Friday, 5 February 2010

Listening: What's the aim? (part 2)

In a posting last year, I listed what I consider to be five valid aims for listening tasks in ESP courses. To recap, these are:  
  1. To provide listening practice.
  2. To teach listening skills.
  3. To provide an interesting topic for discussion.
  4. To present useful language in context.
  5. To serve as a model for speaking activities (and, by extension, for real-life situations).
In that posting, I tried to deal with aims 1 and 2, and I promised I'd come back to the meatier ones later. So here goes with aim 5.

What about 3 and 4, I hear you cry? Well, aim 5 happens to be the one that was very prominent in my ESP Consultancy in Cyprus last week, so I thought I'd deal with it while it's fresh in my mind.

So ... listening as a model for speaking activities. It's a bit of an odd aim, since it's not really a listening aim at all. But here's why I think it's important:
  • I believe a key part of ESP is situational, i.e. training learners to cope with real-life situations that they are likely to encounter and that are likely to cause them problems in their professional lives.
  • If we're going to train them for those situations, we need to provide functional language input and opportunities to practise in controlled and less controlled activities.
  • Rather than providing that functional language input in isolation and out of context, I believe we need to provide good models of successful communication in those situations. The models should include not just useful language, but also communication strategies (e.g. the importance of interrupting or clarifying) and professional skills (e.g. active listening or empathy skills).
  • The models can be presented as a written script, but it's far more satisfying to hear people actually acting out that script, or even watch them on video or live.
Before I go any further, I need to say that of course there's far far more to ESP than that, and that teaching functional language is not the be all and end all. It's a messy business, as I'll explain in another post soon.

Anyway, if you're with me so far, we need scripts and we need them to be performed. Tricky. There are three potential sources.

Firstly and ideally, we'd find a ready-made script tailored to our students' needs somewhere in a coursebook. That's actually one of the big reasons my own books are so full of listenings and situational dialogues - because I think they're important and because I think they're hard for ESP teachers to find or create by themselves.

Secondly, we'd find some useful clips online. This is actually quite tough, even in these days of YouTube. It seems most of the videos you can find online seem to be non-situational, i.e. they don't represent the sorts of situations our learners are likely to find themselves in. There are plenty of interviews with experts, plenty of talking-head monologues, plenty of clips with not much useful language at all ...

But you can find them if you try. A year or so ago I set myself the challenge of finding something on YouTube for each of the first four books in my series. This was a bit superfluous, since I already had all the scripts I could want for those four areas in the books themselves, but it seemed like a reasonable challenge. Here are the results.

For Nursing, I found a clip from a BBC drama series, Casualty, which is about doctors and nurses in a hospital. I can't say I've watched the programme (I'm not one for TV dramas, I'm afraid), but it's worth remembering that there are plenty of dramas around. Of course, you might not find a drama series relevant to your ESP learners, but it's worth a try.

For Engineering, I searched YouTube for "cool engineering demonstration", and found this one, which indeed is really cool. The point is, the presenter is using the same type of language that real life engineers need to use when explaining their gadgets. There seem to be plenty of light entertainment programmes with engineers explaining things too, like Robot Wars and Brainiac (search YouTube if you haven't seem them - they're nerdy but excellent).

For Jobhunting, I searched for "funny job interview", and found all sorts of examples, including one from Monty Python, but the one I chose was a brilliant interview for a job with a box manufacturer ... which has been removed from YouTube. Shame. Anyway, here's another one. Comedy series in general are great for how-not-to-do-it, and often contain some great functional language, although the really funny ones always seem to contain some strong language (which I'll leave you to discover).

To help me get over my disappointment at finding my favourite Jobhunting video missing and the other good ones full of swearing, here's another great ESP/HR video from Big Train, this time about losing a job.

Finally, for English for the Media, I wanted to find an example of a debriefing meeting at a TV company, and came across this clip from a fly-on-the-wall documentary. Again, documentaries can be a great source of authentic situational language.

So ... there's stuff there if you look hard enough for it, but ... it's a bit hit and miss. There's no guarantee the clips you find will match your course aims in terms of content and target functional language. And of course there's the next problem: transcribing the useful language and making exercises out of it. I've tried that a few times recently, such as this lesson on recycling televisions - useful for engineers explaining what's happening in different parts of a factory, etc. But it's hard work.

So I'm coming to the conclusion that it's better to write and record your own scripts ... which is the long-awaited "thirdly" in my list of three sources. But that creates its own problems. And since it's now very nearly midnight, I'll have to save that for another post.

Related posts:


  1. Great post and thanks so much for the link to the videos: especially the fly on the wall documentary!


  2. Glad you like the post, Karenne. I'll link to some of your great posts on using videos if I ever get round to writing part 3 of this series.

    The fly-on-the-wall doc is great, and there's a whole series up on YouTube, with links to a blog about the series, I seem to remember. A great resource for Media students.



  3. I am teaching a French doctor, who works in an emergency room. I think he is going to like the videos from the BBC Casualty. I hope it works well for him and for me!!

  4. Looking forward to your promised "Listening: What's the aim? part 3"