What is EL?

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What is Extensive Listening?

     EL involves

        a) listening to (or being involved in) massive amounts of text

        b) text which learners can understand reasonably smoothly

        c) high levels of comprehension

        d) listening without being constrained by pre-set questions or tasks

        e) listening at or below one’s comfortable fluent listening ability


EL is NOT ...

a) listening for specific information

b) listening for the exact words of a phrase or expression

c) listening for details

d) listening to mimic a text


These are intensive listening exercises aimed at improving specific skills or answering pre-determined questions.


Why would we do it?

·       to improve our automaticity in recognizing spoken text

·       to enjoy the listening (the aim is not to study the text intensively)

·       to practice the listening skill

·       for knock on effects such as tuning into pronunciation and noticing intonation patterns


The relationship between ease and possible achievement in EL


Reading level



(Very) easy material


* builds recognition speed

* helps learners ‘chunk’

* text more likely to be enjoyed

* focused on understanding and interacting with the text


* may not meet much  new language

* some learners may mistakenly dismiss it as ‘not helping’

A little difficult

* will meet some new language

* probably can be enjoyed

* can’t build recognition speed much

* Need to stop frequently

* will be in “study” mode


Very difficult

* there are lots of new things to study


* the text may just be noise

* they will probably not learn much from the text

* probably will dent confidence




Types of EL practice




EL is not really possible

EL is possible

EL should be a major aspect of language learning

* Controlled conversation practice is probably only possible

* Bottom up listening skills

* Word building

* Matching sounds and spellings (phonics work can be helpful) so reading while listening is useful

* They should learn the phonemic alphabet (e.g. /a/  /p/  /j/)


* Listening to long graded texts (e.g. graded readers)

* Watching easy movies with subtitles several times.

* Listening to easy songs

* Free conversation practice (possibly semi-controlled)

* Listening to simplified lectures

* Repeated listenings are important

* Watching movies, TV (with subtitles if necessary)

* Radio

* Listening to songs

* Lots of natural conversation




A note on materials

·       Many students report that reader cassettes make the stories ‘come alive’

·       Students often listen fluently to Reader CDs and cassettes, 2 levels lower than their reading level.


What ‘requirements’ are there for being able to do EL?

·       an understanding why learners should do EL

·       a threshold amount of recognition vocabulary and grammar

·       time

·       material at the ‘right’ level


What is the right level for EL?

·       A comfort zone where the learner feels comfortable and not threatened with what may come

·       Text that the learner can cope with adequately using already learned listening strategies



What are the similarities between ER and EL?

·       To develop the skill, learners need simplified text that is at their comfort zone

·       Both take a LOT of time

·       Both aim to improve automaticity of recognition and the chunking of text


What are the differences?

·       EL is constrained by time. In ER we can stop and go back easily.

·       In EL it is more difficult to use compensatory strategies when incomprehension occurs due to time difficulties

·       If we cannot work out what a string of sounds correspond to which words in EL, there is nothing we can do. In ER we can look in a dictionary (most learners do not know how to use pronunciation dictionaries).

·       EL often involves the learner and an interlocutor, ER only the learner and a text.

·       Sounds change from speaker to speaker and because of accents, background noise etc, and make words more difficult to acquire. In reading the spelling / form is constant.

·       Many ‘pre-view’ strategies are unavailable to listeners – skimming and scanning for example.

·       The reader can control the speed at which she reads, but the listener cannot (without special recording equipment).

·       It is easier for a reader to stop and review / look up words.

·       Meanings often change due to changes in stress, intonation, pitch and volume etc.


What does this imply?

·       Listening to a given text will be harder than reading the same text

·       It is likely that a much larger store of receptive listening vocabulary is needed to understand a given text than it is read

·       The learners need to how changes in stress, intonation, pitch and volume etc. can affect meaning.

·       They need to know alternative pronunciations for words

        se-cre-ta-ry  ó se-cre-tary           RE-cord   ó re-CORD

·       The learners will need to know how sounds change, elide, blend and intrude at times. So they know what to expect.

o     How are you  ->    How-uh-you              going to ->    gonna

o     don't do that    ->    don do tha

o     an umbrella     ->    anumbrella

o     raw eggs ->    rawreggs