Advanced Listening and Vocabulary Development

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EFS 693B 
Week 7 Notes


I. Opening:  --

Try other clips at See, for example, the Daily Show for a comedy news experience:

II. Watching movies for language learning: discuss the following questions.

1) What do you think are the best types of movies to watch for language learning? Why?

2) What do you think are the worst types? Why?

3) Think about your experience with Groundhog Day--how can you best use movies like this to improve your listening and vocabulary skills while still enjoying the entertainment?


Listening to Movies (Get pdf here)

Movies are interesting, but they can be less valuable than some other options for improving your listening skills. TV comedy or drama shows, talk shows, and news shows have the same characters or announcers, and if you watch them over time, it becomes easier to follow them. This isnít true of movies because they generally introduce characters and tell a story that is new. Once the movie is over, you will probably never see the characters again. If you want to use movies anyway, here are some suggestions for more effective ways of using movies on your own to improve your listening.

1)  Select a movie that is about something familiar, such as

∑    A movie that is set in your home country or other familiar place: this should be easier than a movie set in some place youíre not familiar with.

∑    A movie that you have seen before, perhaps with subtitles or a translated soundtrack, so that you know the story and characters.

∑    A movie with closed captioning (cc): in this case, you could watch the movie first with the closed captioning on, so that you become familiar with it. Then watch it again with the closed captioning off. Or turn on the captions when you feel youíre getting lost.

∑    A movie that is based on a book: this way, you can read the book first to learn about the characters and story and then watch the movie.

∑    A movie that is one of several in a series: in this way you at least get to know some of the characters and may even have a continuing story (e.g. Harry Potter).

∑    A movie that has a lot of visual elements to support the dialogue.

Note, you can listen to an unfamiliar topic for pure entertainment or if you are doing so to build cultural understanding, but be aware that it will be more difficult to use for language learning if you don't understand the references.

2)  For language learning purposes, some movies may not be as useful:

∑    Movies with a lot of slang, fast speakers, different dialects (including ethnic and regional varieties), and so on are more difficult than ones with speakers who speak a relatively standard version of North American English and speak it clearly.

∑    Older movies (e.g., from the 1930s-1960s) may have patterns of speech that are no longer common, especially in this area.

∑    Some kinds of "action" movies have a lot of action and little language.

∑    Movies about historical events, especially from the distant past--if done well, these may have patterns of speech that are uncommon today, and the situations will not be relevant.

3)  Select a movie where the language is not too difficult and which you think may contain useful expressions: has vocabulary assistance for some popular older movies, many of which are available on DVD from Green Library.

4)  Find a part of the movie that is especially easy for you to understand. Try to do a dictation of 1-2 minutes of it. If the movie has accurate captioning or you can find a script, use the captions or script to check your answers.

5)  Listen to a part of the movie that has an interesting conversation you can understand. After one of the characters says a line, pause and try to say it right back (this is like a dictation, only without writing). The goal is not to memorize the line, but to build processing accuracy and capacity.

Remember, any time you listen to a movie in English and enjoy and understand it, you're getting some benefit. However, it's important to realize that you need to be actively involved in listening if you want to get the most from it. When you can, try listening deeply to selected parts to improve processing, mining the material for useful words and phrases, and using specific strategies for interpreting meaning.

If you don't have access to video playback equipment, you can go downstairs in Green Library and get DVDs which you can watch there in the Media Center. You can also find free (legal) online movies at  

III. Discussion. In groups, talk about your independent projects and homework.

      1) How do you prepare to listen? Are you satisfied with that?

      2) What do you do when you finish listening? Are you satisfied with that?

      3) What do you find most frustrating or challenging about practicing listening independently?

      4) What did you "rewatch" this week. Describe your experience. Do you think rewatching is useful?

IV. Focus on language processing: dictations and other intensive listening to build speed, accuracy (including accented speech), and capacity

     A. Groundhog Day revisited. Dictation: (1:05+)

     B. Listening to accents Understanding accents is largely a matter of processing--focus on the accent of an individual or group over a period of several days, trying to understand as much as possible. Use a combination of linking to transcript or subtitle, dictation, and slowed speed to improve accuracy. Also, analyze the patterns you notice so that you can pay close to attention to them.

        - Italian English:; what do you notice about this Italian accent? What about this one?;

        - Dog English:

V. Research and practice trends on captioning/subtitling for language learning

  1. Typically show either positive effect or no significant difference for comprehension

  2. May improve rapid reading

  3. May interfere with picking up visual information

  4. More positive results when students can control the subtitling

  5. Some evidence that viewing native language subtitles first for difficult material may be helpful (e.g., movies)
    Possible procedure: native language subtitles first pass; English subtitles second pass; no subtitles third pass

  6. Are better than transcripts for simultaneous listening because they are superimposed on the video (Cognitive theory of multimedia)

VI. Recommendations for using captions/subtitles

  1. Don't avoid subtitles, but

  2. Don't overuse them

  3. Remember that they are not always exactly what is said--their purpose is to help with meaning

  4. Be careful of Google automatic captioning; sometimes it's useful for supporting general comprehension but it can be really bad at times.

  5. Toggle them on and off (when possible) to maintain listening focus (best sites are those that allow toggling or hiding). For comprehension and processing, it's best to listen again with them off once you comprehend a scene or clip. Note: toggle means to switch from one state to another, like an On/Off light switch.

To hide a caption
a) slide the window down until the caption disappears--unfortunately this also hides the pause, rewind, playbar, etc., but sometimes you can just use the space bar or keyboard controls for pause and play.

b) Tape a piece of paper over the caption area.

(Note: looking at the video while "ignoring" the captions is a possible strategy but may be difficult in practice)

VII. Closing words on independent study

    A. Independent study and motivation:

        - set a schedule and try to keep to it

        - be sure you understand the different objectives of different activities: work smarter, not longer

        - find the time of day (or night) that best supports your language learning

     B. Analysis of understood material. Once you've comprehended a piece, your job isn't necessarily done: you can listen to it closely to notice things like grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, reduced forms, linking, rhythm, and intonation, tone of voice, connection of language to gesture, and so on. It's very difficult to learn what you don't notice. Don't be satisfied just with basic understanding. However, don't do this for all material--vary your listening tasks along the extensive-->semi-intensive-->intensive continuum.

    C. Finally, don't try to learn English when you're tired (in fact, don't try to learn much of anything when you're tired):



This week the assignment for your independent project is to do a minimum of four hours in the following way
         - Do at least 15-20 minutes every day for at least 6 of the 7 days (all 7 is better), but for 4 hours total. You still need to find only 25 words, but of course more would be better. You may want to focus on clips this week rather than longer pieces, including clips from movies or TV shows you have watched previously. You could also try watching a new show or movie scene be scene.

The goal is to see what a daily experience with English is like. Get the report form through the Canvas assignment. The assignment is due by Tuesday, November 12 at 11:59pm.

There is no additional whole class assignment this week--focus on your independent projects.

Last modified November 6, 2019 by Phil Hubbard