Great listening practice -improved! How to combine two websites to maximise student benefit

Last Thursday I was teaching a special class to high school students (my university loves reaching out to the community, and this program is part of their PR efforts) when I accidentally combined two websites: Popjisyo and Elllo. I encourage my students to use both websites, but had never thought to combine them before.

Accessing Elllo through Popjisyo allows students to get mouseover translations of tricky words in the transcripts, and also to save new words to a vocabulary file that they can then email to themselves to review later.

Best of all, both websites are free and don’t require registration, so they are easy to introduce and get students using. This also opens up Elllo to lower level students that would have found it too challenging without the mouseover translation support.

I successfully introduced the combination to junior high school students on Saturday, and they seemed to like it!

Listening to natural conversations online -the best website I have found

I have been a fan of for quite some time. It is a free website that allows visitors to listen to dialogues on a variety of subjects. There are several reasons why I like it so much:

1. You don’t need to register
This makes it incredibly easy to use with students, and to recommend to students, because you don’t have to walk them through a registration process or deal with personal information worries.

2. Incredible variety
The site has over 1,000 conversations at time of writing, and more are added on a regular basis. The range of topics is incredible, and many of them are genuinely interesting.

3. Different accents and Englishes
Elllo has a huge variety of accents represented in its content. This is extremely useful to my students, as they mostly have only encountered North American, British, and Japanese English. Given that most conversations in English now take place between non-native speakers, it is clear that getting used to different varieties of English is a necessary part of preparing to be a user of English in the future.

4. Natural Conversation
The conversations appear to be largely unscripted, as they show features of spoken English (false starts, ungrammatical features, etc.). This makes them much more useful than most materials, which still tend to be read from a script.

5. Full Transcripts
The site provides transcripts for all the conversations that can be hidden or shown as necessary.

6. Complementary exercises
The site also includes follow-up exercises for each conversation, including vocabulary work, comprehension questions, and a very interesting speaking practice section.

Students can also download all the conversations as mp3 files to listen to on portable devices.

Basically provides almost everything my students need to seriously increase their listening ability in casual contexts. I recommend it to all my classes, as it only takes about five minutes to showcase how and why to use it, and for a motivated student it could make all the difference.

Free language courses from FSI

The US Foreign Services Institute has a whole bunch of language courses on their website. From Amharic to Yoruba (no Japanese unfortunately, but they do have Thai and Mandarin) you can find coursebooks and audio downloads. The courses are a bit dated, but they seem thoroughly put together and you can’t beat the price.

Thanks to inZania for the tip, and for a cool iPhone flashcard app that I am using to practice JLPT vocabulary.

The importance of listening

I think the importance of listening input for students cannot be overemphasised, yet it is severely neglected in Japan, in both public and private teaching settings.

I myself have not really focused on teaching listening so far, for the following reasons:
1. graded listening materials are not as common as graded reading
2. it’s hard to categorize listening materials at a glance, like you would with a written text
3. technical issues get in the way: you have to make the materials available to the students, and it’s not as easy as just handing them a book or a handout
However, I have decided to have a go at really boosting my students’ listening practice. I am going to investigate online delivery, lending CDs, and lending mp3 players pre-loaded with content.
I will post on any challenges and successes with the project. Comments on the subject are also most welcome.
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