The Power of Listening Input for Language Learners

Cover pt lover revised

(True story.) It’s the September of 1985, the year that Stevie Wonder released an international hit song. I’m on campus in Japan and happen to run into a couple of my students from spring term, Yuki and Hana.

“How was your summer?” I ask.

“Wonderful! I went to Europe with my family,” Yuki says.

“That’s great! How about you Hana?”

“Interesting. I had a part-time lover,” Hana answers.

Both Yuki and I look astonished and laughingly ask simultaneously, “You had a what?!!”

“I had a part-time lover. … Oh, no, I mean I had a part-time job!” Hana replies with some embarrassment when she realizes what she had said.

She then explains how she had often heard Stevie Wonder’s “Part-Time Lover” during the summer.

Hana’s automatic response to my question demonstrated the power of listening input. Since then, I’ve found ways to tap into it’s potential in helping student internalize grammar concepts and new vocabulary, and even how to write paragraphs and essays.

Listening first to help internalize grammar concepts.

Instead of having students memorize rules, we can help them learn through what “sounds right.” This is similar to native speakers. Rarely do we stop to think, “Now what is the rule for that?”

A good example of how students can start with what “sound right” is with adjectives that look like verbs and the prepositions that follow them.

Mistake: She interested at computer science.
Mistake: They confused in his directions.

Through listening exercises, students can quickly learn that in these situations, they need a verb and associate the correct preposition that goes with them because they will begin to sound right.

Correct: She is interested in computer science
Correct: They were confused about his directions.

(For more about this and handouts, see  • Mistake: He SURPRISED to see it snowing. (Adjectives that look like verbs.)

Listening first to help internalize vocabulary.

A great of example for this is learning phrasal verbs through listening first.

Imagine the challenge of trying to learn what phrases like got away with, point out, make up, and get over not only mean but also trying to remember what preposition goes with what verb.

On top of that, one needs to know that sometime the preposition can’t be separated from the verb.

  • Jeff got away with cheating. (correct)
  • Jeff got cheating away with. (mistake)
  • Jeff got away cheating with. (mistake)

Also, some phrasal verbs require a gerund: e.g., keep on

  • They kept on talking. (correct)
  • They kept on talk. (mistake)

But others require an infinitive: e.g. turned out

  • The winner turned out to be my brother. (correct)
  • The winner turned out to being my brother. (mistake)

I have found the most effective way to help students with all these challenges is through working with the phrases in a variety of listening contexts. See • Taking On Phrasal Verbs  

Listening to develop paragraph/essay writing skills

When introducing a new type of organization for an essay or a new technique to use in a paragraph, it can be very effective to start by having students first listen to a model before reading it. Following up the first listening with an exercise, for example, a cloze, can reinforce the aspect of the model that we want them to focus on.

A culminating step can be for the students to hear the paragraph or short essay again (perhaps more than once) and then to write it. The style and some of the vocabulary they use might be different from the original, but they will have produced writing that reflected the important features of the model.

Also, in this process, there is a good chance that they will have activated some vocabulary that had previously been passive for them.  (See  Innovative Approach to Writing: Introduce a new Unit with a Listening Activity)

David Kehe

*About the free-download materials. During my 40 years of teaching ESL, I have had many colleagues who were very generous with their time, advice and materials. These downloads are my way of paying it forward.

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