Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Helping ESL Students Hear
By Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
The other day we had a CPD (continuing professional development) session at my school. The topic was Teaching Hearing Impaired students. At first, I was a bit skeptical that the session would be valuable for me, as I don’t have any hearing impaired students at the moment. Nonetheless, I am always up for learning something new and usually really enjoy the opportunity for professional development. As I have said many times before, when I am “finished” learning about how to be a better teacher, it is time to get out of the business!
Hearing Aids ≠ Perfect Hearing
Anyway, I was glad I went. I had never really thought about hearing impaired students before. To my shame, I cannot even say for certain that I have never had any in my class. I had always assumed that if one of my students had a hearing problem and wore a hearing aid that their hearing problem was “fixed” and I needn’t concern myself any further. Wrong! Apparently, a hearing aid can just help improve someone’s hearing,; it doesn’t remedy the problem completely. Students who wear hearing aids still run the risk of missing some sounds, particularly those from what the speaker kept referring to as “high frequency” range, like the /ð/, /ϴ/and /f/. Imagine the frustration for a student in a pronunciation class working on differentiating between the two “th” sounds when she/he can’t even hear either of them.
Strategies for our Students
As I said, I don’t have any hearing impaired students at the moment; however, I found several of the strategies the speaker suggested for teaching hearing impaired students to also be applicable to teaching ESL/EFL students. Most of these suggestions are common sense and we probably do most of them unconsciously when we teach, but I found this list to be a valuable reminder of what we can do to help our students actually hear what we are saying to them.
Here is what the speaker reminded us to do:
• Project our voices and articulate clearly. This one is kind of a no-brainer for me, as I am a natural born shouter. But, I am always surprised to hear teachers speak quietly in a meeting or (worse) in their class. If the students at the back can’t hear us easily and completely, their work of listening is that much more difficult. No student should ever have to strain to hear what a teacher is saying. That’s the least we can do!
• Face the students when we talk. This is easy to do when we are speaking one-to-one with a learner, but I am guilty of not always doing this when I am in front of the class. I need to remember not to speak when I am writing on the board, as that means I am articulating right into the wall and away from the students who are hanging on my every word. Also, I need to remember not to walk and talk, as this may cause me to look away from the students which will project my voice away from them as well.
• Repeat often. According to Sheppard (2013), studies have shown this increases intake more effectively than any other listening strategy. It seems that the experts don’t mean “rephrase”, which I think I probably do when students don’t understand what I’ve said the first time. Rather, I should try simply repeating what I’ve said or at least repeating the key words and phrases before launching into synonyms. Actually, that makes sense to me as a French student. Sometimes I just need to hear the exact sentence again, not a new version, to have another go-around at catching the words I know.
• When possible, write to support what we say. So often I have orally raced through checking the answers to a grammar exercise. In fact, this is really not doing the students any favors. Sometimes, I even have other students read out the answers, which I may or may not repeat. If a student can’t understand the answer as it is read aloud, they won’t have any idea if their answer is correct or not and the purpose of the grammar practice is lost. Instead of only belting out the answers, I should also write them on the board or, better yet, put them on a PPT. That way I can be sure all the students have the correct answers. The same goes for using subtitles on videos. There is lots of research to suggest that using subtitles aids in listening comprehension (Markham, 1989), so unless the purpose is to test students listening, why not support them as much as possible?
Again, some of these suggestions are common sense, but I found the reminder to be helpful. I hope you did, too!
Sheppard, B. (2013) 2nd Language Listening: What Teachers Need to Know, paper presented at TESOL 2013 in Dallas, Texas, USA.
Markham, P. (1989) The Effects of Captioned Television Videotapes on the Listening Comprehension of Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced ESL Students, The Journal of Educational Technology, Volume 29 Issue 10, Oct. 1989.