Monday, 13 June 2016

Training the ears- how I help my students develop listening skills

Training the ears:

Some of you were asking how I prepare my listening lessons for my business students.

A wise friend of mine commented once that teachers tend to test listening in class, but rarely teach strategies for listening more effectively, and that got me thinking about how I handle this.

I always start with a nursery rhyme. These are designed to help small people develop the sounds and patterns of their L1.  I find that Jack and Jill, or Humpty Dumpty 
work well.

Jack and Jill, went up the hill to fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after                                                                                                                                                        
We begin with a discovery exercise where I ask the students to work out where the stressed syllables are. We usually end up with something that looks like the one below:                   

Jack and Jill, went up the hill to fetch a pail of water  
Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after    

We then turn it into a class chant, until everyone feels that the rhyme is sounding natural.

Next we analyse the types of words which are stressed: names, lexical verbs,nouns, numbers, negatives, contrasting prepostions etc...     

Now consider which ones are not stressed:  these are grammar words- on paper they are important, but when speaking we want to concentrate on the message, i.e. the content, not the accuracy of the complete sentence. This is liberating for the students as they begin to realise that the bits they can't hear, or complain about fast delivery, are actually not that important. BUT, anything that needs to be clear will be stressed by native English speakers. This is a good time to look at the function of the schwa and help them to minimise some of there vowel sounds. Sometimes I show this by using LEGO bricks to add or remove stress from words.    
I found a great chant by Hancock McDonald, called LOST, which works really well after this.

My next task is to have them listen to a French nursery rhyme, which one of my students recorded for me. We again listen to the rhythm and discover that the French is syllabic, rather than stress-timed like the English.
es car got de Bour gogne mon tre moi tes cor nes
After this we listen to the same French speaker, this time using English. Does the accent carry over into the L2? Is it a problem for communication?
 We can then look for distinctive features in their own accents.

Later I introduce an Indian into the mix ( or whatever accent they are finding hard). For the Indian, there is a YouTube clip called How to Speak like an Indian 
My students often say-"yes, this is exactly what I mean" and again it is a great opportunity to analyse the features which might be causing problems in communication.

Business English Podcasts are great for other accents.

I have a favourite BE book, which I  use mostly for the listening tasks. It contains both male and female accents from South Americans, North Americans, British and Spanish speakers too. 

Business Listening and Speaking, by Maurice Jamall and Bruce Wade- for internationally-minded business people. It contains a wealth of listening types and tasks.

Sometimes I test the learners with some very advanced listening tasks- which they manage well after this training.

I hope this might give some of you ideas to do things differently with your students too.