Is always pre-teaching vocab useful before doing a listening? Not always!
😴 Spending ages before performing the listening task by drilling a huge amount of vocab may just send the students to sleep. Is a lot of the vocab pre-taught relevant to the answers? Can any of it be learned through context? Research has shown (Probably from a British university which spends millions of pounds on such research like how many Menthos is takes to choke a swan) that pre-listening tasks achieve higher results than merely just throwing vocab at your students’ faces. 😏
Why do pre-listening tasks? 🤔
In everyday life is’s rather uncommon for people to listen to something without having some idea of what they are going to hear. When listening to a radio talk show, for example, they will probably know which topic is being discussed. When listening to an interview with a freaky celebrity, the listener probably knows something about that person already etc etc etc.
In our first language we rarely have issues understanding listening bits and pieces. But, in a L2, it is one of the tougher skills to develop – working at speed with unfamiliar sounds, words and structures. This is even more difficult if we do not know the topic under discussion, or who is speaking to whom. It’s like a brain overload! 😢💥
So, simply asking the students to listen to something and answer some questions is a little unfair, and makes developing listening skills much harder.
Many students are fearful of listening, and can be disheartened when they listen to something but feel they understand very little. It is also harder to concentrate on listening if you have little interest in a topic or situation.
Pre-listening tasks aim to deal with all of these issues: to generate interest, build confidence and to facilitate comprehension.
👇🏻Aims and types of pre-listening tasks 👇🏻
👉🏻Setting the context
This is perhaps the most important thing to do – even most exams give an idea about who is speaking, where and why. In normal life we normally have some idea of the context of something we are listening to.
Motivating our students is a key task for us. If they are to do a listening about sports, looking at some dramatic pictures of sports players or events will raise their interest or remind them of why they (hopefully) like sports. Personalisation activities are very important here. A pair-work discussion about the sports they play or watch, and why, will bring them into the topic, and make them more willing to listen.
👉🏻Activating current knowledge – what do you know about…?
‘You are going to listen to an ecological campaigner talk about the destruction of the rainforest’. This sets the context, but if you go straight in to the listening, the students have had no time to transfer or activate their knowledge (which may have been learnt in their first language) in the second language. What do they know about rainforests? – Where are they? What are they? What problems do they face? Why are they important? What might an ecological campaigner do? What organisations campaign for ecological issues?
Students may have limited general knowledge about a topic. Providing knowledge input will build their confidence for dealing with a listening. This could be done by giving a related text to read, or, a little more fun, a quiz.
👉🏻Activating vocabulary / language
Just as activating topic knowledge is important, so is activating the language that may be used in the listening. Knowledge-based activities can serve this purpose, but there are other things that can be done. If students are going to listen to a dialogue between a parent and a teenager who wants to stay overnight at a friend’s, why not get your students to role play the situation before listening. They can brainstorm language before hand, and then perform the scene. By having the time to think about the language needs of a situation, they will be excellently prepared to cope with the listening.
Once we know the context for something, we are able to predict possible content. Try giving students a choice of things that they may or may not expect to hear, and ask them to choose those they think will be mentioned.
When we listen in our first language we can usually concentrate on the overall meaning because we know the meaning of the vocabulary. For students, large numbers of unknown words will often hinder listening, and certainly lower confidence. Select some vocabulary for the students to study before listening, perhaps matching words to definitions, followed by a simple practice activity such as filling the gaps in sentences.
👉🏻Checking / understanding the listening tasks
By giving your students plenty of time to read and understand the main listening comprehension tasks, you allow them to get some idea of the content of the listening. They may even try to predict answers before listening.