Advanced Listening and Vocabulary Development

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EFS 693B

Notes: Week 2


I. Opening:; note value of 1) being familiar with the material; 2) having captions/subtitles; listening to music, with its natural patterns of repetition.

II. In groups, discuss the problems you are having in listening:

1) Situations/settings

2) Type of content

3) Particular speakers

Consider these for planning and for independent projects

III. Review homework

1. General Service List and vocabulary learning: Plan to learn the unknown words on your lists as quickly as possible (Note: You may use up to 10 of these for your weekly vocabulary list).

                        a. a set of tests at various levels (see Homework).

                        b. To define identified words use
                              Google definitions--use the "define: " command
                              Longman Learner's Dictionary; works with some phrases as well as words
                              Mac Users: Try hovering over a word in Safari
                              Note that for listening, you need to connect to the sounds, not just the spelling

                        c. Better still, try the recommended learner's dictionary:  
                            Oxford Advanced American Dictionary for Learners of English

                            (may be available in the Bookstore and highly recommended)

                                - Free online version:                                   

                        d. Keep a word/phrase list and review it: here's one possible procedure for doing so
                            i) note unknown words/phrases--look them up  
                            ii) decide whether to take time to learn them. For words, check frequencies at
                       and set a reasonable target, e.g., everything below 9K level.
                                Also include ones that 1) you've seen before, 2) that seem important: 
                            iii) get the word, its definition, and a sentence from the context you saw it in if possible - record
                                them in your list: for phrases, try Google for defnitions
                            iv) collect in groups of 10 or more and review regularly (till you know them quickly)
                             v) try actively to notice these words in other contexts, and use Google to find more examples

2. Your homework was "Listen to again. Try to find as many new words or phrases as you can (at least 5). If you are unable to hear/spell the word clearly enough to look it up, write down the phrase or sentence it occurs in." How did you do?

    a. Go over word lists together

   b. Review vocabulary: How do you know which ones to learn? Again, see, do a Google count (> 1-2 Million), or just decide it's interesting and useful

    c. Lesson learned: try to find material with a transcript (or at least captions) to support vocabulary development

3. Conclusion: It is useful to do "narrow listening," where you listen to several video/audio texts about the same topic as we did with Tesla.  See for an academic view.

IV. Three types of dedicated listening practice (in addition to listening in everyday settings for learning and entertainment)

Click here for the Pdf.

We've talked about three types of listening activities: practice for comprehending more effectively, practice for building language knowledge, and practice for improving language processing. This week we'll focus on practice for comprehending more effectively.

Most of the time you listen, your goal is to understand. However, depending on the situation, you may need to understand very well or just get the basic idea. Sometimes you are listening for specific information (for example, listening to a weather report if you're planning an outdoor activity the next day), sometimes you're trying to pick out key ideas and the information that supports them (as in a lecture), sometimes you're trying to be entertained (listening to a TV show or movie), and there are many other situations, each with their own objectives. And once you understand something at whatever the desired level is, how much of that understanding do you need to retain in some form so that you can make use of it later? And how do you interpret that information and integrate it into what you already know? In most cases you're trying to do one or more of the following:

Getting the basic meaning (preparing, using context, maintaining focus, dealing with lapses)

-  Retaining important points (note taking & short-term memory)

-  Interpreting and integrating (reflecting, judging, linking to existing knowledge and understanding)

You can improve in each of these areas by doing listening activities that focus on them.

Getting the basic meaning. We've already seen that preparing for listening is an important first step, so most of the time when you're listening to improve comprehension, you want to prepare appropriately, activating background information and making predictions about what you might hear. If you practice pre-listening regularly, you're more likely to transfer that valuable strategy to your everyday life. Preparing also makes it more likely that you will pay attention to the context, including visual information, and make use of that information to help you keep track of what you're hearing. Other problems with getting the basic meaning include keeping up with the speed of the speaker, staying focused (not letting your mind wander), and linking the specifics of what you're hearing to the "bigger picture" so that you are able to distinguish the main points from the details, the facts from the opinions, and so on. Finally, if you get lost or distracted, you need to be able to return without losing too much of the information. During listening practice, you can focus your attention on these needs. For example, pausing recorded material at regular intervals or anytime you feel yourself losing concentration or getting lost is a good way to get back on track.

Retaining important points. As you listen and build your understanding of a spoken text  (lecture, presentation, conversation, story, or whatever), it's important to be able to retain and recall key parts of it that will help you remember the rest. It doesn't help to say you "understood everything" if you don't remember it a few minutes later. In academic or professional settings, taking notes is often the most effective way of doing this. Taking notes is not a natural activity for humans, but an acquired skill. This is especially true in a second language because it's especially hard to interpret and write down ideas while trying to stay focused on what the speaker is saying. Like all skills, you get better if you practice it, so take notes--good notes--whenever you can. Another good skill to develop is to quickly summarize material as soon as you've heard it, using your short term memory to help you internalize the information before you lose it. This is especially important in situations where taking notes is impossible or might be considered impolite (such as at a social gathering). A good practice activity for this is to listen to a clip or a part of a longer text (less than five minutes) and pause and summarize it orally or in writing before continuing. This also gives some good practice in producing English. Interestingly, if you know you're going to have to do this, you seem to pay closer attention, so it's a good motivator too.

