Challenges in Listening for EFL Learners

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Listening to a foreign language is complicated and difficult. Here we look at a few of the difficulties our learners have when listening to English.

Speed

People naturally speak quickly, but there are some variations in English that are spoken especially quickly. In listening, we need to learn to differentiate between words to be able to make sense of what is being said. This is difficult for a learner even when the sentences are spoken slowly and deliberately, so when it is spoken quickly it can be even more challenging.

Accent

When you think of someone who comes from Texas, USA and someone who comes from Sydney, Australia, you will understand that even though they speak the same language they sound completely different. This is especially problematic for learners who are not aware of the different pronunciations of words and are only familiar with one version. When they hear a word pronounced differently, they might interpret it as a completely new word.

Variety

Just as there are loads of different English accents, so there are different varieties of English. While an Australian is enjoying his barbie, a South Africa is having a braai; people in the United Kingdom play football while North Americans play soccer – the list of vocabulary differences and variations is endless. When listening to someone speaking English, a non-native speaker needs to not only listen to what they are saying but interpret that in relation to where they come from.

Length

Generally speaking, the longer the spoken text, the harder it is to understand. So a learner will find it more difficult to listen to and understand a university lecture more than a train announcement.

Topic

It seems sensible that if you are familiar with a topic, you will know more vocabulary related to it and so listening to a text on that topic will be easier. If, for example, you are listening to a football match and you don’t know anything about football, you will find it difficult to understand exactly what is being said, whereas if you are familiar with football terminology you will be able to predict certain words that could be used and so will recognise them when you hear them.

In a nutshell, listening is difficult for EFL learners, but here are a few tips to help you make it easier for them:

Top tips for teaching listening in the EFL classroom

  • Prepare your learners for the text by providing a context. Give them time to discuss and predict what they are going to hear.
  • Repeat the listening as often as necessary. Listening to a text just once is not enough for learners to fully comprehend it.
  • Pause the listening when necessary. This allows the learners to focus their attention on specific information.

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