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by Erica Fischer on Oct 21, 2013

The Best Ways to Build Student’s Interpretive Listening Skills

Thursday’s #langchat was a fast-paced evening of sharing links and strategies. So many of you had great ideas about how to make interpretive listening activities more fun and engaging for world language students. Our regular moderators weren’t on hand to motivate our discussion, but #langchat participants are a hardy group. Special thanks go out to @SraSpanglish, @KrisClimer and @ProfesorM and all our participants for jumping in to ensure the discussion stayed on track.

The Best Ways to Build Student’s Interpretive Listening Skills

Getting the Gist of World Language Listening

One of the first things we discussed was the importance of setting reasonable expectations for students who are participating in listening activities. Although it is important for them to be able to recognize vocabulary and grammatical structures, many of the #langchat participants felt that it was more valuable to have students try to glean the main idea of authentic resources. @SraSpanglish explained this mindset succinctly: “Students should practice picking up key words and extrapolating main ideas using the context of what they hear.” @ChristeyHughes responded, “En français, we often refer to ‘la tolérance de l’ambiguité’ to be able to work through, perhaps not getting each word.”

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Adapt the Resource to the Student – Especially Beginners

Another key element of really building students’ listening skill is by making sure that the listening activity is level appropriate. For many world language teachers, that means taking authentic audio resources and tailoring the activity for each of their classes. Lots of authentic resources are great for advanced levels, but some #langchat participants found that there were few authentic resources for beginners. @CatherineKU72 said, “I appreciate news and music stations, but a bit advanced for beginners.”

Some great ideas were shared to help differentiate audio tasks for beginners.

  • @jas347 suggested adding “visual clues like videos to help give more context.”
  • @jackimorris23 said, “Use CLOZE instead of open-ended questions.”
  • @natadel76 shared, “You can often use the same audio for different levels: more structured support for Novices, more open questions for Intermediates.”
  • @SraSpanglish reminded us to, “…Make sure that you select an appropriate length for novices–small doses of ‘anything.’”
  • @KrisClimer said, “I don’t look for level appropriate, per se. I tailor the activity to level. I look for interest specific.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “Make it as simple as possible for novices–demonstrate main idea w/o layering on more tasks to do it.”

Listening and Reading

@SraSpanglish brought up the idea of combining listening and reading to increase fluency and understanding. Several world language teachers said that they tried to connect these two kinds of activities and with excellent results. @natadel76 suggested writing a summary with errors for students to proofread after listening to an authentic resource. @jackimorris23 responded, “I’ve done this with success! I think it makes the kids listen for every word, not just the blanks.”

@SraSpanglish shared this thought: “Reading increasingly difficult texts increases reading fluency–why not the same for hearing?”

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Multiple Choice or Not?

The question was brought up about whether it is effective to use multiple choice questions to assess comprehension on a listening activity. Some teachers were not fond of the practice. @jas347 said, “Multiple choice requires no production of any kind. Really, it’s only good for finding out what they don’t know.” @LauraJaneBarber said, “I like to do listening as input for a writing or speaking task. Can show true comprehension better than multiple choice.”

While other teachers agreed that multiple choice is not the most authentic way to assess a listening activity, they also mentioned valuable aspects, especially for beginning world language students. @SraSpanglish said, “Multiple choice helps lower the affective filter–the interpretation in itself is a higher order skill.” She went on to say, “Multiple choice shouldn’t be end goal, though.” @AMor3liana said, “I think multiple choice is an ok option at the beginning of the school year. It gives some students that extra boost of confidence in the target language.”

Music: The Universal Language

A number of teachers were ecstatic about the effectiveness of using musical resources as a way to naturally have students complete listening activities. In one of the most popular tweets of the night, @KrisClimer said, “I truly believe music is a natural path. Think of the native language we all learned in song, rhyme, chants.”

10 Ideas for Using Authentic Music Resources:

1. Keep it short. @SraSpanglish said, “Songs are great–I’ve been using just choruses, and I often split up longer videos and take out less relevant sections.”

2. Repetition is king. @SraSpanglish said, “I make sure kids know they have to listen at least 3 times: One to absorb context, one for main ideas and one for detail.”

3. Print the lyrics. @KrisClimer said, “Even when I listen to a song in my native lang, I like to also see the lyrics, so maybe I should do it in my language class.”

4. Teach pronunciation. @tmsengel said, “I actually used kids song to teach pronunciation the first year and never had to do the alphabet.”

