IATEFL 2012: Understanding English however it is spoken

Just out of Ian Badger’s talk on learners’ difficulties with listening to all the many varieties of English.  The essential out-take was that English is a global language and our students are going to need to deal with listening to it in many different forms – but there is hope!  And it comes in the form of manageable authentic recordings (and learning materials – the session was plugging his books, published by Collins).

Here’s my summary of the key points…

– Ian encourages teachers to make our own recordings for use with students.

– Today’s learners of English have to understand speakers from all over the world – but getting hold of authentic recordings isn’t always easy for publishers (the content might be sensitive, people might not want to be recorded, etc.).

– All recordings in the books he’s promoting are 100% authentic – not scripted, not semi-scripted.  The learning material in the books was written after the recordings.

– Features of authentic recordings: a range of accents, false starts, fragmented sentences, standard AND non-standard grammar, mistakes… in short, this is real English which our learners will have to deal with in the real world, so let’s help them deal with it.

– Interestingly, Ian also mentioned accommodation by speakers to listeners, a topic that came up in my MA Phonology module recently when talking about the growth of English as a Lingua Franca.  He noted that speakers need to moderate their speech to help listeners, something that native speakers and fluent non-natives in particular are not always aware of or good at.  (An aside: Ian has worked with such people to help them be better understood.)

– The recordings in his publications include both native and non-native speakers so are a reasonably realistic reflection of this world of different Englishes our students are interacting in.

– Tips for helping LISTENERS:

– don’t speak too fast

– give people time to think/respond

– be aware of who you’re talking to

– avoid idiomatic and very structurally complex language

– explain acronyms & abbreviations if/when necessary

– check others have understood what you’ve said

– don’t overwhelm the listener with a barrage of information!

– ‘Active’ listening tips

– ask speakers for clarification if/when necessary

– ask speakers to slow down, speak up, be more specific if you need them to

– be empathetic (? – he didn’t go into detail here, but I guess he means: don’t forget how it feels to be a speaker when you’re the listener, and vice versa)

– rephrase what the speaker says (presumably to check your understanding)

– Ian noted that these ‘active listening’ elements were particularly important – and often neglected – in business English.  I’d hypothesise that perhaps they don’t want to appear stupid or somehow get embarrassed by asking for repetition, clarification, etc.

– He included a number of links, of which I noted down 3 that looked particularly interesting:

http://sounds.bl.uk/accents-and-dialects

http://www.languagebyvideo.com

http://www.collinselt.com/businesslistening

(I haven’t checked these out yet, but they’re in my bookmarks for later!)

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About Laura Patsko

Senior ELT Research Manager for a major publisher. Alter egos: English language teacher, language learner, teacher trainer, linguist. Not necessarily in that order.

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