“peripheral listening”???


deceive their consciousness – and they will immediately hear better and undesrtand more. read on to find out how.

Listening comprehension appears to be one of the trickiest skills to teach. This is especially true about  Ukrainian and Russian natives as these languages are very different both phonologically and in terms of structure.


One reason why students often find it next to impossible to get the message even if they do hear separate words is they try to listen in a “linear” fashion just as they would read- that is, word-by-word. The problem is that they cannot think as fast as the recording goes, so while they are figuring out what the first part of a sentence means, the second part will have already gone – and they will have missed it. You may try to persuade learners to listen to the keywords ignoring the rest – and figure out the meanings based on those key words – but a lot of them will find this technique very uncomfortable. “I cannot do it”, they keep moaning, their conscious brain rebelling against the necessity to simply immerse themselves into the recording and let the unconscious mind do the decyphering for them.


One thing I tried out with several “difficult” learners was to

  • first pre-teach some of the key vocabulary from the recording (and I ALWAYS pre-teach words through discussions so they will have both heard the words and used them), then, briefly set the scene for what they are about to hear – and then…
  • no – no regular “listen for general gist” stuff. I told them to relax and listen to the recording without trying to figure out any ideas expressed in it – but SIMPLY TICK THE KEY WORDS on their worksheet as they hear them. And that’s it. We  do find exercises like that suggested by coursebooks, but they usually go under “listen for detail” category meaning it is a second go at  listening. So I boldly reversed the order – with very interesting results!

All the students in question were not only able to tick most of the words as they heard them – not a big deal, eh? Surprisingly, they understood most of the key ideas after the first go. I had not expected much – I gave that task to merely “tune them up” to the recording to facilitate the further listening. We did not really have to listen again, though!

What I think happened is… deception! I deceived their consciousness. They thought they were to do a simple task ticking the familiar words. Their “peripheral”  hearing was still active, and the brain processing information – but their consciousness was not standing in their way any more, so they DID hear AND understood without any special effort – based on  keywords, actually… So thay did what I wanted them to without realizing that.

My inference is that by reversing the order of listening activities – starting with “listening for detail” instead of  “listening for gist”, however illogical it may seem, we may achieve better results. I will be experimenting with this technique with different types of texts  and students to collect more data on that.


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