Why listen to things that we find easy?

2015-09-15


AudiobookWe'll be progressively adding audio to our stories and articles over the coming months and there's a sample on our homepage in the Elementary article about the Bedouin. Following our recent post about the benefits of reading for lower level learners, here's some thoughts on the benefits of listening for the same group. 

At school or university, our teachers almost always select passages for us to listen to that include new vocabulary or difficult grammar. It's the same reason that we get thirteen-year-olds to read Shakespeare: it's good for them. Sadly, for every young teenager that becomes a devoted fan of the dramatist for life, there are tens - hundreds? - who never want to see a play of his again.

But this has been a feature of most people's language lessons for as long as any of us can remember. Can all our teachers be wrong? According to Steven Krashen, the answer is yes. Although Krashen is more interested in the power of reading - to borrow the title of one of his books, the same argument applies to listening. If we listen to songs or stories that are easy for us to understand, we build up the speed with which we recognise words as they are spoken. We notice more examples of grammatical forms that we have learnt but have not yet made part of our own linguistic repertoire.

But listening is not just a way of consolidating vocabulary and syntax. When we understand the linguistic elements of what we are reading, we can really devote all our attention to the content. This is of course the point. We listen to things in order to grasp their meaning, whether they are songs, films, news broadcasts, whatever. We want to understand why someone has bothered to say or sing something. We can only really do that when we turn our attention away from the words and how they are arranged in sentences towards their meaning. It's hard to do that when we listen only to rehearse a grammar point.