What is Extensive Listening?

EL involves

  • listening to (or being involved in) massive amounts of text
  • text which learners can understand reasonably smoothly
  • high levels of comprehension
  • listening without being constrained by pre-set questions or tasks
  • listening at or below one’s comfortable fluent listening ability

EL is NOT …

  • listening for specific information
  • listening for the exact words of a phrase or expression
  • listening for details
  • listening to mimic a text

 These are intensive listening exercises aimed at improving specific skills or answering pre-determined questions.

 Why would we do it?

  • to improve our automaticity in recognizing spoken text
  • to enjoy the listening (the aim is not to study the text intensively)
  • to practice the listening skill
  • for knock on effects such as tuning into pronunciation and noticing intonation patterns

What is Extensive Listening?

Extensive Listening (EL) is a way to improve your listening fluency. But what is listening fluency?  When you learn a language, there are two things you need to do.  First, you need to learn the grammar and the vocabulary and so on. Most people practice with grammar books and vocabulary books and by learning for tests by analyzing the words and grammar in detail – learning their rules and how they work. This method is similar to learning how a car engine or a radio works. You can take the engine to pieces little by little, examining it and you can find out how each part (the grammar and vocabulary) of the engine works by itself. While this is a good thing to do, it’s not the only thing you need to so. Taking an engine to pieces doesn’t teach you how to drive the car (use the language). To be a good language user you have to know how to use the language. And that means practice actually getting on the road and driving the car – actually listening, reading, writing and speaking English.

The second thing you need to learn is how the grammar and vocabulary go together to make communicative messages and how they live and breathe as a living thing. The best way to do this is to read or listen to language which you understand. If you understand almost all of the text you listen to, you can build your word recognition speed, you’ll notice more uses of grammar points, more collocations and generally your brain will be working very effectively. The listening, provided it is done at the correct level, will also help improve automatic processing of language (immediate and fluency processing) which allows your working memory to concentrate on comprehending what you are listening to.

So, building fluency means building your listening speed. This means being able to understand almost everything you are listening to at the level you are listening. A beginner level student would listen to something with very few unknown words and the simplest of grammar. An intermediate level listener would choose a listening text that had a wider range of vocabulary and grammar, but, importantly it is still quite easy. So the important point here is that ‘difficulty’ is NOT a property of a text, but of the listener. A given text may be easy for one person, but the same text may not be easy for another. Therefore one’s ability level decides whether a given listening text is easy or not.