The Listening Project

Where does the time go? Only thirty or so days ago, I was writing my list of New Year’s Resolutions, in which updating my blog regularly featured highly.

We’re now into February, and with all of my other resolutions irrevocably shattered, I thought I might just be able to salvage this one lonely promise from the wreckage. So here goes…


The Listening Project

My upper-intermediate class of learners, when asked what they’d like to do more of in class, frequently request listening. I’ve tried to meet this need, and yet I am often left with the nagging feeling that many of the course book texts we use don’t quite cut it.

In case this is starting to sound like a course book bashing post, I should add that course book texts and activities are not the sole problem. Even as a teacher with almost twenty years of experience, I still find the listening skill one of the most difficult to teach. If I had a pound for every time I’d played a recording to my class, only to find that some learners understood every word first time while other learners had only a shaky grasp of the text multiple listens later, then I’d be a wealthy woman indeed.

I came across The Listening Project a few years ago and I used it to help me design some resources for an online language learning platform I was working on at the time. I’d actually forgotten all about it until a couple of weeks ago, when I decided to use it with my upper intermediate students.

What is The Listening Project?

The Listening Project is the result of a partnership between BBC Radio 4, BBC local and national radio stations, and the British Library. It’s a collection of intimate discussions recorded by people all over the UK, and aims to “capture the nation in conversation”. By visiting the site (and searching by theme) you can listen to conversations on a world of topics, for example:

Two friends discussing their memories of fleeing the Holocaust

A mother talking to her children about her funeral arrangements

A wife talking about the challenges of living with her husband (who has Tourette’s syndrome).

Why is it worth trying out in class?

  • You can listen to texts on a wide range of topics. For PARSNIPS fans, there’s plenty to chew on.
  • As the conversations are recorded all over the UK, you can expose your learners to a wide range of regional accents.
  • The conversations you’ll hear are totally natural and spontaneous. Amusingly, my learners got quite irritated with the false starts and repetitions so characteristic of spoken English!
  • Many of the topics lend themselves well to class discussions. As many of the conversations are topical, it is relatively easy to source texts for further reading/listening work.

What can I do with it?

  • As I am lucky enough to have a computer suite in my room, I asked learners to listen individually. This meant that they could work at their own pace, listening as many times as they needed to.
  • Ask learners to listen and transcribe an extract of the text. (You might find it useful to transcribe it yourself beforehand).
  • Split learners into groups and give them different texts to listen to. Ask learners to prepare comprehension texts for another group. Then get learners to swap texts and questions.
  • Ask learners to record their own conversations, following the guidelines on the site. Learners can then choose to submit their conversations to the BBC, or they can be used as a learner generated learning activity.
  • If you have time, choose a text and prepare activities in advance. This is time consuming, but worth it. Here’s an example of a lesson I designed (feel free to use it) on a conversation about an absent father.  Absent_Father_Listening_Project
  • Ask learners to choose conversations which interest them for subsequent lessons. I tend to veer towards the darker side of life in my textual choices. When my learners were given free reign they came up with altogether sunnier topics!

I’m sure there are many useful sites to practise listening. Do you know of anything similar?


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2 Responses to The Listening Project

  1. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi Genevieve,
    I’m sure you can salvage this resolution 🙂
    I’ve got a blogpost on podcasts for language learners at The listening project is based on an NPR project (the name of which I’ve forgotten right now, but it involves recording booths in public places), and the TED talk about how it was set up is fascinating to listen to. I first heard the TED talk on the TED Radio Hour, one of my favourite podcasts.
    If you haven’t read Listening in the Language Classroom or Teaching Second Language Listening: A Metacognitive Approach (both recommended to me by Lizzie Pinard), I’d highly recommend them. I found them both incredibly useful.
    Good luck!

  2. joco75 says:

    Hi Sandy,
    Thanks for popping by – it’s very nice to see you here. You’ve given me lots of food for thought too!
    Thanks so much for the link and for the reading suggestions. I think I have a dim and distant recollection of reading “Listening in the Language Classroom” for my DELTA – clearly one I need to revisit though. 🙂 And I’ve just popped the “Teaching Second Language Listening” onto my wish list – it looks really good. I’ll also be checking out the TED radio hour too.
    Thanks again!

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