Advanced Listening and Vocabulary Development

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EFS 693B

Notes: Week 3




I.  Opening: Multitasking means doing two or more things at the same time: Is it good or bad for you?

Discuss the following in small groups. BR

    1. Do you multitask? What are some typical examples of the ways you multitask?

    2. Do you think multitasking generally makes you more, or less, efficient. Why?

    3. What do you think this might mean for language learning through listening?


Here's another one:


II. Homework Discussion: "The importance of selective information," Carly Fiorina: BR

Discuss the following questions in small groups: BR

    A. What did you do to prepare for listening to this?

    B. What was the difference between your first and second listening? Did you go straight through both times? Did you pause--if so when? Did you ever rewind?

    C. When you did the dictation, how did you do it? What errors did you notice? (spelling, grammar, getting the right words, etc.)

    D. What did you think of Fiorina's speaking style. What made her easy or difficult to understand?

    E. Did you put the transcript into the vocabulary profiler Did that help you recognize words you didn't know?

With the remaining time, discuss your individual projects.


III. Listening to Improve Language Knowledge


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 building language knowledge. Note that technically, some of the time youíre building knowledge you arenít actually listening, but youíre working with material that you have listened to (or plan to listen to soon, if youíre previewing a transcript). We have suggested that there are at least four components to language knowledge:

-  Sound system (phonology): individual sounds, sound clusters and syllables, linking, reduction, rhythm, and intonation

-  Vocabulary (words and phrases), including recognizing pronunciation of known items

-  Grammar: recognizing the meaning in grammatical endings (like -ing), words (like prepositions and modal auxiliary verbs such as can), and structures (like passive or present perfect)

-  Discourse: typical organizational structures of lectures, newscasts, discussions, etc.; how speakers introduce and shift topics and comments


The most basic area for building knowledge is in the sound system. As noted in VI below, these are the key concepts for understanding the English sound system.


As a matter of knowledge, these can be studied independently and then you can listen closely to speech samples to identify each of these components. The assumption here is that by being aware of the components of the English sound system and the way it works, you will more easily notice and understand what you hear.


Vocabulary is of course the most obvious area of language knowledge. In most cases, we can identify whether or not we know a word, at least its basic form and meaning. While it is possible to pick up words simply form exposure and attention to context (that is, after all, how we do it as children in our native language), that seems to be a less efficient process for adults in a second language. To learn a new word consciously, you first need to notice it--to isolate it the form. This is quite difficult to do in normal speech unless the context allows the word to be repeated a number of times or something else makes it particularly salient. Having text support in the form of captions or a transcript makes this job a lot easier (and again, more efficient). Once the form is recognized, in some cases you may be able to figure out the meaning from the context, but often you will need to look it up in a dictionary. Once you understand the meaning, both the basic meaning and the meaning in the particular context you have encountered it if they are different, your job is not finished. If you have the time, it's good to Google the word and explore how it is used in a couple of other contexts. I also recommend writing down the word, its definition, and the sentence in which it occurs on a card or in a list for later study (an Excel spreadsheet is good for this). You need to review your new words regularly, especially in the days and weeks right after you've learned them the first time. We'll discuss specific recommendations for this in a later class. And if you want to move the word from just being something you recognize to one that you use yourself, creating meaningful sentences with it will help, especially if you can work this practice into your everyday speech.


Of course you don't need to learn every new word you encounter because learning takes time. As noted in previous classes, higher frequency words are generally more valuable--you're likely to see them more often. Use or even just Google to help you figure out frequencies.


Words are not all there is to vocabulary--you need to be able to recognize, define, and learn phrases as well. Unfortunately, phrases, particularly idioms, are not always easy to spot. When you go through a transcript or captions and recognize words that appear together but don't seem to make sense in context given their literal meanings, try putting the phrase into Google. You can also sometimes find phrases, especially recent ones, defined in the Urban Dictionary ( Remember the Google "Define" search term for phrases--it doesn't always work but is worth trying.


Another area of language knowledge is grammar. There is a sense that in listening once you know what the words mean, you can figure out the rest of the meaning of a sentence, but this isn't always true. For example, the difference between "The cat chased the dog" and "The cat is chased by the dog" requires more than just knowing the meanings of cat, chase, and dog. Looking through transcripts to try to understand the grammar can help in reviewing grammar rules you may have forgotten as well as in recognizing the differences between how English is spoken and written. It's especially good for noticing preposition and article uses.


