Extensive Listening – What is it and why (and how) should you do it?

In my last post I talked about intensive listening, so naturally, I’m going to cover extensive listening here. If you read my post about extensive reading, you can probably guess what extensive listening is. There are a lot of similarities.

In extensive listening, you basically listen a lot, listen often, and listen at an easy level to audio content in English (or whatever language you’re learning), and it’s got to be something that you find interesting. The material you listen to should be easy enough so that you do not need to stop and listen again.

The focus in extensive listening is not form; the goal is not to understand each and every part of a given audio or video recording, or analysing what you hear for specific learning points. Rather, your objective is to get a broad understanding of what you hear, and to simply enjoy what you’re listening to. In doing this, you’ll also acquire (or learn) some English language knowledge and ability over time. In this type of listening, the focus is meaning, not language.

Researchers in this type of listening for foreign language learning say that most listening materials used for extensive listening should be easy for you to understand. There might be one of two difficult words or phrases you’ll hear, but these challenges should not be enough for you to give up or want to stop listening. If you’re selecting listening materials by yourself, start with materials you think are maybe too easy. Many learners practice listening to audio that is too difficult. This is not a terrible mistake, but if the material is a little too difficult, then you’re no longer practicing extensive listening. Instead, you’re doing intensive listening.

Over the years, researchers Vandergrift and Goh (see below) have also identified three other important ideas about extensive reading. These are variety, frequency, and repetition. To get variety in your extensive listening, you should listen to a wide variety of authentic (or real) recordings, on many different themes and topics. For example, you can listen to narratives and recounts (or stories), information, reports, recordings on how to do something, explanations, descriptions, argumentative content, interviews, and of course, conversations or dialogues between people. This will allows you to get used to the structure of different types of audio recordings and expose you to vocabulary used in a variety of contexts.

Vandergrift & Goh also say that you should do extensive listening work frequently and regularly, in periods of time that you feel you are able to keep doing. Of course, this will depend on your situation and how much time you can dedicate to listening practice. It could be daily or weekly.

Finally, Vandergrift & Goh say that you need to listen to audio and video recordings more than one time. Repetition is valuable because it will help you to get familiar with the content, structure, and vocabulary you hear in the audio or video recordings. Each time you listen, your cognitive load (or your brain stress) will be reduced because you have learned some part of the recording. When you then listen again, your brain doesn’t have to work as hard, so you’re better able to learn other information in the recording.  The more you repeat, the more your listening processes will become automatic over time. This is a key to becoming an effective listener, in any language.

Like extensive reading, extensive listening takes a lot of time, so you’ll probably be doing most of your extensive listening outside of class time. Don’t wait for your teacher to encourage you to do it. If you are serious about improving your listening skills, you have to put in the time. Extensive reading and extensive listening are things that you can do more easily by yourself without your teacher, so do them! If you need help making a plan or finding material, talk with your teacher or more advanced learners. And speaking of listening materials, my next video is all about free online resources for listening practice, so stay tuned for that.

Let’s summarize. Extensive listening audio or video should be longer but somewhat easy for you to understand. The goal in extensive listening is about understanding the main idea or ideas, and NOT about learning new language in English. Extensive listening takes a lot of your time outside of class, but you shouldn’t need to concentrate hard. You should be able to listen for long periods of time. Since you’ll be doing a lot of listening, it’s very important that what you listen to is very interesting to you.

Tips for Extensive Listening to Learn English

  • Listen a lot (mostly on your own, outside class), and listen to a lot of variety of content.
  • Listen often and regularly to easy video or audio recordings. Repeat, repeat, repeat!
  • Choose content interesting to you and that you already know a little about.
  • Focus on content, not form: Listen carefully for main ideas, not details. Try to understand the important points of the video or audio recording.
  • Try to find sources that offer basic information. If it is too deep, you may get frustrated when there is too much vocabulary that you don’t know. If you feel that you can’t understand most of what is happening, try easier content.

Extensive and intensive forms of reading and listening are all important to your development as an English language learner. Listening is one of the most difficult tasks for language learners, but with exposure and different types of materials and listening focus, you can do it.

References

Ohashi, L. (2019). Listen up! Useful materials for intensive and extensive listening. In Robert Chartrand, F. & Forsythe, E. (Eds.) AI and Machine Learning in Language Education. Selected papers from the JALTCALL2019 Conference, Tokyo, Japan.

Vandergrift, L., & Goh, C. M. (2012). Teaching and learning second language listening. Routledge.

Waring, R. (2008). Starting an extensive listening program. Extensive Reading in Japan: The Journal of the JALT Extensive Reading Special Interest Group, 1(1), 7–9. http://www.robwaring.org/el/articles/Starting_Extensive_Listening_ERJ_June_2008.pdf

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