Interpreting and integrating. We are not just tape recorders. When we listen even in our native languages, we are constantly judging what we hear, deciding how true or convincing it is, how interesting or useful it is, how it connects with what we already know. When listening in a second language, it's sometimes difficult to do this effectively, and as a result, what is heard is only remembered partially if at all. Although it's hard to do this when you're listening to live material, with recorded material it's easier to gain the time to reflect. Use the pause button regularly, not just to be sure you understand, but to savor and critically evaluate what is coming in.

Cognitive resource limitations. In addition to the preceding, an important concept to be aware of as you practice is your cognitive resource limitations. Basically, this refers to the increasingly well-documented observation that the human brain is not good at focusing attention on more than one or two things at a time. In your native language, processing is automatic, so it's easier to notice a single new word or phrase, to interpret, and to recall details. Not so in a second language: when new words or idioms are encountered, or the speed or accent make it difficult to process what you hear rapidly, or the information itself is new or abstract, your brain takes longer to process the information and even with more time may do it incorrectly. Current learning theory suggests trying to avoid or control cognitive overload. That means taking advantage of comprehension tools when needed (text support, slower speed, pausing, etc.), selecting material for practice that is usually not too far beyond your ability to understand easily, and working with familiar topics of interest so that you can bring in your existing knowledge to aid comprehension. It also means building up the other areas we'll be discussing over the next two weeks--language knowledge (especially vocabulary) and processing ability--so that these become more unconscious and automatic over time as they are in your native language. If you're having trouble understanding well, especially the second or third time through a piece, it may be because you're just asking your brain to do more than it reasonably can.

V. Discussion of independent projects: spend three hours or more per week with media/materials that will help you improve. For now, don't do a TV comedy/drama or movie--focus on listening for information or everyday conversation.   


·       Recording of a professor (you supply)

·       Stanford's Entrepreneurship Corner: Talks by innovators and industry leaders. Note: to get the transcripts, you must first turn on the subtitles.

·       Some other websites -- these have some or all parts with transcripts: be sure you can find them

o   Randall’s listening lab: Recorded dialogues by ESL teacher Randall Davis. Many are humorous.

o   Nova online: A popular show about science. Start with the Teacher Videos link. Here's an example:

o   English Language Listening Library Online Interviews and other listening activities. Good for practicing listening to different accents.

o   CNN student news: A 10-minute program of news and features aimed at US secondary school students.

o   PBS Online News Hour: Longer news stories and features for deeper understanding.

        Note: others are possible, but try to pick something with a topic that is interesting, familiar, and useful.

VI. Watch Carly Fiorina's clip: How would you approach this as a listening task?

Bonus Tesla video:



1) Spend at least 3.5 hours exploring and trying out the websites in (V) above for possible material for your first independent project. You may also add one or two websites you already know about if you wish. Think about which listening objectives do you want to work on and why (e.g., improve processing of fast speech, increase vocabulary, understand culture, etc.). These 3.5 hours are in addition to (2), (3), and (4) below.

2) Watch "The importance of selective information," Carly Fiorina: Take notes for each of the points below and come to class prepared to discuss them next week. You should follow this procedure. Note that this is in addition to visiting ecorner in (1) above--try different speakers for that one.

    A. Prepare for listening--think about what you can do to make this easier to understand (e.g., read the description and Fiorina's bio)

    B. Listen once straight through without pausing; think about the main ideas. Do not use the subtitles or transcript.

    C. Think about some specific questions you have and then listen a second time--try to get more details; pause and rewind when some point is not clear.

    D. Transcription. Take the first minute and try to write down verbatim (in exact words) what you hear. Check your answers against the transcript. (to get the transcript, you must first turn on the subtitles). Note any mistakes and think about why you made them. Reflect on how this procedure might help you improve your listening skill

    E. Think about Fiorina's speaking style. What makes her easy or difficult to understand?

    F. Load the transcript into the Lextutor vocabulary profiler,, and click "submit". Go over the vocabulary profile and decide which words might be useful to learn. Note that the most useful information will be in the "Families List" at the end.

    G. Now, watch the other clips from Fiorina's talk: go through each clip once without subtitles, trying to understand her main point and pick up some details. Then turn the subtitles on and watch once more. What new points do you notice with the subtitles? For at least one of those clips, put the transcript in the Lextutor vocabulary profiler and note any useful vocabulary.

3) Vocabulary. Take the "A" tests at at the 3000 and 5000 word levels (do not take the B and C tests at this time). Put the results in your report.

4) Word List: Give me the list of new words and phrases you have studied this week (minimum 35)—they can come from the websites above, from course materials, or the items you don't know from the New General Service List. I only need the words, not definitions and sentences--keep those in your own list though. Please note that you should have learned these fairly well by the end of the week.

5) Read (IV) above about listening to improve comprehension. Think about how to listen more effectively using the advice there. Be sure to pay particular attention to the notion of cognitive resource limitations.

Report: Send me your report by 8:00 PM the day before your class using the report form in Canvas. If you are unable to send it through Canvas, you may send it to me as an attachment by email.

Last modified: October 5, 2016 by Phil Hubbard