Advanced Listening and Vocabulary Development

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EFS 693B
Week 8 Notes


I. Words on independent study

    A. Independent study and motivation:

        - Set a schedule and try to keep to it. Try to do some English every day this week.

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

    B. Reviewing previous work. You can go back and listen to material you have previously listened to if you want for review and for deeper comprehension.

    C. Analysis of understood material. Once you've comprehended a piece, your job isn't done: you can listen to it (or parts of it) closely to notice things like grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, reduced forms, linking, rhythm, 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.

    D. 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):

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

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

        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. Friends: The One with all the Thanksgivings (Season 5, Episode 8).

    A. Preliminary:

    B. Captions on--focus on vocabulary

    C. Try to interact with the material, especially after the first time through--don't just watch straight through once "for pleasure" alone.

    D. Finding idioms: Review a piece of the transcript and look for phrases that you aren't familiar with. Discuss how you would find out what they mean.

V. Watching TV comedies:

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 online (e.g., ) or DVD.

3) Although commercials can be fun and useful practice themselves, they are meant to be distracting.  You can mute the TV (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). Of course if you are working from recordings, commercials are not an issue.

4) 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. I believe all the seasons are available as DVDs to check out of Green Library. You can get the transcripts for Friends at Note KTVU also has Big Bang Theory, a current but more challenging sitcom weeknights at 6:30 and 7:00, and recent episodes (with captions) can be found at Bang Theory transcripts are at The scripts will be particularly helpful if you can record the shows (or find recordings) and listen to them using some of the techniques we've discussed in class.

If you like British humor (though the accents can be challenging), British comedy shows can often be found on Channel 9. And if you like other types of comedy, including “standup”, there’s a whole channel on cable called Comedy Central. You can see some clips at

Finally, EFS has two relevant courses if you want to pursue this more formally: EFS 696, Understanding American Humor, in the spring, and EFS 689H, American Humor, in the summer.

VI. Friends: The One with all the Thanksgivings (Season 5, Episode 8) -- Continued



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 do something every day for 15 or more minutes (even if just reviewing vocabulary).

2) Go to Finish FlashACE Advanced Lessons 4-5. Remember to include some dictation.

3)  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.

Last modified May 23, 2017, by Phil Hubbard