In the communicative classroom, teaching listening skills should be approached in the same way as the other skills – with a communicative purpose. Often, listening is taught with a linguistic purpose first and foremost – to improve and develop listening skills in the target language (this applies to other language skills as well). This is, of course, a key goal of most listening lessons; however, in the “real world,” how often do we listen with this goal in mind? Do your students go to the shopping mall on the weekend to buy a cell phone, and then listen to shoppers and store workers intent on improving their listening? In the shopping mall we listen because we need to get certain information, whether that information includes specific prices and options on a cell phone, or another shopper telling you why she prefers shopping at one store instead of another.
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Testing Listening Skills vs Teaching Listening Skills
In the ESL classroom, simply playing a recorded dialogue and then asking students to correctly answer pre-cast comprehension questions based on that dialogue strips listening of nearly all of its real-world communicative context. You are left with a mainly linguistic exercise, which may give you some information about your learners’ current listening proficiency, but does not allow for actual development of listening skills. A cycle of listening / answering questions / checking answers / listening/ etc. is really just testing listening skills, and doesn’t help students learn how to develop their listening skills and improve their listening comprehension.
Developing Listening Skills
Good listening lessons will provide pre-listening activities to help students better predict what kind of information they will hear by creating a context and a purpose for listening. Better listening lessons will also help learners to clear up misconceptions and miscues as they listen. In other words, developing listening skills requires that students are provided feedback and support in the process of listening, not just based on their comprehension after they have finished listening. When listening is approached in this way, effective strategies for listening can be discussed and applied during the process of listening, making it easier for students to understand the relevance of those strategies and how they apply.
Recommended reading on teaching listening skills: