~ Last updated April 2, 2004 for the TESOL Internet Classics Fair ~


Technology, Techniques, and Materials for Web Listening

March 27, 2003

TESOL 2003: Baltimore, Maryland


Phil Hubbard, Stanford University efs@stanford.edu

Greg Kessler, Ohio University kessler@ohio.edu

John Madden, University of Texas at Austin jmadden@mail.utexas.edu



Introduction: This page contains the extended notes of our talk at TESOL 2003 with active links, some additional annotation, and supplementary material from audience members and site visitors.


I. Demonstration of a web-based listening activity (John):

Sample lesson 1: Supplementing a text: "Talk it Through!": Golf Course Construction in San Antonio, TX


II. Background: listening theory and listening practice in relation to the web (John)

A. Listening theory:

Listening comprehension is an interaction between two general groups of processes that depend on memory:

1.     Bottom up: Perception / Decoding / Word identification (Sound system, Syntax)

2.     Top down: Word identification / Prediction / Comprehension / Response (Semantics, Pragmatics, World Knowledge)

Memory is reconstructive. The groups of processes support each other. Lack of skill with the sound system may limit comprehension or the effectiveness of predictions. Lack of familiarity with semantics, concepts or culture may limit perception.

B. Listening practice and the web:

The web allows repeated practice with a variety of authentic materials that can supplement and transcend what students receive in class or in their local communities.

C. Implications. Good web listening lessons:

1.     Are organized: The web draws people in. So, set a task. Make a task sheet. Have a goal. Do pre- and post-listening.

2.     Give comprehension help: Group students. Talk first; listen second; then, talk again.

3.     Supplement: Build on your text or the interests of your class. Follow up on listening through homework, e-mail and discussion.

4.     Challenge students: Use authentic English, even if it’s a bit fast, noisy, accented or difficult in terms of topic

5.     Are oriented to the global village: Use the computer to localize “foreign” languages. Introduce in class. Practice at home

6.     Build listening skills: Exchange e-mail about listening. Practice now; perfect later. Assign projects.

III. Technology for listening via the web (Greg)

 A. Variety of web listening file types and what they mean


1.     .mov (QuickTime movie file)

2.     .aiff (Apple Audio file)

3.     .wav (Windows Audio file)

4.     .avi (Windows Video File)

5.     .au (Windows Audio File)

6.     .rm (Real file)

7.     .ram (Real file)

8.     .midi (musicians interface file)

9.     .mp3 (music audio file)

10.  .swf (Macromedia Shockwave/Flash file)


Some important points about these files types:


1.     Players are available for all on all platforms


2.     All are applicable to web listening for language instruction.


3.     Some video files that include audio content are useful


4.     Some audio files are formatted as video files for delivery purposes


5.     Some users may have difficulty with certain file formats due to security and anticipation of use


B. Streaming


Prior to streaming we had to wait for entire file to download before use (still an option for some purposes)


Varieties of streaming:


1.     True streaming - you never actually keep a copy of the file itself, but link to it while using it


2.     Pseudo-streaming (progressive download) - you actually may make a local copy of files of shorter duration (this is also possible from any ordinary web server!!)


3.     Synchronous/Asynchronous streaming – Real-time audio delivery or on-demand


4.     Non-streaming (from a CD, DVD, computer or server) – implemented in a manner that is seamless to the user


Why is streaming so cool?


1.     Compression technologies allow for seemingly large files to be distributed


2.     Many users can access the same file at the same time (at different points, etc.)


3.     Not only limited to audio, but can incorporate text, video, images, etc.


4.     Streaming files allows you to easily make changes to the files on your server, replace them with new versions, etc


What are the three major types of streaming?


1.     QuickTime

2.     Real

3.     Windows Media


Each requires a special server

Each requires a player (free for now)


How do these three compare?


1.     Obvious benefits exist between QT and media player for those of us dedicated to one platform, but the players are there for the others as well.


