July 2013
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Dafne Gonzalez & Rubena St. Louis Universidad Simón Bolívar, Caracas, Venezuela

Dafne Gonzalez

Rubena St. Louis


Listening, the “Cinderella skill” (Nunan, 1997), is crucial in language learning as it is, along with speaking, perhaps the most “used skill” in human communication. Today, with technology increasingly eliminating world barriers, there is the need for foreign language (FL) learners to be exposed to World Englishes, the speech of native and nonnative English speakers from around the world, as early as possible. Teachers, therefore, need to have access to, and provide their students with, a variety of spoken English, and this might pose a challenge to those who work in EFL and online contexts.

Research has shown the importance of listening in second language acquisition (Rost, 2001; Vandergrift, 2007). Rost suggests that the more successful acquirer is able “...to use listening as a means of acquisition” (p. 94). Knowledge of a large number of high frequency words is also required (Nation, 2006; Stahr, 2009), as well as the use of adequate listening strategies. Nevertheless, listening in a FL continues to be a challenge for many students, with lexical difficulty, and rate of speech and pronunciation (which includes word stress and intonation) cited as causes for learner anxiety. This, in turn, may affect learner self-confidence and motivation (Kurita, 2012), so it is important that listening materials be developed to help students work on these areas from their first encounter with the language.

One of the characteristics of online language courses is the absence of face-to-face interaction whereby the learner can hear the spoken language and use facial and body clues to aid communication. As a result, a large quantity of audio material, in a variety of formats, needs to be available to online learners, with activities that promote the use of different listening strategies. This can be done with resources found on the web. The objective of this article is to look at different listening sources and free applications available on the Internet and show how they can be used as input for creating activities for basic English online courses (BEOC).

Listening Sources

The Internet is a rich source of videos and podcasts where teachers can find content created by L1 and competent L2 speakers. This variety of accents will help students understand English spoken in the world today. Videos can help basic learners by giving visual support to activate their world knowledge and so aid comprehension. While Google can be used to look for specific videos or podcasts, there are a number of sites with material covering a range of topics and appealing to different age groups. This includes songs for children, fairy tales, grammatical explanations, vocabulary, and documentaries (list of sites).

Some sites include scripts and ready-made activities, but teachers can also use thisinput to create listening activities geared towards their students’ linguistic levels and specific listening needs. Content from these sites can be used for working on top-down strategies to help learners compensate for their lack of linguistic knowledge. Scripts can be used to locate specific language areas which can then be brought to the learners’ attention.

Alternatively, teachers can produce their own podcasts or videos. There are countless applications to help teachers create listening materials either directly on the web, or downloaded to work offline (list of tools). Applications that allow online recording like Audioboo or Chirbit provide embedding codes or URLs to post the resources created. Downloaded applications like Audacity permit offline recording, which is then uploaded to online storage sites like SoundCloud.

Videos can also be created online (Stupeflix) or offline (Windows Movie Maker) using images and narration. Animated cartoons can be created with GoAnimate to create a setting for listening. These videos can then be uploaded to YouTube, for example. Vocabulary can be presented and learned through flashcard applications like Quizlet, which has a dictation option, or with words and sounds using Wordsmyth or WordDynamo. Interactive audio exercises, including dictations, can be created at EducaPlay, and ESLvideo can be used for checking comprehension.

Listening in BEOC

These online sites and applications can be used in different ways to expose students in a BEOC to a large amount of aural input and to work on specific areas. However, before teachers begin creating or adapting activities, they must first determine the objective they wish to achieve, bearing in mind the learners’ needs.

The following are only some of the ways in which these applications can be used to create activities. (Click on the links to see examples in the wiki associated with this article)

  • Teachers can introduce themselves, the course or lesson objective, with a video, podcast or voki. (Example)
  • Grammatical explanations can be given through video or presentations with sound. (Example)
  • Instructions for different activities can be recorded and words and images used for support. (Example )
  • Vocabulary can be introduced through flash cards with images, words, and audio, or with video. (Example)
  • Animation can be used to place language in an authentic setting. (Example)
  • Text-to-Speech (TTS) software can generate different voices. (Example)
  • Dictations can be created, which will allow students to practice their listening recognition skills. (Example)

After being exposed to listening input, students can check their comprehension by

  • checking words they have heard on a list,
  • doing dictations (word list or longer texts), and
  • checking on “true or false” questions.

Students can practice their speaking skills by making recordings for teachers and peers to listen to using these same applications. These activities include

  • repeating after listening to words/sentences,
  • recording dialogues from written scripts, and
  • recording their own dialogues with peers.


Listening is often a challenge in online courses, which can limit the amount of aural input a participant receives and reduce the presence of the teacher. The sites and tools presented here can be used to successfully overcome these obstacles, once teachers know the objective they want to achieve.


Nation, I. S. P. (2006). How large a vocabulary is needed for reading and listening? The Canadian Modern Language Review, 63, 59–82.

Nunan, D. (1997). Listening in language learning. The Language Teacher, 21(9). Retrieved from http://jalt-publications.org/old_tlt/files/97/sep/nunan.html

Kurita, T. (2012). Issues in second language listening comprehension and the pedagogical implications. Accents Asia, 5(1), 30–44.

Rost, M. (2001). Teaching and researching listening. London: Longman.

Stahr, L. S. (2009). Vocabulary knowledge and advanced listening comprehension in English as a foreign language. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 31, 577–607.

Vandergrift, L. (2007). Recent developments in second and foreign language listening comprehension research. Language Teaching, 40, 191–210.

Dafne Gonzalez is a full professor at Universidad Simon Bolivar, in Caracas, Venezuela, and has been an ESP/EFL teacher for more than 30 years. Since 2002, she has been designing and teaching blended and fully online courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels. In her free time, she likes to cook, read, and walk.

Rubena St. Louis is a senior lecturer at Universidad Simon Bolivar, in Caracas, Venezuela. She has been teaching ESP for more than 15 years and designing web-based materials since 2002. She is an avid reader.

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