As a language learner, listening has always been the hardest skill for me. Grammar, vocabulary and writing are just a matter of practice. Speaking is just a matter of nerves. But listening? How do you learn to listen? The assumption is you just pick it up through exposure, but the reality is much different. Like the other skills, listening requires practice.
And, like the other skills, this practice can come in the form of extensive or extensive practice. However, why separate them? Extensive listening easily leads into intensive listening, just as extensive reading is benefited by some intensive reading practice.
Last semester, I decided to give my lower-level conversation classes some much needed listening practice. I and my colleagues felt that they were getting a long of speaking practice, and some two-way listening practice – yet their listening skills still needed improvement.
We developed our listening journals along the lines of extensive reading – we encouraged listening to anything they wanted, so long as it wasn’t too difficult. Students chose music, movies, TV shows, TEDTalks, cooking videos, and other random authentic English media items. They were to do their best to understand what they heard, write down any new or interesting language they learned, and then reflect on the whole listening process.
I took this one step further and had students move from extensive to intensive listening with the same media they had been viewing, having them complete specific activities that focused more on bottom-up listening skills. I often demonstrated a tool or activity that could be applied to any media (such as making gap-fills, transcription:, or using the wonderful LyricsTraining website) and then had them try it out for their listening journal entry. Much of this was inspired by Thorn’s (2009) article on teaching listening vs. teaching students how to listen.
Although I was not able to test the direct effects of the listening journals (this will be a future project), student responses were overwhelmingly positive. Most felt they benefited from the listening journals, and many students said they would continue on with them on their own. I was encouraged so much by the results of the listening journal that I am doing a new iteration of it with an advanced listening class. I hope that my current students gain as much as my previous students did.
If this continues to be successful, I plan on turning it into a small action research project to try to empirically verify whether these listening journals have any positive effect on listening skills. Below, I have provided links to the information distributed to students. This information contains specific guidelines and examples of what students needed to complete. I would very much appreciate any comments or feedback!