Taking It All in: Issues for Advanced ESL Listening

Taking It All in: Issues for Advanced ESL Listening

Teaching Advanced ESL classes in general can be difficult as advanced ESL students seem to already know a great deal; their English skills are strong, and there appears to be little left to teach.

This is can be especially true in the ESL listening class, where it can be a struggle at even lower levels to assess students and find appropriate materials. However, there are still a number of valuable learning points for even Advanced ESL listening students. Students at advanced levels of listening can work on understanding specific details and detailed instructions; idioms and their precise form and meaning; advanced academic and business vocabulary; as well as more advanced spoken genres such as academic lectures on unfamiliar topics and political/cultural commentary, and finally more cultural and literary forms such as music, poetry and storytelling.

Teach Advanced Students Using Appropriate Material

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    Advanced Vocabulary

    A good use of class time is the ESL listening class is adding to academic or business spoken vocabulary: English has the largest vocabulary of any world language, and a lot of it we never use in speech. For example, the word “ubiquitous” is frequently seen in print (it’s “ubiquitous”), but until recently I’d never tried to use it in speech because I was unsure of the pronunciation as well as hazy on its precise meaning. A lot of English words are like this: seen a lot in print, rarely used in speech although understood on a general level in context. Bringing words like this to the level of consciousness and working on their pronunciation and meaning is a good use of class time.

    Besides more “general” academic vocabulary that can be found in almost any academic text, class time can also be spent on more specialized academic vocabulary endemic to a field. Often students at the advanced ESL classes tend to “cluster” in certain majors so spending some time finding out the vocabulary often used within a field such as engineering, for example, is very helpful for students to be able to participate in class discussions in their major classes. Instructors can also make a point to find out student majors in the first week of class, to be sure to cover at least some of the vocabulary used in the major disciplines represented in class.

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    Focus on Getting the Details Down: Complex Directions

    How often have you asked for driving directions to someplace and then forgotten them by the time you’ve gotten to your car? How many times does someone need to repeat the directions to complete a task if it involves multiple steps? Complex or multiple directions can be difficult for native speakers of a language, especially if more technical or specialized vocabulary is involved (disconnect the printer from the monitor. Remove the printer door. Press “enter,” and the cartridge should move to the center part of the cartridge casing…”). Practice in giving and taking such directions is generally a good use of class time.

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    For the advanced listening student who seems to (or thinks she does) knows everything that can be taught about English as a second language, try introducing, or reviewing, some common idioms or academic idiomatic language. By “idiom” I don’t necessarily mean the common understanding of term, such as colorful figurative language as “raining cats and dogs,” but rather academic and everyday usage of idiomatic forms, set word patterns such as “on the other hand,” “in the case of,” and “what I’m trying to say is--”

    Our conversational and academic language is replete with such formulaic language. Does the student know the precise use of “on the other hand” (not “in the other hand” or “on another hand” or “on the other hands”--even native speakers can mess this up as they all sound about the same in rapid speech)? Does the student know when we use “on the other hand”: to show opposition or a counterpoint? Both academic vocabulary and idioms can be taught at the advanced level of ESL.

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    Lectures on Unfamiliar Topics

    Students who are completing a general pattern of college education, who are not advanced enough in their education to be focusing on their majors, will have to listen to lectures on topics not familiar to them such as history, literature, anthropology, and so forth. If students in your class are mostly at the freshman and sophomore levels, engaged in a general pattern of education, providing ESL support for them should include listening to lectures drawn from a general curriculum, learning how to follow them as well as take notes.

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    Newscasts/Commentary on Contemporary Issues

    Especially for ESL students planning to live for an extended time in the country of their study, or live there permanently, some attention should be paid to following commentary on the contemporary issues of that culture, such as the debate on same sex marriage or gun control. Playing segments from a news/commentary program such as “All Things Considered” or “Sixty Minutes” can be helpful to students in not only improving listening skills but in teaching some of the subjects that currently concern a culture. These issues will come up in conversation, and students should be able to participate in the discussion thoughtfully.

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    The Cultural: Music, Poetry, Stories

    Besides the more “serious” and “heavy” academic and social topics, students should also learn some of the cultural: music, poetry, and storytelling. Often much about a culture is communicated through its music and literature. Just teaching a popular song or reading aloud a poem, for example, can start a conversation on the culture, such as its gender, race, and class relations--topics typically addressed in music and poetry.

So “nothing to do” in your advanced ESL listening class? Think again! Through teaching advanced vocabulary, idioms, lectures, music, and literature, there’s plenty to teach and plenty to learn.

What are some activities you include in advanced ESL listening?

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