2.     QuickTime offers highest quality for the level of compression (MPEG4) but as it is not shipped with each and every windows based computer (as Media player is) it is not as common. 


3.     MP is not as flexible as QuickTime and does not allow as many options for encoding and developing (such as embedding flash)


4.     WMP has recently borrowed many features from QuickTime and it is expected to gain more ground in this competition


5.     Real is very nice for delivery using minimal bandwidth and great for protecting files from users manipulating and user them in their own ways, but this may be a drawback


Other considerations with streaming


1.     Streaming your own material vs. receiving streaming

2.     Using a non-streaming method does not require the infrastructure that streaming does, it is also only available to those individuals that have a CD


IV. Types/sources of listening materials: only free sites are listed (Phil).


A. Dedicated CALL materials: selected sites


1.     English, Baby!http://www.englishbaby.com/. A commercial site, but presently free. Includes five new lessons per week, 3-4 of which are typically listening based, with text, quiz, and glossary. The new lessons replace those from the previous week, but institutions can purchase access to their extensive archives. Authentic, entertaining material geared toward teens and twenties. Great for advanced students but can be daunting for lower levels. Requires RealPlayer.

2.     Randall’s Cyber Listening Lab http://www.esl-lab.com/. A non-commercial site developed by Randall Davis. Includes over 140 exercises divided into 4 groups: general listening, academic listening, long conversations with video, and short exercises. Some are quite engaging (see for example “A Great Car Deal”). Exercises are also divided into easy, medium, difficult, and very difficult. Lessons have pre- and post-listening exercises, the latter including quizzes and text completion. Transcripts include glossed vocabulary. Requires RealPlayer.

3.     About.com - http://esl.about.com/cs/listening/. This is the listening section of a large ESL site hosted by Kenneth Beare. Includes a variety of listening activities divided by levels. Exercises range from number identification and spelling to short dialogues and reports. Also has links to other ESL and native speaker sites for listening. Free, but filled with advertisements including flashing banners and extra browser windows opening. Some files play directly through browser; others require RealPlayer.

4.     California Distance Learning Project - http://www.cdlponline.org. A free resource of listening materials, lessons and supportive instructional activities related to news stories, created by California Department of Education. Includes both transcripts and support exercises. A good source for lower level learners. Requires RealPlayer.


B. Native speaker sites


1.     Online news hourwww.pbs.org/newshour/video . Has video segments from the PBS show, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. Current as well as archived programs back to February 7, 2000. Videos have a transcript which appears beneath the video window. Archives of audio programs go back even further. Requires RealPlayer.

2.     CNN Student Newswww.cnn.com/fyi. This is the newest incarnation of the old CNN Newsroom feature. This one has a single new story each weekday in video on the web (the whole 10 minute piece can be videotaped off CNN from 3:12 AM to 3:22 AM Eastern Time M-F). There is an accompanying reading that is similar in content and structure but not a word-for-word transcription. Includes discussion questions and other suggested class activities. Video requires a password which you get for free by signing up for their email newsletter. Requires RealPlayer or QuickTime Player.

3.     Scientific American Frontiers www.pbs.org/saf/archive.htm. An amazing site with all the Scientific American Frontiers shows back to 1990 archived. Since they allow educators to videotape their broadcast shows and use them for up to a year, this is also a good support site for classroom video use. Includes quizzes and other support materials. Requires RealPlayer.

4.     Marketplacewww.marketplace.org/. A daily public radio show that maintains several years of audio archives. Shows prior to December 24, 2002 include transcripts. Excellent for building vocabulary because the transcripts are accessible to Babylon (www.babylon.com/) and other online dictionaries (unlike the Online News Hour and Scientific American Frontiers). Especially interesting to students in business and economics. Requires RealPlayer.

5.     Script-o-ramawww.script-o-rama.com/. Online site with transcripts of many movies and TV shows (has all episodes of Friends, for instance). This is a valuable website for support of videotape or DVD viewing either in class or individually by students.



