Goals and Techniques for Teaching Listening

As a language teacher, you want to produce students who can get along competently in communication situations, even if they do not have complete control of the grammar or an extensive vocabulary. In the case of listening, this means teaching your students to use listening strategies to maximize their comprehension of aural input, identify relevant and non-relevant information, and handle less than word-by-word comprehension.

To accomplish this goal, you need to move beyond having your students listen to an audio selection and then answer comprehension questions. You need to focus on listening as a process, rather than a product; integrate strategies instruction; and use authentic materials and situations.

Focus on the Listening Process

Listening activities that ask students to answer comprehension questions can indicate what they have understood (the product of listening), but do little to build actual listening proficiency. To strengthen listening skills, focus on the process of listening rather than on its product.

  • Develop your students’ awareness of the listening process and listening strategies by asking them to think and talk about how they listen in their native language.
  • Give your students practice in listening by using the target language to conduct classroom business: making announcements, assigning homework, describing the content and format of tests.
  • Behave as an authentic listener yourself by responding to student communication as a listener rather than as a teacher.
  • Begin all listening activities by identifying, or asking students to identify, the purpose for listening. For activities that use comprehension questions, this means reviewing the questions before listening to the selection, so that students know what information they are listening for.
  • When working with listening tasks in class, show your students the strategies that will work best for the listening purpose and the type of text. Explain how and why your students should use the strategies.
  • Use listening activities that give your students ways of demonstrating comprehension that do not rely on speaking or reading. Options include performing an action or activity, and choosing, making, or taking a picture.
  • Encourage your students to practice the full repertoire of listening strategies by using authentic listening tasks.

Integrate Strategies Instruction

By raising students’ awareness of listening as a skill that requires active engagement, and by explicitly teaching listening strategies, you can help your students develop both the ability and the confidence to handle communication situations they may encounter beyond the classroom. In this way you will give your students the foundation for communicative competence in the new language.

  • Have your students practice listening strategies in class and ask them to practice outside of class in their listening assignments. Encourage your students to be conscious of what they’re doing while they complete textbook listening assignments.
  • Encourage your students to evaluate their comprehension and their strategy use immediately after completing an assignment. Build comprehension checks into in-class and out-of-class listening assignments, and periodically review how and when to use particular strategies.
  • Do not assume that your students will transfer strategy use from one task to another. When introducing a different type of listening task, state explicitly how a particular strategy can be used or ask students to suggest possible strategies.

See Strategies for Developing Listening Skills for more on specific listening strategies.

Use Authentic Materials and Situations

By using listening selections drawn from sources that are not designed for language learners, and listening tasks that mirror real-life situations, you can prepare your students for the types of listening they will need to do when using the language outside the classroom.

Interpretive Listening (One-Way Communication)


  • Radio and television broadcasts; podcasts; YouTube videos
  • Public address announcements (airports, train/bus stations, stores)
  • Speeches and lectures
  • Telephone customer service recordings


  • Help students identify the listening goal: to obtain specific information; to decide whether to continue listening; to understand most or all of the message
  • Help students outline predictable sequences in which information may be presented: who-what-when-where (news stories); who-flight number-arriving/departing-gate number (airport announcements); “for [function], press [number]” (telephone recordings)
  • Help students identify key words/phrases to listen for

Interactive Listening (Two-Way Communication)

 In authentic two-way communication, the listener focuses on the speaker’s meaning rather than the speaker’s language. The focus shifts to language only when meaning is not clear. Note the difference between the teacher as teacher and the teacher as authentic listener in these dialogues between an English as a second language instructor and student.

Teacher as Teacher

T: Hello, Sam! We missed you in class yesterday. What happened?

S: I go to doctor for my tooth.

T: Oh, you WENT to the DENTIST? A doctor for teeth is called a dentist.

S: Yes, dentist.

T: What happened at the dentist?

S: He have to take out tooth. After my mouse hurt too bad.

T: Oh, he HAD to take out your tooth? Remember, the past of “have” is “had.” And it wasn’t your mouse that hurt, it was your mouth.

Teacher as Authentic Listener

T: Hello, Sam! We missed you in class yesterday. What happened?

S: I go to doctor for my tooth.

T: For your tooth? Did you have a problem with your teeth?

S: Yes, the doctor have to take out tooth. After my mouse hurt too bad.

T: Your mouse . . . oh, your mouth hurt. Does it hurt now? Will you be okay in class today?

S: No, not hurt now. Well, maybe a little.

T: Okay, well, if it hurts too much and you need to leave, just tell me.


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