Now it’s no secret that English has become the global lingua franca of choice (ELF). This means that as a result your students are very likely to interact with other ‘non-native speakers’ of English, which of course might pose challenges in terms of being able to understand a wide variety of accents.
While published materials are certainly moving in the right direction and include a much wider variety of authentic accents from all around the world (National Geographic Learning’s Keynote is a great example), you might still find that a fairly small group of standard ‘native speaker’ voices dominates in the recordings. For example, according to Syrbe and Rose (2016), who looked at 4 EFL course books in Germany, 25 out of the 29 interactions supposedly showcasing ‘authentic’ English use involved ‘native speakers’ only. I wrote more about this here.
Now, don’t get me wrong – this is NOT yet another anti-course book rant. I actually write course books myself. And have been using them for a long time too. Reasonably speaking too, you can’t expect a globally published course book to feature exactly the accents your students need to be better able to understand, right?
That’s where you come in as a teacher: supplementing the book with the listening material that will help your students use English more effectively in ELF contexts.
How do you go about it, though?
Teaching Listening for ELF Use: 5 Principles
If you want to prepare your students for the dizzying, but totally beautiful, diversity of the Englishes they’ll hear outside of your class, you should follow these five principles:
- Use a wide variety of accents (I’d suggest at least 4 or 5 times as many ‘non-native’ as ‘native’ accents, unless your students are definitely planning to move to a ‘native-speaking’ country, for example)
- Focus on ELF contexts where mainly ‘non-native speakers’ interact together
- Use ‘non-native speakers’ as models of the language (be it pronunciation, vocabulary or grammar, this can motivate your students by showing them examples of successful second language users of English)
- Work on bottom-up skills (if you haven’t done so yet, I’d highly recommend checking out Richard Cauldwell’s work and books)
- Raise students’ awareness (your students might be surprised or perhaps reluctant to listen to so many ‘non-native speaker accents at the beginning – I recorded a short video where I explain how to raise students’ awareness of ELF)
So this is just a quick recap of what teaching listening for ELF use would look like. You can learn more about it here.
Now, this is all well and good in practice, but there is one big problem: how do you find the right recordings (without spending hours of your time)?
Teaching Listening for ELF Use: Finding the Right Recordings
Fortunately, there are many websites where you can easily find the recording (or video) that will be right for your students needs, lacks and wants. I’ll go over them right below.
But first I wanted to address a more fundamental issue: how do you decide which recording is right for your students? How do you choose from the myriad of different accents your students might hear?
To help you do this, I recorded a short video where I explain how by only asking yourself 3 questions, you can quickly choose the right recording (or video) for your students.
So before looking for a video or audio material to use in your classes, you should ask yourself three questions:
1. What Englishes are your students likely to hear outside your class?
This of course will invariably depend on where and who you teach, but just to give you some context, I currently work at Université Libre de Bruxelles. Many of the students there will hear lectures in English, most of which are given by ‘non-native speakers’, many of whom are either French- or Flemish-speaking Belgians. They’re also likely to meet a lot of tourists in Brussels, as well as international students in the university. On top of accents like Spanish or German, they’re likely then to hear people from China or Japan speak English.
And of course many will also watch films and series in English.
2. Who do your students have problems understanding?
Once you know which accents your students are likely to hear outside your class, you need to establish which they find most difficult to understand. This could be very easily done through a short diagnostic test:
- Find recordings or videos with the accents you established in step 1
- Shorten the clips to maximum 30 seconds
- Prepare a short Likert-scale questionnaire (how difficult was it to understand this speaker on a scale of 1-5).
This will give you some objective data on the accents students found most difficult to understand. You could also further zoom in on specific parts of the recordings in order to identify the specific accent features that caused problems.
3. What types of audio material or genres are your students likely to hear outside class?
For example, a lot of my students will hear lectures in English. They will also need to take part in seminars in English, understand their international colleagues, etc.
This will help you establish the topics and genres you should choose for your recordings.
Teaching Listening for ELF Use: Where to Find the Recordings
There are lots of incredibly useful websites. So many in fact that you could spend hours browsing through the web, but never actually finding what you’re looking for.
That’s why I prepared a handy list of sites that I’ve found to be the most useful:
IDEA – International Dialects of English Archive (audio only, but very easy to find speakers from a particular country; most audio has a transcript)
ELLLO – English Listening Lesson Library On-line (videos, very easy to browse by country, topic and level; also has lesson plans)
My English Voice (videos with lesson plans helpfully divided by levels and topics)
VOICE – Vienna Oxford International Corpus of English (slightly more difficult to use initially, but a great resource of authentic recordings)
TED-ED (if you love TED talks, you’ll love this site – it features ready-made lessons that use TED talks)
There is obviously also a lot out there on YouTube and TED, but I’ve found the five websites above to be very helpful when preparing my listening lessons.
Teaching Listening for ELF Use: Lesson Plans
- How to help students understand accents through using listening journals (Carolin Zehne shows you a lesson framework that you’ll be able to easily adapt to any level and any group of students)
- Let’s talk about accents (Andrea Grassi gives you a lesson plan in which students reflect on different accents, as well as their own English accent)
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