“Intensive listening” is simply paying attention to specifics. It is typically the focus on individual words and attention to the details of intonation or other nuance in the way a speaker speaks.

Students often are paying attention to specifics, but not in a systematic way. In order to assist students with intensive listening, we need to give systematic practice with distributing attention while listening. Unfortunately, this essential skill is not given much explicit practice in typical language classrooms.

Why not?

Because it seems kind of boring…at least it seems to be boring to the teacher! But the students, on the other hand, often find this type of practice very engaging! And very revealing – it provides feedback that are hungry to receive!

You often hear students say, “This is exactly what I need.”

Here are some types of practice you can use with students at any level! Even advanced students benefit of intensive listening practice.

, Deliberate Practice for Improving “Intensive Listening”, Lateral Communications


Area of Practice  Form of Practice/Repetition Goal! 
speech processing: minimal pairs >>    Teacher says a series of pairs of phonological phrases that are identical or “minimally different” (e.g. Do you repair clocks? Do you repair clogs?); > Students listen and say “same” or “different”. >> improved ability to detect minimally different words, boost in confidence!  
speech processing: noticing assimilations   >>  Teacher says (or plays audio of) a series of very short (5-7 seconds) bursts of speech, with recognition practice (such as T/F questions or fill in blanks) for problematic sequences (such as phrases with assimilated sounds)> Students try to write down exactly what they heard, or complete a cloze exercise with some words missing >> improved ability to listen to fast speech, improved ability to decode assimilated phrases; improved interest in attending to spoken language variations 
speech processing: word stress  >> Teacher says (or plays audio of) a series of phrases, delivered orally; > Students repeat or indicate the stressed syllables; or students do “word spotting” (identify whether or not they heard a target word), writing down any words they have heard >> improved ability to attend to stress, pick out target words; improved ability to distinguish word boundaries; boost in confidence in attending to fast speech   
speech processing: detecting sentence stress  >> Teacher says or plays a series of sentences (or “idea units”);> Students indicate the most stressed word in each,> Students attempt to repeat with exaggerated stress >> improved ability to identify words in the stream of speech; breakthrough insight on how English phonology works!  
speech processing: parsing grammatical structures >> Teacher says or plays a series of short comprehensible sentences (or “idea units”) with complex grammar, slightly above students’ productive ability; >Students choose correct written form of utterance, or write/fill in blanks improved ability to segment speech into component words; improved ability to make grammatical sentences from words recognized in speech; boost in confidence in feeling that grammar is useful!  
Vocabulary recognition: picking out words in a stream of speech  >> Teacher says or plays a series of short extracts (25 words) with m/c or blank fills in for identifying which target words were uttered; > Students complete the exercise, then listen again to check. improved ability to recognize words; improved ability to identify boundaries of “unknown words”; boost in confidence in using inference to fill in (an essential part of listening ability)
Grammatical parsing: making sense of phonological strings  >> Teacher says or plays aseries of short extracts (25 words) with target grammatical structures blanked out; > Students attempt to fill in missing parts, then listen again to check. improved ability to understand unsimplified/natural speed speech; improved ability to construct grammatical sentences in speech and writing  

The message here for teachers is that when you’re doing this type of exercise, don’t focus so much on the steps and scoring right or wrong. Instead, focus on the goal: Are the students gaining confidence and insight when they try to listen closely to speech.

About The Author

, Deliberate Practice for Improving “Intensive Listening”, Lateral Communications
Michael Rost, principal author of Pearson English Interactive, has been active in the areas of language teaching, learning technology and language acquisition research for over 25 years. His interest in bilingualism and language education began in the Peace Corps in West Africa and was fuelled during his 10 years as an educator in Japan and extensive touring as a lecturer in East Asia and Latin America. Formerly on the faculty of the TESOL programs at Temple University and the University of California, Berkeley, Michael now works as an independent researcher, author, and speaker based in San Francisco.

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