For many students improving their listening skills is the hardest of the four skills to master. Unlike reading, listening happens in real time and it can be hard to control the speed of the information coming at them. They may also have to deal with a range of unfamiliar accents, noise interference from background environment and the pressure to respond to the person they are listening to.
Traditionally, listening skills have been developed in the classroom by the teacher using audio files and graded listening activities. The audio file is usually played by the teacher and the students work through the activities in lock-step together. Although this model may be easy to manage for the teacher it doesn’t allow much differentiation for the students or give them much choice or autonomy regarding what they listen to or how many times they listen.
This, however, is an area of language learning where digital technology and mobile devices can have a significant impact. There are now a great many websites and apps that students can use to develop their listening skills independently and which teachers can use to create interesting learning and support materials for their students.
In this article I’d like to share a cross section of what’s freely available for teachers and students.
This app has long been a favourite of mine as it combines listening to songs with learning a language. Students can choose songs in a variety of languages then watch the video of the song and try to reconstruct the lyrics. Students can choose the level of difficulty by selecting either to reconstruct the whole of the lyrics or to just have a few of the words taken out. The app is gamified, so as they listen to the song, the music stops at the end of each line and they then have a time limit to fill in the missing words. If they don’t complete the line they have to start from the beginning of the song again. Using songs in this kind of text reconstruction activity helps students to listen multiple times without getting bored. The app works in the web-browser, but there is also a free app for both Android and iOS. The app gives a much better user experience in my opinion. Students and teachers can register on the site and the app will then track student scores. As a teacher you can also add videos and lyrics to songs you want to use with your students and so add to the LyricsTraining collection.
This is a great app to get students listening intensively, but remember they can successfully recreate the lyrics of the song without necessarily understanding them so it’s good to follow this up in class.
This is a podcast search engine with a huge collection of podcasts on a wide range of topics. Podcasts are a great source of listening materials for students and can easily be downloaded onto mobile devices for replay at any convenient moment. Listen Notes can help teachers or students to find listening materials that fit their interests. If they log in, students can start to ‘curate’ collections of different podcast episodes that they like and keep working on their listening skills while listening to them whenever is convenient.
The site also provides an embed code for each episode so if you are designing online learning materials for your students, this makes it easy to embed the podcast into your site, materials or blog.
Most of the podcasts are authentic so these are more suited to higher levels, although there are some made for ESL/EFL podcasts available too.
This is a great app for any of your students who use Facebook. It is a simple free app that works with Facebook Messenger and sends students short audio clips. The students have to listen to the audio clip and write down what they hear. They can then send their text back and get instant feedback on how much they got correct. This is a great way for students to regularly work on developing their listening skills.
This is another app that combines listening with watching videos. TeachVid uses video from YouTube and builds a range of different activities around them, varying from text reconstruction, translation, multiple choice, jumbled sentences and many more. One of the nice things about TeachVid is that students can choose the types of exercise they want to do for improving specific listening skills. If you register as a teacher you can also create activities using the videos of your choice and create ‘classrooms’ so that you can share assignments with students and track their results. This is a great way to set listening for homework and know that your students have done it.
This is a text to speech voice reader that can be plugged into the Google Chrome or Firefox browser. Adding the plug-in takes a couple of seconds and once added students can go to any webpage and simply click on an icon on the tool bar of the browser. The app will then open and read the text of the page to them. As it reads, it highlights the text so students can see the words as they hear them. It’s also possible to pause and rewind if they feel they have missed something. The quality of the voice isn’t perfect, main problem being with intonation, but it is very good and synthetic speech is getting better all the time. This is a great way to help develop both students’ listening and reading skills at the same time.
Synth is an interesting way to make podcasts more interactive and engaging for students. You can record your podcast, a message, a question or an audio file for your students to listen to and they then have to record a reply, or add to your message. This is a great way to either collect knowledge together or create dialogue with students while developing their listening skills. It can be used on iOS or in the web-browser.
This is a really interesting tool for anyone who is interested in improving their listening skills and learning how different lexical items appear in authentic speech. It is a little like a corpus, but has a wide collection of audio files that can be searched for specific language items. You do this by typing the word or phrase you want to find into the search field. Fluid Data then shows you a list of audio clips with the part of the clip that contains the example phrase highlighted by an orange bar. When you click on the orange bar you can hear the specific part of the clip. This is great for finding listening materials when you want to teach a specific item and can also help students to review words or phrases they are learning and find authentic example sentences that show how they are used.
This app is similar to LyricsTraining, but has a wider variety of source materials. Again it is based around listening to what you hear and writing it down and like LyricsTraining you can select the level of challenge by deciding how many of the words of the script you need to type in. Generally, the texts used are of a higher level and have more complex vocabulary than those in LyricsTraining, so this would be better for higher level students who would like to specifically develop their listening skills or ones practicing for Cambridge exams. This is a great tool for motivated students who want to work on their own and improve their listening vocabulary and spelling.
This app allows you to create your own short video files, upload them to server and get a link that you can share with your students. This is a great tool for helping students who have specific problems with remembering pronunciation of words or phrases or for recording example sentences or very quick listening activities for students. Just click on the record button record your text and then click on ‘Save on sever’. The recording will be saved on the server for three months and you’ll get a link that you can share with students so that they can listen. This is a great tool for backing up the work you are doing in class on listening and pronunciation.
This is a really useful tool for separating audio from video or for converting files for uses in different formats on different devices. Although the combination of video and audio can be really useful, sometimes it’s also great to split the two, so that students can focus silently on what they can learn from the body language and expressions of the characters and then see how that corresponds to the actual words they are saying in the sound track. Video converter makes it easy for you to either upload a video or add a link to the video and then save the file as either an audio file or a silent video file.
I hope this article gives you some idea of the range and variety of resources that are now available for helping you develop your students’ listening skills.
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