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How to Teach Listening in the ESL Classroom: 15 Valuable Activities That Create Solid Skills

3 Ways to Increase Listening Skills and Confidence

First of all, here are three basic principles.

1. Limit the use of translation.
Your students need to be able to understand and respond without having to translate in their heads all the time, especially when they are listening rather than reading. At first it might seem like the easy, comfortable way to learn a language, but if it develops into a habit then they will never be able to speak English fluently.

Translation is a habit that needs to be limited because…

Students tend to start to panic when they find they don’t know every word.
Using those electronic translators especially can give warped ideas of meaning.
This doesn’t mean that you never let them translate. Sometimes having an equivalent from their first language is the only way to move them forward, but quickly move on and don’t allow them to keep returning to it.

In general, there are better ways to handle running into new vocabulary while listening.

When students hear a new word or expression, they need something to tie it to.

As their teacher, you can help them with this by providing…

Context: Help them to find clues to the meaning in the context of the listening “text.”
Pictures: Show them a picture so that when they hear the word or expression again later, the picture will come to mind.
Action: Get them to perform an action so that when they hear the word or expression again later, they will remember that particular action.
English synonyms or antonyms: Their understanding of English will grow by leaps and bounds if they can explain an English word with other English words. Encourage (and guide) them to look up unknown words in an English dictionary.
Help students to relax, and not to panic, as they listen to material (especially the first time) and to find out how much they can understand. They will probably be pleasantly surprised. For some students, this in itself can be a real confidence booster.

2. Avoid confusing listening skills with literacy skills.
When you first introduce a new listening “text” (e.g., video, story, song, podcast…) concentrate on listening and don’t provide subtitles or written script (yet). In real life, there are no subtitles, so let your students have a go just listening. (Later you can add subtitles or a written script as well as literacy-related activities.)

The reasons for this are as follows:

Firstly, we don’t want students with poor literacy skills to be disadvantaged in learning the listening skill. They may have poor literacy skills because they are young, or because of limited vision, or because of a learning disability, or even because they come from a non-literate background. Nevertheless, they can learn to listen and understand.
Secondly, students who are confidently literate often want to be able to see and read the words while they are listening, but this would rob them of the opportunity to really listen. Students need to be able to listen and understand without seeing the written words at the same time.
Thirdly, as mentioned above, it can be a real confidence booster when they discover just how much they do understand without any other help. And, of course, this is more like real life outside of the classroom.
Once they have listened without seeing subtitles or script the first time, and you have discussed some issues, then you can listen and watch again with the assistance of subtitles or text.

3. Use videos because students can also watch.
We want to prepare our students to take part in conversations. We want them to be able to listen, understand and respond. A large part of that listening involves reading a speaker’s facial expressions and body language, which can vary from culture to culture. So, most of the time, your students need to practice their “listening” skills by watching videos, or watching you talk or tell stories.

A great source for visual material is FluentU, an immersion platform with real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—that are ready-made for focused listening. FluentU makes it easy to create productive ongoing listening activities by allowing your students to access the same high-quality material at home and in the classroom.

There are two situations in which students are likely to be listening to English without seeing the speaker(s):

On the radio
On the telephone
But even in these situations they still need to be able to imagine the body language being used.

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