A letter to English teachers: 68How to develop listening skills in your students (1) [Archives:2004/794/Education]

November 29 2004

Dr..M.N.K.Bose ([email protected])
Associate Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb

Dear Fellow teachers,
I have, in my last few letters, dealt with the writing skills – the importance, how to develop them, what help is provided in the textbooks etc – and I would like to take up another skill, listening skill, in this and the following letter. Listening skills are the primary ones in any language as the learners have opportunity to develop them before they develop any other skill; in other words, they first listen to a language, whether it is their mother tongue or any other tongue.
I am of the opinion that listening skill have a low priority for Yemeni learners of English, if you consider their needs for using English. This is because they have fewer occasions to listen to and speak English compared to those to read and write. However, one can't deny the importance of listening skills in English and we have to develop these skills in our learners from the school level.
Some of us wrongly think that learners will automatically develop listening skills in English, if they listen to English on the radio, TV or in the class. This thinking may be the result another misconception that we have developed the listening skills in our mother tongue without much conscious attention on the skills; this is not true because we develop these skills in our mother tongue mainly because of our conscious (and sometimes unconscious) attempts to listen to others in order to understand what they want to convey. It is, therefore, necessary that we should develop these skills through conscious attempts in our English classes.
Most of us are aware that hearing is different from listening; we hear all kinds of noises that are produced around us, if our ears have no problem, such the noise of the motorcycles, car horns, noise from the loudspeakers (which are really loud), but we listen to something only when we are interested in it, such as the 'adha'a' from the mosque, the news which concern us on the TV. The interest to listen to is something crucial in any listening activity. When do we have interest to listen to something? When what we listen to has some relevance to us; what we listen to is necessary for us; what we listen to has some useful message for us. Don't we listen to, with more attention, when someone speaks about our family in the market? Don't we listen to, with equal attention, when there is some news about our city/village on the TV? This is a natural human tendency and we should make use of this while teaching listening to our learners in our English classes. The listening activities, therefore, should have these characteristics viz., interest, relevance and usefulness.
There are many ways to develop listening skills in our learners, but all of them are based on one important principle, namely, the activity should capture the attention of our learners. The CECY (Crescent English Course for Yemen) has many listening activities at different levels. For example, look at pages 44,48, 72 in WB 1; 28, 52, 118, 119 in WB 3; 52, 80, 108 in WB 4; 56, 62 in WB 5; 20, 30, 44, 64 in WB 6. All these activities are interesting and challenging to the learners of the class concerned. You can also notice in each of these activities that the learners have to listen to some information and do something with that information; this is how listening is made useful and purposeful, without which learners are not going to listen to the information. Let's continue the discussion in the next letter.
Yours fraternally,