Ene Peterson, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia
Peterson, E. (2010). Internet-based resources for developing listening. Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal, 1 (2). 139-154.
Internet-Based Resources for Developing Listening
Developing listening skills comes “naturally” for some students, but with great difficulty for others. Acquiring listening skills can even be frustrating for some students. For some time, listening was regarded as a “passive” or “receptive” skill and, consequently, not particularly crucial as a skill area to be taught. Researchers then began to recognize the importance of listening and its role in comprehensible input (Krashen, 1982), and attention to and adoption of newer comprehension-based methodologies brought the issue to the fore. Listening became a skill to be reckoned with and its key position in communication recognized (Feyten, 1991; Omaggio Hadley, 2001). In the communicative approach to language teaching, this means teachers modelling listening strategies and providing listening practice in authentic situations: those that learners are likely to encounter when they use the language outside the classroom. Given the importance of listening in language learning and teaching it is essential to give our learners opportunity to develop and improve their listening skills not only in the classroom, but outside the classroom as well.
We have now entered a digital era in which technology is no longer a novelty. Technological advancement has always occurred in the past, but never at this speed. Although “technology is not a panacea that can replace language teachers and face-to-face classrooms, it is something that can be used to enhance language learning” (Sharma & Barrett, 2007). Self-access learning centres promote the approach whereby students study independently choosing from among different resources that are available. Listening lends itself to self-access in the same way that reading does. Listening in the real world and listening to authentic texts, however, is obviously more complex. But how can we help our learners become effective listeners and to overcome difficulties in listening comprehension and other barriers to listening?
Why not draw on technology? Learners can use ICT (Information Communication Technology) in developing and improving their language skills, in particular listening comprehension for the following good reasons:
1. Current university students have been characterised as the “Net Generation” (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005; Barnes, Marateo, & Ferris, 2007; Prensky, 2001) and “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games, and the Internet (Presnky, 2001). Learners today have high expectations when it comes to technology and they expect a language school or programme to offer opportunities to use technology in their courses, for example via a well-equipped self-access centre (Sharma & Barrett, 2007).
2. The use of technology outside the language classroom or in the self-access centre can make learners more autonomous. One key feature of using technology in learning is that it allows language practice and study away from the confines of the classroom at your own pace anywhere: a hotel room, the office, an Internet café, at home or, of course, in the self-access language centre.
3. New ICT skills learnt in the classroom (e.g. Internet search skills) can be transferred to real life. Using a range of ICT tools and a web-based environment can give learners exposure to practicing listening regularly, and consequently, become a more effective listener.
4. The use of technology via web-based environment can be current, e.g. using a listening activity with today’s news from news websites can add a dimension of immediacy to listening practice.
5. While listening to digital audio or watching a video clip, learners have the opportunity to pause at will, and listen and read a transcript. Moreover, learners can get instant feedback on what they have done (e.g. you watch a video clip/listen to audio and check answers immediately after watching/listening).
6. Learners can access authentic websites, as well as websites for EFL/ESL learners. As learners become used to selecting and evaluating listening materials, they are able to plan out their own use of web-based materials in their own time. This helps them become effective listeners and independent learners.
In this review we will take a look at a number of online resources for developing listening skills (e.g. audio and video, podcasts, video clip tools), and suggest some strategies for improving listening ability.
The Internet – A Goldmine of Listening Materials
Some years ago the Internet held the promise of access to authentic audio and video. Today that promise has been realized. An unending stream of audio and video lessons, television and radio broadcasts, including news and documentaries, and music videos are now at our fingertips through different sources. In addition to this, a new generation of internet tools are available (Skype, podcasts, online webcasts and conferences, voice boards). Moreover, social networks create multiple opportunities for authentic communication.
Audio and Video
The principal benefits of online audio and video start with the range of material in terms of subject matter, accent of the speaker, and length. Some of the activities will only take up a short amount of time, for example listening to the news, whereas others, such as participating in conference calls or listening to TV broadcasts will require learners to set aside quite a lot of time.
Online audio and video news.
Online listening activities are divided into those that are specifically scripted for English learners, while others consist of authentic materials which have been specially selected.
The BBC World Service Learning English offers both types of activity.
- News English Extra http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/language/newsextra/
- News about England http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/language/newsaboutbritain/
Short reports from the BBC World Service international radio news with a short summary, transcript, and a glossary of some vocabulary terms.
- Listen and Watch http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/listen-and-watch
Five-minute audio reports and transcripts on subjects such as famous people, pop music, and entertainment. Students can listen to or watch news on the computer, or download audio and video files to their mp3 players. Audio and video materials are accompanied by language practice activities that learners can do on their computers while they listen or watch, or print out and do them when they want to.
The BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/video_and_audio/
A very useful thing about the BBC audio/video is that it contains recordings of individual stories which are one to two minutes long. Learners can choose which topic they would like to listen to. There is a wide variety of different categories – Business, Technology, World News, UK News, Technology, and so on. The BBC site is predominantly British English.
CNN News http://edition.cnn.com/video/
Similarly to the BBC site, learners can listen to clips of individual news items or to whole programmes. The CNN site is predominantly American English.
Breaking News English http://www.breakingnewsenglish.com/
This site has news articles on different topics along with a sound recording of the article accompanied by a resource book with ready-to-use ESL/EFL lessons and worksheets that learners can work with on their own.
Monthly News Digest Online http://www.englishclub.com/listening/news.htm
A “news digest” is a summary of news stories. Each month EnglishClub creates a digest in easy English with four short audio news reports from the past 30 days. Monthly News Digest Online has been designed so that English learners can use it on their own not only for practising listening but for reading, writing, and even speaking. It is posted on the first day of each month and includes audio feeds, texts, and exercises. Some tips for listening to the summary of news:
Pre-listening: Try to guess what words might fit in the blanks.
Listening: Listen to the audio three times: 1) to get the gist, 2) to fill in the cloze passages, and 3) to check answers.
Other ideas for listening activities can be found in Business English Using the Internet (Barber, 2007, p. 69-70) and Blended Learning (Sharma & Barrett, 2007, p. 39-40). Barrett and Sharma (2005, p. 96-101) offer four worksheets for using video or audio clips on the BBC site to develop such different listening skills as summarising, deepening, updating, widening, and so on.
More audio and video resources.
Daily ESL, Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab, and EZSlang are created and maintained by Randall Davis. Reading newspapers and textbooks can be helpful for Academic English, but many students often spend their time reading information that is very difficult and might not be used in day-to-day conversations.
Thus, Daily ESL (www.dailyesl.com) is designed to help learners become familiar with common vocabulary and expressions they can use all the time in many situations. Learners choose a topic, listen and read along with a paragraph, and then discuss the questions with a partner. They can then compare their thoughts to the recorded interview.
The site EZSlang (www.ezslang.com/ ) is designed to help learners (from low-intermediate to advanced) improve their survival skills in many different situations and to make learning slang an easier process for better communication.
Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab (www.esl-lab.com) has short and long listening activities for beginner-level as well as advanced-level students accompanied by pre-, while and post-listening tasks, transcripts, and cultural video clips. Randall Davis states that the main objective of the site is not to test students listening skills; rather, by doing the variety of pre-listening, listening, and post-listening activities, students can discover ways to learn how to develop their listening skills. He believes that listening and speaking skills must be developed together, and working together with other students in groups and discussing the content of the listening activities help learners improve their overall communication skills by focusing on specific tasks.
You can find free, well-produced, and clearly-organised content on one site called Ello. Ello includes interviews, videos, games, and more. There is News Centre (with animated newscasts), which can help students learn Academic English and develop test taking skills for standardized listening components of tests such as TOEFL, TOEIC, and IELTS. There are other sections to explore, such as Mixer, Views, Points, and even Songs, and each section has a wide selection of material.
Video Jug http://www.videojug.com/
Video Jug is the world’s most comprehensive library of free factual video content online. Video Jug gives numerous opportunities for learners to practice listening skills and to become actively engaged in the listening process. Learners can practice their listening skills by listening to the interview with Stephen Fry (see Appendix A). There is a tapescript to accompany the listening text.
Podcasts are audio recordings which a user can subscribe to and download to his/her computer or portable listening device such as an MP3 player (Barber, 2007). The closest analogy to a podcast is that of a radio or TV show, but the difference is that you can listen to or watch a podcast on a topic that interests you whenever you want to. A podcast can be on any topic and can include music and video. Video podcasts are also known as Vodcasts or PodClips. Podcasts can be used not only for authentic listening in the classroom but for self-study outside of the classroom as well. According to Dudney and Hockly (2007), recording lectures as podcasts (referred to as course casting) is becoming increasingly common in tertiary education. By doing that, students who miss a class can then download the lecture podcasts for later listening on their computers or mobile devices like an MP3 player. More demanding, but ultimately perhaps more rewarding, is the option of learners actually producing their own podcasts. You can find detailed information related to podcasts from Podcasting Tools (http://www.podcasting-tools.com/blog.htm). According to Barber (2007) making podcasts is simple and you can find guidelines from his book Fifty ways to improve your Business English using the Internet (p. 77-78).
Since it is easy to create podcasts, they are appearing in every area of the World Wide Web. Lewis (2009) draws attention to the fact that “there are good and bad podcasts, and since everything can look so professional, it is hard to know which is which at first glance. Hence, broad searches can be a bit hit and miss” (p. 70). Podcast directories are one place to start looking for podcasts. Learners can click on a category and scroll though a list of podcasts, listening to and subscribing to any that interest them. Students can also find tips for podcast searches on iTunes (http://www.apple.com/itunes/podcasts/). A podcast directory aimed specifically at teachers and learners of English is Englishcaster (http://www.englishcaster.com). ESL podcast sites have been developed for different purposes: vocabulary and grammar topics, idioms and slang, business English, world news and current events, limericks and jokes, songs, and poetry.
BBC Podcasts http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts
The BBC, the quintessential international news and media organization, was one of the earliest creators of podcasts. They first offered a limited number of traditional BBC audio programs as podcasts. Since then, the BBC expanded the list of podcasts they offer (covering everything from drama to news and sports) to many more audio podcasts, video trials (an experiment they stopped in 2007), and music-only podcasts (started in November, 2007).
ESL Listening: Podcasts http://iteslj.org/links/ESL/Listening/Podcasts/
This is a sub-page of The Internet TESL Journal with different categories of podcasts: for native speakers, newest podcasts by ESL podcasters, listen and repeat podcast for practising intonation, rhythm and intonation, jokes in English podcast, “Learn a song” podcast, and so on.
Learn Songs http://www.manythings.org/songs/
This site features folk songs, campfire songs, and group-singing songs that native English speakers sing. These podcasts are short and designed to be listened to more than once, so learners can listen and sing along as many times as they need to in order to learn the song.
English Feed http://www.podcastdirectory.com/podcasts/7538
English Feed is a weekly podcast including review and listening exercises on important grammar and vocabulary subjects. It is an ideal podcast for beginning to intermediate level students to study basic structures like phrasal verbs, past forms, modals, listening comprehension quizzes, and more. English Feed also includes the transcript, grammar resources, and exercises.
ELT Podcast http://www.eltpodcast.com/
ELT Podcast provides basic conversations for EFL and ESL students and classes. ELT Podcast presents a common conversation theme in each episode. The first presentation is at a normal speed, and then at a slower, less natural speed to help with comprehension. The site also provides a transcript of the conversation.
Elementary Podcasts http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/elementary-podcasts
A variety of listening activities (episodes) on different topics (e.g. family, pets, travel problems, clothes, and so on) that learners can do on their computers while they listen. They can also be printed out to do later.
Professional Podcasts http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/professionals-podcasts
This series of podcasts helps learners to improve their English for their career in the workplace and covers a large number of business and work themes. They are suitable for learners at intermediate to advanced level.
Business English http://www.businessenglishpod.com/category/esl-podcast/
Business English Pod provides free weekly MP3 podcast ESL lessons and audio/e-Book courses for intermediate and advanced business English learners. Each business English podcast lesson is focused on a particular workplace English skill (such as meetings, presentations, telephoning, negotiating, socializing, travel, and conversation) and language function (such as clarifying, disagreeing, questioning, expressing opinions, and persuasion). Video Vocab is a video podcast (vodcast) published by Business English Pod for ESL learners who want to expand and improve their English vocabulary for business (http://www.videovocab.tv/). Each ESL video lesson looks at a group of key English vocabulary words and terms related to a particular business topic. The meaning of the vocabulary is explained with simple definitions and pictures along with an example of how the vocabulary can be used. Current lessons feature vocabulary on the economy, law, project management, accounting and finance, the credit crisis, and Web 2.0 Internet technologies.
Splendid Speaking Podcasts http://www.podcastdirectory.com/podcasts/21609
This site supports upper-intermediate and advanced learners of English develop their top-level speaking skills and communication strategies. In 2005, Peter Travis, the host of the Splendid Speaking podcasts, was shortlisted for the Quality Improvement Agency Star Award for the “E-Learning Tutor of the Year” sponsored by Microsoft. Users sign up for the Splendid Speaking newsletter (http://www.splendid-speaking.com/subscribe1.html) and receive transcripts, comprehension questions, a weekly task sheet to help them prepare for a similar talk, and a vocabulary worksheet to record the “Splendid Expressions” daily quiz.
Video clip tools
Now that a growing majority of Internet users have broadband, YouTube (www.youtube.com) and other video clip sites (e.g. Google Video at www.video.google, and Revver Video Sharing Network at www.revver.com) have become very popular. These sites provide English learners with a new tool to improve listening skills.
YT (YouTube) was invented by Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim. According to their fact sheet, YT was founded in February, 2005, as a destination to watch and share original videos worldwide through the Web. YT has gained enormous popularity in a relatively short time. This online video-sharing social network has been enthusiastically welcomed by EFL learners and teachers because of its potential to provide “a huge multimedia library of real language use by real people, a potentially rich resource for language learning or corpus collections” (Godwin-Jones, 2007). By browsing video clip sites, learners can find videos on almost any topic (education, politics, science, technology, entertainment, and so on), spoken in different varieties of the language (standard, foreign accented, and so on) and at different levels of difficulty. According to Bearer (2010) the real advantage to these sites – at least from a language learning point of view – is that they offer authentic examples of everyday English used by everyday people. However, learners may enjoy watching these clips, but poor sound quality, pronunciation, and slang can make these short videos even more difficult to understand. Task sheets can help them to explore the world of online English learning possibilities (for an example task sheet, refer to Appendix B).
Listening comprehension is often the most difficult task for learners of English as a foreign language. Listening in the real world and listening to authentic texts is more complex than listening to non-authentic texts in the classroom environment. Effective listening does not just happen. Access to up-to-date materials via the Internet gives the students opportunities to develop and improve their listening skills by using materials in the self-access language learning centre or outside the classroom. With the appropriate use of technology, learning can be made more active, motivating, and learner-centred, especially with such internet-based resources as audio-video, podcasts, and video clip tools.
Notes on the contributor
Ene Peterson is a lecturer at Virumaa College of Tallinn University of Technology with 30 years’ experience in ELT and ESP, currently Head of the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Apart from that she is engaged in teacher training and in the work of teachers’ associations, being Chair of the Association of Teachers of Estonian as a Second Language and Chair of the Estonian Association of Foreign Language Teachers. Her professional interests include different aspects of methodology of teaching ESL and ESP (e.g. teaching process writing, developing listening skills, and portfolio assessment) and the use of technology in teaching languages.
Appendices can be found on the PDF version
Barber, E. (2007). Fifty ways to improve your Business English using the internet. Oxford: Summertown Publishing Ltd.
Barnes, K., Marateo, R., & Ferris, S. (2007). Teaching and learning with the Net Generation. Innovate, 3(4). Retrieved from http://innovateonline.info/pdf/vol3_issue4/Teaching_and_Learning_with_the_Net_Generation.pdf
Barrett, B., & Sharma, P. (2005). The internet and Business English. Oxford: Summertown Publishing Ltd.
Bearer, K. (2010). YouTube in the classroom!. Retrieved from http://esl.about.com/od/listeninglessonplans/a/youtube.htm
Dudeney, G., & Hockly, N. (2007). How to teach English with technology. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.
Godwin-Jones, R. (2007). Emerging technologies. Digital video update: YouTube, Flash, High-definition. Language Learning and Technology, 11(1), 12-16. Retrieved from http://llt.msu.edu/vol11num1/emerging/default.html
Krashen, S. D. (1982). Principles and practice in second language acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon Press.
Lewis, G. (2007). Bringing technology into the classroom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Oblinger, D. G., & Oblinger, J. L. (Eds.). (2005). Educating the Net Generation. EDUCAUSE. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/pub7101.pdf
Omaggio Hadley, A. (2001). Teaching language in context (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Heinle.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5).
Sharma, P., & Barrett, B. (2007). Blended learning: Using technology in and beyond the language classroom. Oxford: Macmillan Publishers Ltd.
Appendices included in the PDF version
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