2 Developing speaking and listening skills

Many teachers – even at secondary level – feel less confident about their speaking and listening skills than they do about their reading or writing. Here are some occasions when an English teacher might speak or listen to English. Do you use English for any of these? Tick the ones that apply to you. If there are some occasions that are not listed, add them to the list.

  • talking to students in the classroom
  • talking to colleagues
  • talking to visitors to your home or school
  • listening to a radio show
  • listening to an expert at a seminar or conference
  • listening to or watching a discussion about education
  • listening to music
  • watching a movie or TV programme.

There may be times when you have to listen to or speak in English, and there may be others when you choose to, for enjoyment or for information. It isn’t really important what you listen to, or who you speak with. The more you practise listening to and speaking English, the better you will be at these language skills.

Case Study 2: Mr Meganathan improves his listening skills by listening to the radio in English

Mr Meganathan is an English teacher at a secondary government school and has been teaching for 11 years. He is quite confident with English, but recently had an experience that made him decide to improve his listening skills.

A few months ago, a visitor from New York came to our school. As the teacher of languages, I was asked to greet the visitor and accompany him during his visit. The students behaved well, and the visit went well. However, I knew that I had some problems understanding the visitor. At first, it was quite difficult to understand his accent, and I had to ask him to repeat what he was saying quite a few times. Over the course of the visit I understood him better, but there were still some times when I wasn’t sure what he was saying, and I felt a little embarrassed.

I was pleased to meet the visitor, but it made me realise that I had perhaps become a little lazy, and had stopped using my English apart from in the classroom. I wanted to be able to understand future visitors to the school – something that was likely to happen again as my school was involved in an international project.

I watch the news every day on TV, and thought that I could sometimes watch it in English. Now I watch it a couple of times a week, and it’s not too difficult as I already follow news stories so I know something about what’s going on. And I’m getting used to listening to real English. Often there are people from different countries speaking English. That means I am getting some practice in listening to different accents. That’s one thing that is difficult where I live. I’ve told my students about the radio stations too, and have suggested that they listen to them if they can.

Activity 2: Improve your speaking and listening skills

Table 3 lists some ways that you can improve your speaking and listening skills in English. Read each one and think about the questions.

Table 3 Improving your speaking and listening stills in English.
ActivityWays of improving your skills
Listening to the radio in English

Do you get any English radio stations? If you do, which ones?

Which programmes does the station have?

Are these programmes interesting for you?

Watching films or TV programmes in English

Do you have cable TV?

Do you get English news channels, movies, cartoons or other channels?

If you do, which ones do you like to watch?

Listening to music in English

Do you listen to English music on your mobile phone, radio or TV?

If you do, how many songs do you listen to each week?

Listening to the radio or recordings on the internet

Do you have access to the internet?

If you do, find recordings that you are interested in. See Resource 1 for some ideas.

Recording speakers of English (e.g. on a mobile phone)

Do you know anyone who speaks English well? This could be someone from your place, another town or city, or even a foreign country.

If so, can you record some of their speech to listen to and use as a model?

Setting up an English club with colleagues

Are teachers in neighbouring schools interested in setting up an English club?

If so, how often and where will you meet?

What will you talk about?

Now make a plan for improving your speaking and listening skills. Set yourself a target.

  • Which of the activities listed above will you do?
  • How often will you do each one?
  • When will you do this activity?
  • Will you do this with another teacher?

Improving your speaking and listening skills will benefit you and your students. But don’t be too ambitious! Just choose one or two of the activities listed above. Choose the ones that most appeal to you, and that you can fit most easily into your daily routine. You are more likely to continue that way. You are also more likely to continue if you do short bursts – listening to ten minutes of the radio every day, for example – rather than spending long periods of time infrequently. Find some time each day to practise English. Make it a habit!

1 Improving your English

3 Developing reading and writing skills