V. Examples of web-based listening techniques and activities (all)


A. Phil’s examples. My listening activities are based in a listening comprehension class taught to first-quarter graduate students (www.stanford.edu/group/efs/efs693a). Web materials are used primarily for homework and to introduce students to sites and techniques for using them effectively once the course is completed.

1.     Using English, Baby! Among other things, I suggest students do the quiz as open-ended rather than multiple choice by scrolling the window until they can just see the question and not the possible answers. After they think they know the answer, then they can see the possible responses and make their choice. I also show them how to drag the corner of the RealPlayer window to the right so that it opens up the full width of the screen: this gives much better control over the audio playback to the students.

2.     Using Randall’s Cyber Listening Lab. Among other things, I advise students to select familiar topics if they want to focus on language development (especially vocabulary) and processing, and less familiar topics for more of a challenge for global listening. For difficult material, especially in an unfamiliar area, they may want to review the script first. The techniques listed above for English, Baby! also work with Randall’s Lab.

3.     Using sites with scripts (e.g., Marketplace), in conjunction with Babylon. I recommend to students that they engage actively in increasing their vocabulary, and this is easier to do when there are transcripts available. Babylon, a hypertext dictionary, works with transcripts like those found at the Marketplace site, but not with the Scientific American or Online News Hour sites above.


B. Greg’s examples. My examples are based in an advanced graduate level oral communication course (on par, but not limited to ITA level training)


1. Using self-produced audio and/or video embedded in web page

Of students



2. Using non-streaming materials (not available online!)

Delivered from a file server

Specialized digital video server



3. Using PurevoiceŽ:

this program allows you to record and play back audio email attachments. It is especially good for teacher commentary since you can insert responses or feedback into a student’s recording without erasing the original. It is available for free (both PC and Mac) at www.cdmatech.com/solutions/products/purevoice_download.html



C. John’s examples

            1. Sample lesson 2: Introducing Web Listening: Conversations about Time

Notes to accompany Conversations about Time



Other Resources: Note, if anyone has good listening resources they would like to share, please email Phil efs@stanford.edu.  Be sure to annotate them, so we know what they are, and I’ll put them on the site.


Ohio University ESL Listening Resources.  Lists of links for listening resources, activities and  suggestions for improving listening skill. Includes most of the sites presented above and others.


University of Wisconsin streaming (RealŽ) overview of streaming technologies.  An overview of streaming technology for the non-technical. Provides more detailed explanations for IIIB above.  


BBC World Service.  Home page of BBC World Service. Has lots of current BBC audio material. Also has streaming live radio broadcasts.


BBC English Learning.  Part of BBC World Service with programs and activities aimed at English language learners.



Resources Suggested by Others:


The following seven sites were submitted by Helen Solorzano hsolorzano@attbi.com. These are especially useful for academic English.


Ethics Videos on the Web

from the Values Institute at University of San Diego


Lectures and discussions on many ethical issues from classes, conferences, and special events.  See especially "Classroom Lectures on Ethical Theory" by Lawrence M. Hinman, University of San Diego.

Excellent quality video and audio.


Linear Algebra

An entire course of lectures by Prof. Strang of MIT.



Video Lecture Showcase

from the Distributed Education Program at Portland State University


Classroom lectures in 23 different disciplines.

Audio/video quality varies.  Some links don’t work.


The Chance Videos

from Dartmouth University Mathematics Department

Lectures on a variety of topics concerning statistics.


Video with overhead slides cued to the lecture.


Stanford Business School

Several lectures on business topics.



National Institutes of Health

Lectures on a variety of health-related topics.  Most are extremely technical, but see the section on Work and Family Life Center Seminars for more general topics.



Stanford University Health Video Library

Lectures on health topics.






Last updated April 2, 2004 by Phil Hubbard