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Listening and Speaking Skills in Language Learning

As you read the anecdote below, think about how using technology can help students develop listening and speaking skills.

Ms. Ono’s Japanese high school English language learners are planning to take a virtual field trip from Tokyo to New York City, and they are concerned that they will not be able to speak with native English speakers in the virtual environment of Second Life. Although they have basic written literacy skills, their listening and speaking abilities are generally poor. Ms. Ono tells them that, although such exercises will not fit into the required curriculum, they may practice in the computer lab after class, and she recommends that they visit Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab (http://www.esl-lab.com) There, the students find more than 100 listening quizzes ranging in difficulty from easy to very difficult on a wide variety of topics. The quizzes, which feature native English speakers from the United States, contain an audio portion and questions to focus the listening.

Students can play the audio over and over and go up to the next level or topic when they feel that they are ready—they have many choices. Some of the students print the study guide, which helps them to choose the quizzes that are focused on what they want to know. Some of the students work together, discussing the sound bites as they listen; others work industriously by themselves to complete as many quizzes as they can. The website provides the correct answers to the students immediately after they answer, and some students go back and listen again to confirm their choices or check where they went wrong. When they just do not understand, they can look at the quiz script and see the words that they are having trouble with, then go back and listen to the audio to hear the pronunciation and use. After several weeks of practice, some of the students begin to feel more confident that they will be able to understand and interact with native speakers when they get to virtual New York. Finally, the class members create avatars in Second Life and virtually visit New York City. They visit with New Yorkers in Second Life and use the expressions they have learned to communicate with other virtual characters through text and audio chat.

► Overview of Listening and Speaking Skills in Language Learning

To speak and listen fluently and accurately in a second language, language learners need to be able to comprehend and produce—in a native-like fashion—stress, intonation, rhythm, pacing, gestures, and body language, and they need both linguistic and sociolinguistic competence (Florez, 1999; Wang, 2014), or, as Celce-Murcia (2008) notes, they need a composite of competences—sociocultural, discourse, linguistic, formulaic, interactional, and strategic. They should understand language functions such as sharing personal narratives, greeting and leave-taking, informing, questioning, clarifying, and interrupting. For practicing and developing skills, Peregoy and Boyle (2017) recommend activities such as singing, role-playing, dramatizing poetry, doing show and tell, tape recording children’s books, and choral reading.

Many educators assume that although computer software and the Internet can support student reading and writing effectively, they cannot support student listening and speaking. Whether this is true, however, depends on how these technologies are used. Florez’s (1999) note that “opportunities for speaking and listening require structure and planning if they are to support language development” (p. 1) still holds true, and carefully planned CALL activities can use computers to support listening and speaking. For example, computer technologies can assist students to interact with other English language learners and with native speakers in many different forums not only to practice but also to develop listening and speaking skills. Cary (2000) notes that computers can also “get reluctant speakers to speak English” (p. 36) by providing them with increased opportunities, less teacher fronting, and the authentic and challenging situations that Cary recommends. Moreover, we are living in a time when Internet-based communication technologies have made it  easy for us to be connected in various ways and use this potential to teach speaking and listening. Kessler (2018) notes that today “we can easily create opportunities for learners to record their oral production for speaking and pronunciation improvement while presenting them with feedback from native speakers, peers, instructors, and others” (p. 206). Social networking, virtual worlds (VWs), and other participatory discourse tools are invaluable and familiar and can support learners.

Two basic CALL task structures (touched on in chapter 1) promote learner speaking and listening as part of social interaction. Learners can speak around the computer, or learners can speak through the computer. In addition, some software programs provide learners with opportunities to speak with (although not to genuinely interact with) the computer. Each of these structures has different advantages. When designing technology-supported language learning tasks, teachers can use one or more of these structures as appropriate for learners. Examples of these three types of tasks are presented in the following sections.


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Listening and Speaking Skills in Language Learning by Joy Egbert and Seyed Abdollah Shahrokni is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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