Listening skills are the most difficult part of learning the English language for the ESL student. When listening to a recording in the classroom, learners can easily get lost and stop paying attention while the tape goes on. Almost every ESL student agrees that listening is the hardest part of learning the new language. Here are six ways to improve listening skills.
1. Demonstrate ways for students to ask someone to repeat a phrase or word that they don’t understand. This may sound very basic, but teachers should not take it for granted that their students know how to ask for someone to repeat a phrase or word that they don’t understand. Learning English can sometimes be overwhelming to a learner. As the learner advances, he or she may be too embarrassed to ask for help in something so basic. Learners can practice with others who work as partners. They should also work with the teacher to be sure that they are using the proper words and grammar in their requests.
2. Require the ESL student to rewind a recording if he or she gets lost or doesn’t understand. The instructor can be sure that learners are stopping and listening to an unknown word or passage by doing several things. They can require them to jot down where they stopped the recording in their learning journals. They can then assess understanding through verbal questioning as well as with written questions. Finally, teachers can incorporate words from the recording in oral practice to help learners master the vocabulary.
3. Schedule speakers to come to class once a week for 30 minutes. This can be from a pool of teachers in the building who volunteer to visit on a rotating schedule. They should purposely speak slowly and enunciate clearly so that beginning and intermediate students have a chance to understand what they are saying. This should be a fun, casual activity for students to learn to enjoy listening to live English speakers, even if they only understand a portion of what is being said. As the school year progresses, learners will begin to have a much better understanding of what the classroom visitors are talking about.
4. Using an iPod or other device, learners listen to a song for 5 or 10 minutes. This is a good warm-up activity that an ESL student can do daily at the beginning of class. When a timer goes off, he or she should write new words that they heard in the music in their learning journals. Some days, students can get into small groups and discuss which words they heard and try to discover the meaning of the words. They can draw pictures or sketch symbols of the new vocabulary words to help them remember the meaning of the word. Other days, the entire class can work together on a group of new words for an interesting activity for middle school and high school students.
5. Listen to a 10 minute nonfiction article on an MP3 player or other device. Afterwards, students write a one paragraph summary of the article, including main idea and supporting details. This activity is for intermediate and advanced learners who will write more paragraphs in their summary as their English skills develop.
6. Play a circle listening game. Form a circle in the classroom, if possible. Teacher stands in the middle of the circle and calls a student to her. She then gives the learner a particular directive, such as, “Go over to Gizelle and tell her that it is time for lunch.” Everyone is eventually given a turn to be both the giver and receiver of a variety of messages.
These six activities will definitely improve the listening skills of the ESL student if they are incorporated into lesson plans on a regular basis. Listening should be for short amounts of time, such as 10 minutes or less until learners proficient in listening to basic English.