5. Choose high-interest music. @SraSpanglish said, “I tried kids’ songs mixed in with the pop choruses…they did not enjoy them NEARLY as much, so I quit trying.”

6. Music scramble activity. @natadel76 said, “What if you 1) Cut up chorus lines 2) Put them in order 3) Scramble the words in each line and have students put them in order?”

7. Translation activity. @natadel76 said, “You can also cut up the English translations of lyrics: students have to match lines with the target language song OR summarize each stanza in the target language to match.”

8. Transcribe songs, but only at advanced levels. @SraSpanglish said, “I’d say at advanced levels transcription can help w/ finer spelling/grammar points, but not for novices.” @profesorM said, “I had my 8th graders try to transcribe a song – quick frustration, too hard, whine, whine….”

9. Use a CLOZE activity. @KrisClimer said, “I almost always use a cloze activity the first time we listen to a song. Their lyrics sheet includes their fill-in. @pamwesely said, “Pro tip for cloze activities with songs: have a word bank!” @CatherineKU72 said, “I agree for the word bank. Expecting students to automatically know or hear words can cause stress. For upper levels, a set list is ok.”

10. Use a PACE activity. @LauraJaneBarber said, “PACE means: Present (new vocab/structure in text/audio) Attention, Co-Construct (students come up w/ rule), Extension (practice it). I’ve used songs for PACE–can present new structure in authentic way.”

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Specific Ideas for Listening Activities

Some fun ideas for effective listening activities were shared. Here are the highlights:

  • @KrisClimer said, “I like using songs, podcasts, webclips, tv snippets and then class is immersive so interpretive listening is 24/7.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “I usually start with YouTube, picking out key terms in my language. Then I break down w/ cloze, summary, discussion.”
  • @Ensenenme said, “I’ve adapted listening tasks from AP workshops. College Board T contributors offer targeted listening tasks and strategies.”
  • @jas347 said, “Show a video of French kids describing their schedule, novices list 2-3 classes they hear.”
  • @KrisClimer said, “Based on their level, ask them, ‘Did you hear x, what did you hear,” Then, I have them respond with simple utterances, extend and extrapolate, and so on.”
  • @Ensenenme said, “Play appropriate input, ask students to check off what they heard. Then, have them compare with partner. ‘I heard…’ ‘He heard…’ Have them listen and compare again.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “My kids Skyped with elementary kids in Colombia. I recorded, chunked the conversation to review.”
  • @Ensenenme said, “I play audio from a video. Students share what they heard (big ideas). Then they listen and watch the scene with subtitles. I find out what more they understood the second time around.”
  • @LauraJaneBarber said, “Use students! Have them discuss their weekends and then record. Play back the recording and have students take notes about their partner. Then, presentational speaking project where each student compares their weekends.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “For university unit, we listened to college ads with cloze, evaluated appeal and talked about what’s missing.”

Thank You

We’d like to once again thank our impromptu moderators, @SraSpanglish, @KrisClimer and @ProfesorM, for helping keep the conversation fun and engaging! It is always great to have new perspectives and they did a wonderful job helping us think of great ways to improve interpretive listening skills. Also, we want to thank all of you that helped and participated in the chat. There were a lot of good comments that we couldn’t include in the summary. If you’d like to see what we missed, you can take a look at our online archive for a full transcript.

What kinds of things are you struggling with or finding success with in your classrooms? We love to find out what you want to talk about during #langchat. The best way to let us know what you want to discuss is by sharing your ideas with us. Maybe your question is just what another language teacher needs to hear, too!

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Additional Resources

Audio Lingua
BBC France
AATF Delicious Page
Pinterest Board of French Videos (@jas347)
France Bienvenue
Daily Chorus Bellringer (@SraSpanglish)
CLE International Books with CDs
Alba Learning
University Ad Activity (@SraSpanglish)
100 Speaking and Writing Tasks for MFL Classroom
Listening Activity for Spanish 2 and Entertainment Unit (@jackimorris23)
Spanish Profiency Exercises, University of Texas
Homework Choice Blog Post (@musicuentos)
Piñatas in the Target Language (@SraSpanglish)
Genius Hour Project(@SraSpanglish)
PACE Guidelines
Escucha: Listening Resources for Spanish Teachers (@Bilinguish)
Cloze Songs and Activities(@ZJonesSpanish)
AP Multi-Choice B Audio Only
TV5monde Enseigner
Forum des ados
French Music Blog
Music Video: Octobre (Francis Cabrel)


Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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