Listening free

Monday, June 25, 2012

I was recently approached by Jonathan to try out a new type of listening task. Ferruccio in modern languages has been trialling this for a while and he’s presented it at various modern language seminars. It was surely time to get GE involved. So along with Caroline we both had a go in our Pre-Intermediate classes last month.

The idea was simple – the entire listening is done sans task! But why!? and how the hell does that even work!?

Ferruccio’s background is in psychology and pedagogy so he clearly knows his stuff. He adapted methods from IH Roma, where he worked (and trained). He helped me and Caroline understand what we had to do and more importantly why.  He puts a huge emphasis on relaxing the class before a listening (a bit like suggestopedia), darkening the room, playing soothing music and doing his best to put everyone at ease – this is NOT to be skipped! He explained that this is crucial for students to be calm and focussed – no distractions, no misunderstandings and definitely no pressure.

There’s no task precisely because giving a task means there’s a wrong answer and a right answer – and that’s besides the point. Any task narrows the focus of students – give them a question (or ten) and after a couple of listenings many students switch off thinking they’ve done it. By removing the task – you force them to pay equal attention to the entire text! But they’re only in a position to do this if they’re fully relaxed, focussed and prepared. In order to develop students’ abilities in listening they need to do practise – and this means repetition. By repeating a listening and allowing students to share their ideas and interpretations each time, they’re self scaffolding each other’s understanding – building a bigger and more precise understanding with every repetition – something that is often difficult (or boring) with comprehension based tasks.

Giving students this opportunity forces them to hear things they wouldn’t if only given one or two opportunities to listen. The text then can be more authentic (harder?) as they have more chances to listen to it.

You can see what me and Caroline thought of it – click on the picture


In the follow up activity students get a chance to go back to the text and analyse it for usage – lexis and grammar. When we listen we use two processes often called top-down and bottom-up to make sense of it all. The first exercise is designed to help top down processing, while the follow up helps bottom up.

Students listen again, but this time to only a fragment – e.g. “And then I got off the bus.” This time students rather than understanding the message or general meaning, have to focus on the exact language or form. To do this they use their own pre-existing knowledge of English grammar and syntax.

This time the teacher is on-hand to provide explanation and help. This is great because you only end up focussing on what students do not already know (or know well).


We had a discussion with Ferruccio and Jonathan (off camera where he belongs) a couple of weeks after the project to share ideas. You can see it here.



So “Where is the ALL IMPORTANT PROCESS?!” I hear you cry. – It’s right here (right click and save target as)

Top-down listening

Bottom-up listening


Still pondering…? Check out what Tim thought of it all as a student in Fabio’s Italian class.


Leave a Reply