Listening skills in the EFL classroom

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Listening, like reading,  is a passive skill but this does not make it any less important than the active skills of speaking or writing. After all, we cannot have a conversation if we can’t follow what the other person is saying. Think about the following questions related to teaching listening skills and then read on for the answers:

  1. What types of listening skills do we use?
  2. Is listening in the classroom more difficult than listening in the real world or vice versa?
  3. How can we make sure listening in the classroom helps students in the real world?

1. What types of listening skills do we use? 

In the same way that we read in different ways, we have different sub-skills of listening too. A teenager listens to their parents talking about what time they have to be home in a different way to how we listen to someone giving us directions that we have asked for. The 3 sub-skills of listening are:

  • Listening for gist. 
  • Listening for specific information.
  • Listening for detail.

So what kind of listening do you think the teenager does? Or the person receiving directions? Read on to find out…

It is important that in the classroom we practise all 3 sub-skills to help our students when they’re outside the classroom.

2. Is listening in the classroom more difficult than listening in the real world or vice versa?

There are several things that make listening in the classroom tricky for our students:

  • The quality of the recording may be poor.
  • Students may be distracted by other students.
  • Students may feel under pressure to get the answers right.
  • Students may think they have to understand every word and then panic when they don’t.
  • Students might not understand what they should be listening for.
  • Students have not had a chance or are not encouraged to activate schemata (think about what they already know about the topic and use that to help them understand the text).
  • The teacher may not have taken the time to set the scene and set the context.

But similarly, listening outside of the classroom has its own challenges:

  • The language might not be graded to the students’ level.
  • Students may be confronted with an accent they are not familiar with.
  • The speaker may speak very fast.
  • There may be a lot of background noise, making understanding challenging.
  • Students fail to activate schemata as an aid to understanding.
  • The speaker is more likely to use phonological features such as connected speech that confuse the learner.

3. How can we make sure listening in the classroom helps students in the real world?

  • Provide students with lots of listening practice in the classroom and encourage them to listen to podcasts etc. outside the classroom.
  • Make sure the speakers have a variety of accents so students are exposed to different types of English (coursebooks are now much better at doing this). They should be listening to non-native as well as native speakers.
  • Grade the task rather than the text. It’s ok for students to listen to a more difficult text if the task they are given to do is graded to their level and therefore achievable.
  • Make sure students know what they are listening for before they start listening so they know how to listen eg are they listening to understand the general gist or for detail?
  • Make sure students can check their answers in pairs before checking as a class to give them the reassurance their answers are correct or for weaker students to get some help.
  • Include some pre-listening tasks. This could be pre-teaching some important lexis, prediciting exercises or exercises to activate schemata. 


The teenager listening to his parents is listening for specific information eg what time he has to be home, whereas the person listening for directions is listening for detail, they want to absorb as many of the directions as possible.

What else could we do to help our students with listening?


Author: Amanda Momeni

A CELTA tutor, English language tutor and co-author of The Ultimate Guide to CELTA

4 thoughts on “Listening skills in the EFL classroom”

  1. One small suggestion that I have found useful is to ensure that novice teachers think of listening as a ‚receptive skill‘ rather than a ‚passive‘ one. This small change can begin to move them away from thinking listening ‚just happens’ to understand that active techniques can help their learners.

    Liked by 1 person

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