Often as teachers we’ll give our class a very specific listening task which will often run like this: listen to this short dialog between a shopkeeper and a shopper; I’m going to ask you at the end to tell me how many sausages the woman bought and what the total cost was of all her shopping.
In other words the listening is very discrete and students are listening for very specific pieces of information.
This is fine in as far as it goes, but especially for learners living in an English speaking country there is a need for longer, more general listening practice. Here we have taken a leaf from the Reading for Pleasure concept. This article is about listening for pleasure, in other words, listening not for specific information but in order to follow a longer narrative.
Reasons for Listening for Pleasure
Listening for pleasure also implies that there are no tests afterwards. Students are not listening to fill in blank spaces or to complete a specific activity. They are listening solely for the purposes of enjoying themselves.
And there are a number of good reasons why you should practice listening for pleasure in your class.
- it removes the stress of listening for a specific piece of information to complete and activity
- it is natural; a lot of the listening we do in real life is general and we won’t be questioned on it afterwards!
- it’s fun!
- in the long term, it works: students become better at listening and more relaxed about it, they also pick up plenty of useful English along the way
Types of Listening for Pleasure
Although there are longer narratives we can use in class such as spoken books or radio serials, one of the best sources of listening for pleasure comes by using television soap operas. They are useful in a number of ways:
- the dialog tends to be on everyday subjects and not too technical (spoken language is much simpler than written language)
- once the theme of a conversation is established, similar vocabulary is often repeated
- if one piece of dialog is not understood, other dialogs can help fill in the blank spaces and complete the overall picture of what is going on
- conversations are often repeated in different forms
- if the right soap opera is chosen, students get a chance to listen to different types of accents and pronunciations and have a better chance of “tuning in” to an accent
- scenes tend to be short and simple and repetitive
- stories can often be gripping
- because students are watching video there are often many non-verbal clues to help in understanding and students do not always need to understand a conversation 100% to understand the storyline
- video tends to keep the attention more than radio where you can sometimes find students completely switching off (and sleeping)
- they introduce the culture and mores of a certain society into the classroom which the students may not be familiar with
How to Listen for Pleasure
Since this is listening for pleasure and students may well have not had practice in this kind of activity, the best approach is to start by giving fairly short bursts of video. By this we mean perhaps 10 minutes once a week. Use it as a kind of “treat” so on the last lesson of the week put aside 20 minutes at the end for watching a video and talking about it.
You may want to introduce the very first episode by showing a few characters and explaining who they are (e.g. this is a picture of Joe who is Mary’s brother; he’s married to Jenny who owns the local café).
Stress to your class that they won’t be tested on the video and that they’re not listening out for anything specific!
And then just play the video. Ten minutes is a good length. You will often find that episodes of various soaps are available online; these are often designed for 30 minute slots on television so are about 20 minutes in length (to allow for adverts, etc). Because of the way in which soaps are built you can easily stop them after a scene about half or a third of the way through.
Afterwards you might want to discuss it with the class. Keep this general and don’t try to force students to speak here. The kind of discussion should relate to the situations and be along the lines of the conversation you might have with anyone after watching a soap together:
- I really think Joe made a bad choice; I would have dumped Julie for Marianne!
- What do you think Lucy is going to do now?
- Would you tell Mr Harrison you’d seen his wife with his best friend?
And so on.
Like Reading for Pleasure, results come slowly. This is not a quick fix but a longer term project and thus you need to make sure your students have this same kind of activity week in and week out. A good soap opera will keep the activity fresh each time though and keep interest up.
In time you will find your class more accustomed to the accent and pronunciation of the characters. You may well find they pick up certain vocabulary and usage as well.
But the rule of not testing still applies. This is for pleasure, not work.