Choosing Extensive Listening materials

Choosing the right EL materials for your library is a major undertaking. The choices are;

    • using the audio for graded readers either cassette or downloaded
    • downloading materials and burning them to a CD or audio device
    • using already produced listening materials online
    • using natural human voice either though discussions of reading loud
    • recording your own materials

It’s well known that many learners cannot listen at the same speed at which they can read. Many learners, especially from non-European language families, can only listen fluently to material two levels lower than their fluent reading level.

Materials from graded readers

Many students report that reader audio make the stories ‘come alive’ especially if well they are spoken by voice actors. Theses materials add a sense of authenticity to the listening task which can lead to higher motivation.

Downloading audio files

This is an option really only for the technically minded. We’ll publish a short guide how to do this soon.

Using natural voice.

We might call this expensive speaking or extensive chatting. Students can talk to each other, or the teacher can talk to the class. Monologues can become boring after a while so it needs to be spiced up. The major disadvantage with this is that th input is relatively random and yo can’t control what language the students say or her (if this important to you). We’ll post some ideas how to do this soon.

Using already produced online materials

There is tremendous variety in the materials available online. The vast majority is for native English speakers. Look here for some ideas.

Recording your own materials

This option will take considerable time but has the advantage of being tailored to your own students. You also have control over the topic, speed and so on. We’ll post some ideas how to do this soon.


Choosing the right materials

There are lots of EL materials you can use. Many publishers have CDs or audio cassettes which have a recording of graded readers. Graded readers are books at various difficulty levels, usually from Level 1 (which has only very basic words and very simple grammar) to Level 2 which has a few extra words and slightly higher grammar levels, and so on for Level 3, 4 and higher.  These recordings are often of a very high quality and are read in interesting ways. They can really help your understanding.

However, be very careful about assuming that because you can read say a 1000 headword graded reader smoothly, that you can also listen to it smoothly. For most Japanese people, this is not so. Most Japanese people’s listening speed is much slower than their reading speed. A good piece of advice is to listen to something two levels lower (easier) than your smooth reading level. And it’s a good idea to listen to the same text again a few times so your listening speed will increase.

Be careful of using Native level –authentic – listening materials

Many people believe that if they listen to English radio over the Internet, watch movies in English, or watch English TV shows, that their listening will improve because they are listening to authentic English. They believe that as the aim is to listen like a native, that it will be beneficial. However, for the majority of Japanese learners this would be a big mistake because it confuses the ‘what’ with the ‘how’.  The ultimate aim is to listen to native materials, but English speaking parents don’t give their 4 year old child Time magazine to read. Nor do they start them with Harry Potter. They start their reading by simple picture books with easy words and grammar and over time they introduce more difficult things. This is the same for language learning, so you too must start with something you too can understand.  Don’t worry about listening to very easy texts, everyone has to start somewhere!

For the vast majority of Japanese learners reading or listening to authentic English texts is not beneficial. We have already seen the reason and I’m sure you can guess why. Remember, to benefit from EL, the listening should be easy, because if it’s not easy, you don’t build fluency and can get frustrated and tired. So, only very very advanced learners of English (who have a very big vocabulary and a very deep sense of grammar) can really understand the foreign movies or TV show (or read Harry Potter) in English. For people who understand less than 90% of the movie, very little or no new English will be learnt, and thus watching the movie, linguistically, is just noise. The pictures may be great and maybe you can understand some of the movie through the image, but as a language learning exercise it isn’t very good because you didn’t understand the English.

Some people also think that if they listen in English and read the subtitles, that they can understand the English. This is also not so because the subtitles do not have all the words and are not always a direct translation. So in fact you’d only be understanding what the translation says, not what the original English says. Also, don’t be tempted to try children’s DVDs in English either, because these are spoken in child’s language and are thus unsuitable for adults. Also the language in these DVDs is not easy either – some of it is very complex even though it looks simple.


This is a very good idea. One main benefit of listening-while-reading is that you can build not only your reading vocabulary but you can see how written words are pronounced, and can sense the intonation as well. This can only help your listening ability. However, make sure that the speed of the CD or audio cassette is at a level that you can listen fluently (remember the 4 questions above?). If the recording is at a faster speed than you can listen, it’s not going to help.

Making difficult materials easy

If your EL listening materials are on a CD, you can burn them to a computer and listen to them there (or even put them on a music player to listen on the way to work or school). A big benefit of this is that if you have an iPod you can adjust the speed to make it easier to listen to!

Listening partners

Buying EL materials can be expensive, so it’s a good idea to find a Listening Partner, or a make a Listening Circle. If you buy materials and share them with others, you can instantly have a much wider library of things to listen to.  You can also encourage each other, discuss the interesting and boring things to listen to, and maybe make some friends at the same time.

Enjoy your listening

Learning to be a good listener takes time. Try to find a regular time each day to listen to English at your level. This could be on the bus, or the train, as you eat breakfast or even as you make dinner.  Just try to make it a regular habit and you’ll soon find your English listening improving very fast. If you find it hard to make a regular time by yourself, then make a regular meeting time each week with your Listening Partner or Listening Circle. Forcing yourself to make a time can help you focus. But the best piece of advice is have fun and you’ll not have to worry about making a commitment to your listening.