March 2019
ARTICLES
WEB-BASED TEACHING AND LEARNING OF ENGLISH LISTENING: A REVIEW OF TWO LEARNING PLATFORMS
Waheeb S. Albiladi, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA

Over the last decade, the use of technology-based programs and applications among language teachers and learners has increased dramatically. As a language learner and a current ESL teacher, these online-based websites have guided my learning journey and facilitated my teaching process. These tools allow for a more authentic and enjoyable way of teaching and learning. Even though computer-assisted language learning (CALL) is a promising field that can be used to develop all language domains (Roussel, 2011), I present here my experiences in relying on CALL to develop one language skill, listening.

Using these web-based tools in learning and teaching English listening allowed me to overcome boundaries in language classrooms, such as the lack of authentic language learning materials. Roussel (2011) mentions that learning language skills through CALL has many advantages for language learners, such as learning autonomy, flexibility, and repetition. As such, Roussel encourages teachers to prepare guidelines and provide opportunities for ESL students to use CALL to develop their language abilities. Following are some of the beneficial and helpful online-based websites I encourage language teachers and learners to use to practice listening. These platforms are ideal learning sources for ESL, EFL, and English for specific purposes language learners.

ELLLO

English Listening Lesson Library Online (ELLLO) is a website that is designed to allow language learners to practice and develop their listening skills. The website includes thousands of English audio materials that can be accessed freely by language learners using internet-equipped devices. This digital library provides listening activities and quizzes for learners with different language proficiency levels. Besides the regular listening file, the website also allows students to practice their oral skills in various forms, such as the following:

  • One Minute English: Students can watch and listen to speakers from around the world and then answer a question in a 1-minute segment.

  • Mixer: Students can listen to six different speakers share their opinions about same topic. Then, they have to answer some questions based on these opinions.

  • SixPix Game: Listeners interact with a short segment by matching audio with the best pictures that describe it.

  • News Center: Students listen to an animated short news segment and answer the provided questions.

  • Scenes: These are mini-series segments featuring everyday activities. Students can listen to them and answer some questions featuring these activities.

  • STeP: This activity combines listening with reading speed skills. Students have to listen to an audio segment and then do reading tests in a limited time.

ESL-Lab

ESL-Lab is another website devoted to providing language learners with various listening activities that examine different topics and fields. The website was created by Randall Davis, an ESL language specialist who has many years of experience in teaching English and educational technology and in teacher training. Similar to ELLLO, the website includes thousands of audio files that can be accessed freely via internet-equipped devices. These different accessibility options make it easy for language learners to use the website anytime and anywhere. The website provides listening practice for language learners at all proficiency levels. The website allows language learners to practice their listening comprehension using these sections:

  • General Listening Quizzes: Students can listen to a wide range of everyday conversations about different topics. This section includes listening activities with three levels of English proficiency: easy, medium, and difficult.

  • Basic Listening Quizzes: The section is for students with low proficiency levels (beginners and intermediate). Students can listen to short conversations and then take basic and short quizzes.

  • Listening Quizzes for Academic Purposes:This section is designed for students who are taking language examinations such as the TOEFL or TOEIC. It includes lectures, interviews, and long conversations for students with high intermediate and advanced proficiency levels.

  • 20-Minute ESL Vocabulary Lessons:This part contains vocabulary lessons. Students can listen to a 20-minute segment and then read and practice a list of vocabulary on different topics.

  • Language Learning and Life Tips:Here, students can listen to a long segment about one life-skill. Before listening, students are asked to read some discussion questions and try to find the answer within the lecture.

The Benefits of Using These Websites

From my perspective as a language learner, using ELLLO and ESL-Lab allowed me to shift from developing my listening skills using commercially constructed textbooks into a more authentic language learning environment. ELLO is an active community for thousands of language learners from more than 100 countries. Users can share their English learning experiences in a meaningful and enjoyable way. Also, ESL-Lab is a massive learning library that contains hundreds of interesting and enjoyable listening files loaded with activities and quizzes.

