Tag Archives: korea

Preparing Teachers to Teach Listening

Ian Britton
Ian Britton

In my last post (Discovering Field’s Diagnostic Listening Instruction) I explained how I am approaching listening instruction with both a listening class and a teaching listening class using Field’s Diagnostic Listening Instruction.  In this post, I want to focus on what I do with the Teaching Listening class.  I’ll include a good deal of the materials as well as some design tensions that have arisen in the past and how I’m trying to deal with them now.

My main goal is to focus students on modifying texts (audio) and tasks to best assess for gaps in listening skills and to provide skills training to fill those gaps.  In doing so, we focus largely on Field’s Decoding and Meaning-Building Processes.

Chapters 2-4 discuss beginning, intermediate, and advanced level learners (in addition to other topics mixed into each chapter).  These chapters provide for a good launching off point in the discussion of text & task modification for diverse learners.  Students in the class have to consider learner abilities at each level (ACTFL Guidelines are a helpful framework).  They then have to analyze texts (audio) for potential difficulties that learners may encounter.  Doing this for imaginary learners is less than ideal, but this lack of authenticity is address later in the course (see below).  These analyses then inform how the texts and tasks are implemented in instruction.

The activities/lessons that arise out of these activities are rather predictable.  Students tend to focus on aspects of background knowledge, vocabulary, speaker dialect and speed, number of speakers, background noise, and so forth.  This is when the students usually have to be pushed to refer to the decoding and meaning-building processes.  This takes them out of their comfort zone (based on their own learning experiences) and requires them to think about a wide range of processes that inform listening.  Follow-up assignments that required referencing the processes list tend to show a greater variety of modifications and task-types.

Take the following example.  You have a group of largely low-level English language learners.  Through initial assessments of their listening comprehension, you have found that many are unable to distinguish certain phonemes, they have difficulty finding word boundaries (isolating individual words in multiword utterances), and they have difficulty understanding many dialects that differ noticeably from the North American dialects that they have grown used to.

Knowing this about the learners, you have to choose appropriate texts and tasks to address these gaps.  While you certainly can address more than one at a time, it might be helpful here to isolate our learning objectives.  Let’s take the word boundaries issue first.   We should be addressing this specific performance gap and the processes that can help: stress-timed rhythm, stressed and unstressed words (content vs. function), pronunciation of unstressed syllables, common features of connected speech (linking, blending, elision, etc.), and so forth.

Text: Given the objective, the focus should be more on listening to each word.  In order to do this, it would probably be best for the text to be naturally spoken by a familiar speaker (teacher) or in a familiar dialect.  The text should feature content and vocabulary/expressions that learners are largely familiar with.

Task: The task is focused on these listening processes.  Teachers can explicitly teach some aspects like the features of stress-timed rhythm or these aspects can be gleaned by exposure to the language (likely mixed with some guidance by the teacher).  The tasks, however, should be focused an a particular learning objective.  For stress-timed rhythm, students can be asked to mark all of the stressed words in phrases, sentences, or paragraphs.  That task can then quickly move into a discussion about the primacy of syllables over words in listening and pronunciation.  This then leads into discussion/tasks on the pronunciation and identification of unstressed words and syllables.  This can (and should) continue until each of the learning objectives have been addressed.

These tasks are good at focusing learners on modification and role that student variables play in instructional design. However, this is largely an empty academic task.  This year, I have the good fortune to be able to offer a little more authenticity.  Learners in the Teaching Listening class will be developing lessons for actual listening classes offered by the university and taught by me.  This is the first semester that the course has been offered and I was asked to design and implement it.  I decided to eat my own dog food and attempt to apply the principles of a diagnostic listening approach to the course (I’ll write more about that experience later).  In addition, I realized that this could be a great opportunity for the English Education students to design instruction for real learners.

This semester, the Teaching Listening students will spend much of the second half of the semester developing instruction that I will implement in my classes.  The plan is to have small groups be responsible for developing lessons that address common listening problems as diagnosed by the listening class’s midterm exam.  The students will be given access to anonymized testing and assessment data, which will guide their lesson development.  Lessons (with all materials) will be submitted to me and if I think that they would benefit the listening class, I’ll teach those materials.  I’m even considering having the English Education students run the instruction, but I’m not so sure that I’ll do that.  Anyone want to convince me either way?

That’s about it for the overview.  See below for a bunch of materials related to the class.

PowerPoints that I use in the course. The chapter presentations do contain some information and  resources not in the book.

Other course materials:



South Korean parents told: pre-school English ‘harmful’ (Good goal, bad approach)


This is an interesting article. It’s one of those articles that I both agree and disagree with. It is one of those many times in which an organization uses emotional, yet undersupported claims in an attempt to get people to pursue a beneficial change.

The argument that early language learning is harmful is laughable. They are basing this on a couple of studies that run counter to piles of research finding no significant difference or even positive outcomes for early childhood language learning. I’ve seen this many times in my writing classes. I have students take a position on this topic and they do pretty good research papers. Those who write papers opposing this always bring out the same “evidence” that is buried in low-quality journals, or more likely, from blogs and newspapers.

However, with the intention of strengthening public schools and reducing the drive for private institutes (hagwons), I wholeheartedly agree. Children don’t need 12 hours of schooling a day. They probably don’t need half of that in elementary school and I’d say they need much less than that in pre-school. At younger ages they need time to play, socialize, and experiment with the world around them. This forms the foundation for intellectual growth later in life.

This group (WWW) really seems to have this as their mission. I just disagree with the evidence that they are presenting against early childhood language learning. It’s simply weak evidence that has no business of being represented as “fact”.

The job shunners – Timely article talking about graduate job-seekers

[Viewpoint] The job shunners

Part-time workers now number more than 6 million. And yet, small companies have trouble filling their permanent job openings.

Nov 14,2011

Decent-paying jobs are hard to come by. Few expect them to fall from the sky anymore. We can no longer afford to value our worth in jobs. Mature people know how tough life can be and are able to be practical. But people in their 20s and 30s are not ready to compromise for any job. They don’t want to work in minor, satellite operations of large companies.

But physically able and intelligent, capable youths who choose to be idle over having constructive jobs are a burden to society and the nation. They are frittering away their youth. They argue they have nowhere else to go.

They protest that they can’t settle for any job with their hard-earned college degrees. But who said a college degree ensures a job? If they cannot get into their first choice, they must settle for less.

Academic inflation and the hiring culture of our society are the reason many shun mid and small-sized enterprises. Advanced societies like the United States recruit employees based on career experience and references. Experience is usually the top factor in recruitment. Our society hires people through competitive recruitment practices.

I find this an interesting article, not because I agree with all of it, but I agree with some of it. The author here is obviously telling young people to settle. This part I don’t believe in. I don’t think that settling is the right thing to do. However, I do think that getting one feet wet in the workplace is a good idea. For this, you might have to settle temporarily.

The author does point out in the same article the most salient reason for this issue. Job hopping is not really the norm in Korea and even when one does get hired based on their experience elsewhere, they might not be welcomed into the workplace. Companies tend to do mass, competitive hiring that results in cohorts of new hires each year. If you don’t come in this way, you are unlikely to get in at all.

With this in mind, can you blame young graduates for wanting to wait a while to build their resumes in the hopes of getting one of these coveted jobs rather than lower-paying, lower-prestige jobs? I certainly can’t blame them.

With that said, I eagerly await the time when experience-based hiring is more of the norm here in my adopted country.