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Pre-Listening Activites Part 1 of a 3-part video series about listening,
Adapted by Peggy Marcy, Professor Cal State Univ San Bernardino
from J.J. Wilson's textbook, "How to Teach Listening"
Most listening scholars advocate a three-step approach to teaching listening: pre-listening,
while-listening, and post-listening. Let's start with pre-listening.
"In mud eels are, in clay none are." What did I just say? It means that you can find
eels in mud but not in clay. Even reading the statement, it is difficult
to understand. Cole, Jakimik and Cooper in 1980 used this statement for their research.
It was impossible for the listeners to understand what was being said. They could usually get
the word "in" repeated twice because it is not connected to another word in the sentence.
But, in English, when a word ends with a consonant and the next word begins with a vowel, we
usually pronounce them as one connected, or linked, word. This is often called "linking"
in pronunciation textbooks. So, instead of saying "mud eels are," we say "mudeelsare."
Without context, the listener does not know where to break the words apart for comprehending.
Therefore, research has shown the importance of providing context and other information
before asking the learners to actually listen. What kinds of information is helpful to the
listener in pre-listening. According to Wilson, in "How to Teach Listening,"
we should know what the speaker sounds like. Perhaps you have had the experience of watching
a movie and expecting US-style of English, but instead you got British English. Eventually,
your ears could adjust, but if the listening exercise is short and there is anything unusual
about the talking, then it is strongly suggested that you play just a little piece of the listening
to the students before asking them to actually listen in order to help their hearing adjust
beforehand. Unfortunately, since much textbook listening is devoid of anything unusual, this
may not be a necessary step. Another issue is how long the students should
listen. It is easier to concentrate for short periods than it is for longer ones, but if
they know it is a longer story or lecture, then they can prepare their mind properly.
Also, it is helpful for them to know who is supposed to be the audience and what the audience
is expected to do with the information. If the audience is supposed to be someone listening
for their flight information and they are expected to make note of it, then it helps
the student to know that. If the student expects to hear a train station announcement instead
of an airport announcement, they could get confused. If the picture in the textbook makes
it clear that it is an airport announcement, then the instructor will not need to say anything.
If, however, there is ambiguity about the possible audience, then the teacher should
directly tell the class what to expect. Another piece of helpful information is the
relationship between the listener and the speaker. I believe this is becoming more important
as we move into an era where the younger generation has no clear understanding of changing the
formality of their language based upon who they are talking to. Therefore, it can be
helpful for the teacher to point out if the speaker is in a more powerful position than
the listener or if they are both buddies, or something in between. However, this might
also be something you ask them to discover for themselves while-listening.
Also, the listeners should have an idea about what the topic is. If the listeners in the
research study had known they would be hearing a sentence about the habitat of eels, they
may have been able to comprehend from the beginning. There are lots of ways to activate
a learner's prior knowledge about a topic such as brainstorming, asking them to personalize
the topic, doing pre-reading, or doing research. Of course, if there is specialized vocabulary,
or idioms or slang, in the listening, then those should be pre-taught. They usually need
to be checked again in post-listening even if you pre-teach them.
Lastly, make sure every student understands what they are supposed to do while they are
listening. They should know this before they listen, not afterwards. They should always
have a reason for listening. This is where I will stop with my pre-listening
comments. The next video in the series will look at while-listening activities.