Does a mindful, well-balanced approach to teaching appeal to you?
Are you interested in improving your foreign language listening skills?
My adult English Language Learners are very open about what they want to learn, and where they need help. To support their English language learning needs, I created Daily Interaction Dialogues, resources for English Language Learners that contain scripts for everyday social situations, along with vocabulary and reading comprehension questions and answers.
Lately while using Daily Interaction Dialogues with my English Language Learners, the most frequent requests have been related to pronunciation. Further, during regular check-ins with my students about using English skills out in public, they report that their greatest struggles are with pronunciation. It’s devastating to language learners when they want to communicate in their non-native language–and know both the correct vocabulary and grammar–but their pronunciation struggles hinder their ability to be understood. In addition, having incorrect pronunciation in one’s mind affects listening comprehension.
If language learners don’t have the correct pronunciation in their heads, then listening to native speakers seems incomprehensible, even though they know the vocabulary! They would understand the overall meaning of the content if they saw it content written. I know the discouraging feeling as a language learner to have someone repeat something, teach it to me, or spell it out for me, and then realizing I knew the meaning of the words all along, I just didn’t understand their words because of the pronunciation.
I decided to address this topic of pronunciation and foreign language listening skills with my friend and fellow international English teacher, Arsenio. He is the host of The Arsenio Buck Show, a high-energy ESL Podcast with listeners in over 80 countries. Arsenio interviews English teachers and English language learners from all over the world, giving practical English language learning and teaching tips through entertaining discussions and cultural stories. In previous podcast episodes Arsenio and I have discussed everything from How Mindfulness Benefits Both Teachers and Students to the Balance of all 4 Domains of English Language Learning: Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening. Therefore, Speaking Strategies and Listening Strategies are sprinkled throughout all of our podcast episodes. However, due to the great need for pronunciation and listening comprehension support, we made one concise discussion with our top ways to improve foreign language listening skills. You can listen to the following podcast for our explanations and examples:
Here are the bullet points of my Top Ways to Improve Foreign Language Listening Skills:
Mindful Pronunciation of Difficult Sounds
Are students able to notice pronunciation sound patterns in listening comprehension activities?
Are students able to notice where one word ends and the next begins in normal-paced speech?
I start by addressing potentially difficult sounds one at a time. I focus on the movement of the mouth and how the sound feels in the face. As a mindfulness coach, I take every opportunity to notice body sensations. (Among other things, the awareness of body sensations brings relief from difficult emotions that may arise from potential struggles.) It’s natural for anyone learning a language to pay attention to the careful placement of tongue and teeth. Like anything that’s commonplace for native speakers, we sometimes forget the importance and the need to implicitly teach the perhaps foreign sound to language learners.
For example, Arsenio and I both experience that the “r” sound at the end of words is difficult for our English Language Learners. On a daily basis I remind my students to pay attention to whether their cheeks and lips are moving in for the “r” sound. The “r” sound is especially difficult at the end of words. It’s typically neglected. This makes it difficult to hear in speech where one word stops and the next one starts. Then, my students benefit from identifying the target sound in text and listening samples.
Mindfully Accent the Correct Syllables
It sounds like a different word if the wrong syllable(s) are accented. In writing, identify accented syllables by highlighting or underlining. Adding in movement to the learning process incorporates more Multiple Intelligences. Use your hands to show the up and down of accented syllables. It might sound silly but–being lighthearted, vulnerable, and humorous with your speaking attempts can help you form a bond with native speakers.
Read Accompanying Text While Listening
There are Four Domains of Language Learning: Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening. Combining these domains speeds up the language learning process. Hearing the words while seeing them provides so many connections in the brain.
This is why I make personalized Daily Interaction Dialogues (scripts and recordings) for my students’ listening practicing. I started making YouTube videos of me reading the scripts by request of a student expressing difficulty with practicing the pronunciation at home.
You can find Daily Interaction Dialogues on the Resources page of my website. You can read about how I use these resources in my Daily Interaction Dialogues blog post. I also make recordings of these resources on my YouTube channel because my students request support with pronunciation. Using the Daily Interaction Dialogue blogpost suggestions, these resources provide lessons with a balance of Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening, while honoring the Multiple Intelligences and mindfulness.
Listening to a recording of yourself is a valuable way to notice your speaking habits, including pace, pausing, accenting syllables, and pronunciation strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, find a conversation partner (either in person or online) and give each other pronunciation feedback.
Listen with Intention: Write What Others Say
I describe one of my favorite holistic activities in my podcast, How to Balance the 4 Domains of Language Learning (Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening). I give students a speaking prompt about which they write first. (While writing, I give feedback to students about their writing and how they read it.) Then students share this in front of the whole class. While each student is presenting, each student in the audience has a listening assignment. The audience students must write down a predetermined listening target. Depending on the level this might be anything from recording a specific part of speech we’re working on, to activities that the classmate did over the weekend.
This practice helps the listener to be more mindful of listening. It helps the speaker to be more mindful of speaking clearly, since they know people are listening to write down an excerpt from their speech. Such collaborative practices target as many of the Multiple Intelligences as possible. The personal sharing (and listening) bonds students and makes them accountable for their own learning. Obviously, the students cannot get the same practice and progress when the teacher lectures.
Listen to a Variety of Accents & Speech Styles
The more you listen to a variety of accents of the target language, the more it will make you aware of these different target sounds, such as the difficult “r”. Of course, add in a variety of resources, such as podcasts, in addition to tv or movies in the target language. Students who only hear the voice of one teacher, speaking slowly and carefully, may not be able to understand the faster pace of a native speaker on the street or at the grocery store– especially when the speaker uses a lot of slang and/or figurative language.
For example, listening to the ESL podcast, The Arsenio Buck Show, in which he interviews English speakers all over the world, is an exceptional way to hear English speakers of MANY accents– WHILE sharing language learning strategies and stories!
What are your favorite listening strategies? Pronunciation strategies?