These two sites are useful resources for beginners, intermediate, and advanced language learners to practice their listening skills. For teachers, using ELLLO and ESL-Lab increases the authenticity of their teaching practice. Instead of asking students to listen to scripted audio files, these websites provide opportunities for students to listen and share their experiences, ideas, and opinions on several topics with other students from around the world. Even though there are many other beneficial websites to practice listening skills, such as Quizlet, Audio Puzzler, Listen and Write, and Breaking News English, I, as a language learner and teacher, used ESL-Lab and ELLLO because of the variety of topics and the sense of engagement these websites provide for language learners and teachers.

The Challenges

Even though these two websites are beneficial regarding learning and teaching English listening, they have some limitations. To begin with, these learning sites are effective in developing language skills, but they lack the complexity that enables teachers to use them as tools to improve students’ critical thinking skills or to address creativity. Moreover, both sites require constant internet access. Some of the classes I taught lacked internet accessibility, which made it difficult to use any type of web-based platform as a teaching tool. Also, not all language learners have regular access to the internet, making it difficult for them to use similar websites outside of class. Additionally, the quality of some audio files uploaded on both websites needs to be improved. Listening to a clear file is vital for language learners to be able to practice their listening skills effectively.

Significantly, the objectives behind creating and designing these digital libraries stem from having a freely accessible library for language learners to develop their listening abilities. ELLLO and ESL-lab target ESL\EFL language learners with low or high language proficiency levels and, to a lesser extent, students who focus on passing English proficiency exams. Even though these two websites include listening activities for beginners as well as intermediate and advanced language learners, they lack the complexity and difficulty that students who seek to pass language exams need to practice. Also, even though the two websites provide authentic language, they might not be academically challenging for students with higher proficiency levels.

Pedagogical Implications

There are many pedagogical implications of using these sites for language learners. One is providing language learners with ample exposure to comprehensible input (Krashen & Terrell, 1983). The engaging and authentic listening experience allows for more natural ways of language learning. Another pedagogical implication is moving from more teacher-centered to more student-centered language teaching and learning. Provided they have internet access, language learners can access these sites anytime and anywhere to practice and assess their listening abilities without their teachers’ supervision. Blake (2009) mentions that online-based English learning allows for a more student-centered approach, which promotes autonomy in language learning. Also, ELLLO and ESL-Lab can be used to improve students’ listening comprehension and achievement. These websites have been the focus of many studies that examine their effectiveness as English teaching and learning tools. To illustrate, in a study by Palangngan, Atmowardoyo, and Weda (2016), it was found that the use of ELLLO had a significant impact on students’ listening comprehension and achievement. Similarly, Kılıçkaya (2011) mentions that ESL-Lab is a useful source that includes authentic materials dedicated to language learning support. Ultimately, it is important for teachers to look for the most engaging and authentic platforms that promote effective language learning. ELLLO and ESL-Lab are examples of what CALL can provide for language learners for the development of listening.

References

Blake, R. J. (2009). The use of technology for second language distance learning. The Modern Language Journal, 93, 822–835.

Kiliçkaya, F. (2011). Improving pronunciation via accent reduction and text-to-speech software. In T. Koyama, J. Noguchi, Y. Yoshinari, & A. Iwasaki (Eds.), WorldCALL: International perspectives on computer-assisted language learning (pp. 85–96). New York, NY: Routledge.

Krashen, S. D., & Terrell, T. D. (1983). The natural approach: Language acquisition in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Aleman.

Palangngan, S. T., Atmowardoyo, H., & Weda, S. (2016). English Listening Lesson Library Online (ELLLO) as a Supporting Media in Learning Listening. ELT WORLDWIDE, 3(1), 51-62.

Roussel, S. (2011). A computer assisted method to track listening strategies in second language learning. ReCALL, 23(2), 98–116.


Waheeb Albiladi is a PhD student in the TESOL program at the University of Arkansas. He has 8 years of experience in teaching ESL/EFL. His research interests include technology in English teaching and learning, ESL, EFL, bilingual education, and educational leadership.