Advanced Listening and Vocabulary Development

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EFS 693B
Week 8 Notes


I. Continue from last week on accents: French -
    Discuss: what problems do you have with accents? What can you do to improve your comprehension? BR

II.  Listening to curated TED Talks. I have collected four sets of TED Talks, divided roughly by level and theme. Pick the set that you think would be the best match for you and then let me know how it goes (see the report form): find them at Follow this pattern:

  1. Browse the collection and select a topic

  2. Go through all four or five talks once, pausing and rewinding occasionally to be sure you're getting basic comprehension. Turn on subtitles briefly only if absolutely needed.

  3. Load the transcripts into and try to identify 1-4 useful words to learn in each. Read/copy the sentence in which the word occurs.

  4. Select one short talk or part of a longer one to repeat and go over more intensively.

  5. Any other work you do on this can count toward the independent project

Note that TED also has its own set of topical playlists: You can browse for topics that interest you. Note that these are not at all leveled, so you will need to judge difficulty levels yourself. How might you do that?

III. Vocabulary discussion

    A.  A note on vocabulary learning: words per week; common phrases; connect to context--try including a short, memorable phrase.

    B. Discuss vocabulary experience in groups BR

        1) How are you selecting the words you are currently studying? Do you think that's an effective procedure?

        2) How are you studying and reviewing those words?  Do you think that's an effective procedure?

        3) How many words and phrases do you think you should learn in the next year? How many words a week is that? What can you do to make it possible to reach that goal?

IV. Watching TV comedies: is an older show called Third Rock from the Sun about a group of aliens who come to Earth to learn about humans. See and

Read and think about the following:

Comedy shows are very popular on American television. There are dozens of them on during the week, and they provide us with a way of laughing at ourselves and our culture. Being able to understand a comedy show in another culture is an impressive feat. It takes time and keen observation skills to note which parts are supposed to be funny before you hear the laughter from the studio audience.

Comedy shows tend to fall into groups. Most programs can be divided into one of three types:  friend shows, family shows and work shows. A few cut across two or all three types. Common themes are friend/friend, boy/girl, husband/wife, and parent/child relationships. Some shows have an ethnic basis to their humor, some have regional humor, and some have humor based on social class. There are also animated forms of these shows, such as The Simpsons.

Traditionally, a comedy episode revolves around a single problem or theme which is set in the first few minutes of the show. Attempts to resolve the problem may be unsuccessful at first, which is often where the humor comes in. Increasingly, shows have multiple problems or themes which evolve more or less in parallel, making a more complex plot to follow.

Besides their general value for practice in listening to casual conversation, comedies are useful to watch for enjoyment just to get some additional insight into aspects of American culture.  To get the most out of listening to comedy shows, there are a few points you should keep in mind.

1) Because a lot of the humor in the show is cultural, be prepared not to understand why something is funny. If you can, take notes and try to think about them. If possible, ask a native speaker why something was supposed to be funny.

 2) Many of the jokes depend on understanding the characters, both their individual personalities and their patterns of interaction with other characters. In order to appreciate this part of the humor, you need to watch a number of different episodes. A good strategy is to find an older show that is rerun every day instead of only once a week (like Friends: see below). Alternatively, look for shows that are available on DVD or online.

3) Although commercials can be fun and useful practice themselves, they are meant to be distracting.  You can turn off the sound during commercials, reflect on what you’ve just watched, and predict what you think will happen next. If someone else is there with you, you can talk about the show at this time (preferably in English). If you are streaming the show, there may not be commercials.

4) Increasingly, companies like Netflix and Amazon are creating their own comedy shows in the "TV" format. If you have access, these can be as good or better than traditional broadcast shows.

5) Finally, there is a lot of variation in the language difficulty among comedy shows. Try to find one or two that you enjoy but can follow best. If you have to have the captioning on to understand much of it, then the show is of questionable value for language learning.

One of the most useful shows for improving listening is Friends--the language is easier than many other comedies, and the stories are often more universal. Availability of these varies . You can get the transcripts for Friends at

V. Watch You can also look for other comedies on that site, but note that only some of them are free.



1) As before, you need to complete three hours on your independent project. You can divide it up any way you like, but this would be a good chance to try to continue doing something every day for 15 or more minutes (even if just reviewing vocabulary). Due Monday June 1

2)  Listening to TED Talks. I have collected four sets of TED Talks, divided roughly by level and theme. Pick the one that you think would be the best match for you and then let me know how it goes (see the report form): find them at You should spend at least 90 minutes on this (more would be better) so that you can go through selected talks or parts of talks more than once. Again, this is in addition to your independent project. Note that you can consider doing a second set as part of your project, though. Due Friday May 29

3. Meetings: optional this week--sign up if you wish. Next week will be the last required meeting--be sure that you have learned all your vocabulary lists by then.

Last modified May 26, 2020, by Phil Hubbard