Finally, there is also discourse knowledge, an understanding of how ideas are ordered in speech, how those ideas are related to one another, and the speaker signals those relationships. Take a look at the transcript below from a lecture on game theory and notice the functions of the italicized words and phrases:

OK, so, what does game theory say, then, is the right way to play this game?  The theory of games says it's very important that you be unpredictable.  Therefore, you must randomize.  You must randomize.  The only way to be completely unpredictable is to randomize, and by that I mean, in this case, you can simply take out a coin, flip a coin, and if it comes up heads, then you would put up one finger, if it comes up tails, then you would put up two fingers.  Now, you can try in your own head to randomize, but it's a little bit unreliable.  Because there may be a tendency to put up one finger more often than two fingers, and then your opponent can take advantage of that to win the majority of the time.   So game theory says, "Be sure you randomize." Now, game theory has two key assumptions.  The first assumption is that both players are rational.  Both players are rational.  That is,  they...that they use logical thinking for making their decisions.  They're not basing their decisions on emotion.  That's the first assumption.  The second assumption is that  both players choose their strategies solely to promote their own welfare. 

IV. Advice from previous students: see what students who have finished this class recommend you do when you're starting your independent projects -- peer-advice.html.


V. Suggestions for how to do your Independent Project: Link what you do to general objectives (A, B, and C below). Note that these are just examples many possible procedures: you don't have to work on all three objectives with everything you listen to. We'll practice these if we have time in class.

    A. Listen for meaning:

        1. Pre-listening: Preview the topic and think about it before listening; predict what you might hear

        2. While listening: Use the pause and rewind only if needed

        3. Post-listening: Write or record a quick summary of what you remember--this is like a self quiz

        4. Determine what you understood and missed the first time (if possible): focus on figuring out missed parts

        5. Repeat, starting at #2--turn on the subtitles if needed: note that you can jump down to B to check vocabulary if you want

        6. Watch a final time without subtitles or pausing, but with focused concentration

        7. Think about what you learned here and how you might use the ideas


    B. Increase language knowledge: build vocabulary:

        1. Look through the text without listening and underline every word or phrase that you aren't sure of. Double underline any that look particularly interesting or important

        2. Listen again while you read. Pause when you come to an underlined word and try to guess the meaning from the context. Move on quickly if you can't.

        3. Use an online dictionary to look up all the double underlined words; use Google to look for other examples and definitions of phrases/idioms (note: you may not find all of them--that's OK).

        4. Keep the new words/phrases in a list--note, if you have identified a lot of words, go to to help you select which ones to study. The list should include the word, one or more definitions, its translation (if needed), and the sentence in which it occurred (this will help you remember the context you encountered it in).

        5. Study them regularly--this is part of the 3-hours of independent work per week.


    C. Improve processing: transcription (dictation). Note that this can be done with a clip after doing A or B above

        1. Listen again to the first 30 seconds or so--pause.

        2. Do a transcription of the next 20-30 seconds or so. Try to listen to a short piece (1-3 seconds), pause, and then write what you heard. Note that you don't have to do a whole sentence at a time. Don't repeat until the end of the 30-second segment.

        3. After the second time through, check your answer against the script. Pay close attention to what you're missing. Especially, note linkings, reduced forms (see VI-E/F, below), and grammar errors.

        4. Listen to the next 30 seconds or so without transcribing, then start another transcription segment if you want. Don't do too much of this--it can get tiresome.


VI. The English sound system - an overview (for more detail, take our EFS 695A course). We'll do the first two categories and continue working on the others over the next two weeks.

            A. Basic sounds (phonemes) and syllables:;

            B. Rhythm:

            C. Stress: word and phrase

            D. Intonation

            E. Linking

            F. Reduced forms


Homework: Unless otherwise stated (e.g., the independent project) you should complete this material in time to discuss it in the following class. Be sure to bring notes if requested. 


1) Read the material in III, IV, and VI and think about it. Due in class 4/28


2) Listen to this short TED Talk on multitasking: How easy or difficult was the accent to follow? Explore the TED website and decide how you might use it--we'll discuss this in class next week. Due 4/24


3) Provide a list of 25 more new words or phrases you have learned. Add these to the report in (4). Note that you should be collecting these throughout the week and studying them regularly. We'll review a selection of all your words at our next meeting.


4) Begin working on your full independent project. You should spend at least three hours, divided across three or four sessions, e.g., three one-hour, four 45-minute sessions, or some other mixture (you don't have to do exactly the same amount of time each session, just get the total three hours and spread it out). Obviously, more is better if you can find the time. These should be on different days--do not try to do it all on just one or two days. Think about the potential impact of multitasking on your project. Due 4/27


5) Meet with me individually to go over your first hour of the independent project and any other questions or concerns you might have.



Last modified: April 21, 2020 by Phil Hubbard