as I have argued before, problematic)… there is a creative arc in each of the crónicas that draws listeners in and […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: