Many English language students find listening comprehension a daunting task, even those more outgoing and who manage to communicate their ideas, despite poor pronunciation and grammar, find it daunting to understand native speakers of English.
Students say that they can more easily understand other foreigners speaking English. Well… in a world where English is increasingly the lingua franca and most English speakers today use it as a second language, that is not so bad. But it’s understandable their frustration when trying to understand what somebody in the US, Canada, the UK or New Zealand is telling them.
Why is it that when they hear fɵˈɡɛɾəˌbæʊɾɨ they feel they might as well be listening Chinese or Martian? But when they read – “forget about it” they totally get the idea and message?
Firstly, listening comprehension is a skill which can be acquired.
For decades, English Language Teaching manuals have been presenting the following steps:
A. Set the scene – look at the pictures if available
B. Get students excited about what they’re going to listen to.
C. Pre-teach any key words and new vocabulary
D. Ask them some pre-questions to focus onto during their listening
E. Repeat the previous steps.
That approach has been tested millions of times and with some success, otherwise it wouldn’t have been around for so long. However, students still often get frustrated because they couldn’t understand part of it or even most of it. What should we do as teachers?
We must help students decode the sounds they will hear – practice the linking and Schwa sounds that so often block their comprehension.
They’ll try to hear “dwa challenge” not “do a challenge” – “lookintwit” not “look into it” – “igwout” not “I go out” “dijeet yet” not “did you eat yet?”
By practicing those “micro-listening” skills and sounds they will be better prepared to understand the spoken word, even if not able to spell it out.