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How to Help Students Understand Different Accents Using Listening Journals by Carolin Zehne

The use of English as a lingua franca in our globalized world today has expanded dramatically over the last decades. Students thus need to be prepared for the use of English as a lingua franca outside of the classroom. However, in many classrooms around the world, there still is a dominant focus on rather traditional English as a foreign language methodology with a rather deficit-oriented, native speaker-based view on the learner.

The following post is about a listening journal activity as a way to easily implement elements of the use of English as a lingua franca in your existing teaching framework, even if its is still dependent on native speaker norms and standard versions of English. Oftentimes, there is not much time to implement extra activities in class, because of the course books’ strict structures and requirements you have to meet as a teacher.

Originally, the activity was designed for higher grades (age 16 and up, which would mean at least seven years of learning English as a foreign language) in secondary schools in Germany. It is inspired by an activity in the book Teaching English as a Lingua Franca by Marek Kiczkowiak and Robert J. Lowe. There is also the possibility to remodel it for lower grades, e.g. by providing more help and guidance.

The main objectives for students working with the listening journal are:

  • Exposing them to other non-native accents and thus training their listening comprehension when it comes to unfamiliar accents
  • Developing and expanding listening strategies
  • Raising their awareness of the use of English as a lingua franca and their listening skills

The listening journal is an outside of the classroom activity on which students work independently. A webpage online blog serves as a resource for videos by non-native speakers of English. Students can easily access this webpage from home or on the go. The videos on the page are sorted into topics which in turn are based on units in the course book. This way, the activity does not interfere with your teaching framework.  

The videos used for the journal webpage are carefully selected for the activity. Such audio- visual texts provide a useful tool to expose learners to non-native speaker accents, since students can also use visual cues to understand what the video is about. There are various ways to find suitable videos online.

TED talks provide a good resource, as they can be filtered by length and topic. Due to the videos’ genre, their speakers are relatively easy to understand. Additionally, transcripts are available online for most videos.

You may also use Youtube, Instagram, or My English Voice as a source for videos. Analytic tools like Socialblade enable you to find people from a particular region talking in English. When selecting videos for the journal, you should keep the following aspects in mind:

  • the videos’ length: if they are too long, students might not watch them at home. Try to find videos which are not longer than 15 minutes.
  • the videos’ topic: make sure the topic is in line with your course book and provides some ground for discussion and reflection.
  • your students’ language level: keep in mind to provide different levels of difficulty for your students. You can make use of a star rating system to indicate how hard or easy a video is.
  • your students’ engagement with the videos: carefully design reflection activities in which students have to engage in what they have encountered in the videos. You can divide this reflection into content and language questions.

The actual listening journal is then composed of worksheets the students have to complete after watching at least one video a week for the current topic. With this worksheet, students should reflect on the videos’ content and language.

Download Your Lesson Plan for FREE

To help you save time and implement this idea right away, Carolin prepared a FREE lesson plan for you with all the tasks for your students. It will work with ANY video you choose.

It’s ready made for you, so you can print it and cut your planning time. To download it in pdf, click on the button below.

Some of the tasks might include:

  • Explain why you chose this video.
  • Outline what the video was about.
  • What was difficult or easy and why? Please explain.
  • List useful words/phrases you learned.

To make sure the students have actually engaged in this activity, some time is reserved in class to compare and discuss their journal pages. In a first step, they can briefly talk about their reflection sheet in pairs or small groups. Some thoughts on language and content are then collected in class. Talking about the journal can be used as a warming-up activity at the beginning of a lesson.

Whenever students are more familiar with keeping their listening journal, they could also upload videos they like for a respective topic. Your students might know more non-native English speakers on social media and could help you to find more videos to use for future journals. You can also let them comment on videos online as a way to receive immediate feedback on your video selection.

The listening journal webpage as a resource for the videos thus grows over time. Videos can be added for each topic you are dealing with in class. You might even reuse the webpage and videos for other grades you are teaching in. It offers the chance to expose students to non-native speaker accents without interfering with your teaching schedule in class while at the same time increasing student responsibility and autonomous work.

About the Author

Carolin Zehne completed her Master of Education in English and Biology at the University of Bielefeld in 2016. She now works as a lecturer in the field of teaching English as a foreign language and is mainly responsible for the Praxissemester for primary schools (in English) at Bielefeld University. Her research interests include English as a Lingua Franca (ELF), inclusion and inclusive English teaching, language ideologies, as well as professionalization processes of student teachers. She started her PhD project in 2016 and investigates chances and pitfalls of integrating ELF inspired practices into English language teaching (in Germany). 

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