Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 1:6 October 2001
Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Associate Editor: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.


Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.


In my earlier papers (Applying Linguistics to the Teaching of Indian Languages - 1) , and (Applying Linguistics to the Teaching of Indian Languages - 2), we discussed some aspects of the roles played by the language teachers, and focused on certain aspects of the listening skill. We continue the discussion on the teaching of listening skill in this paper as well.

How can the teachers help and guide their students to reach the stage of analytical listening? And what are the negative factors that may come in the way of achieving the desired goal?

It is important for the teachers to know the level of achievement of their students. If they know where their students are at in relation to various types of listening, they can organize their lessons, interactions, and tests to help the students move forward. The strategies that the teachers would like to adopt in introducing a lesson, organizing activities for the lesson, and testing whether the intended learning has taken place will all depend upon this knowledge the teachers have about their students.


The teacher should never use high standard forms that are not frequently used in ordinary day-to-day use of the language. If at all she has to use such forms, she should always give an explanation, and illustrate how such forms are used in sentences and in transactions. If a form that is from the "high dialect" is not explained and illustrations given for its use, the students will ignore such forms and may even develop a strong negative attitude to the use of such forms.

The teacher should be aware that the students couldn't focus their attention and concentrate upon a particular point for more than two to three minutes. The best thing to do is to break down the teaching point into smaller points, with illustrations for each of these smaller points, and go from one to the other as if these are all distinct elements. Give ample examples to illustrate the points. Use small anecdotes wherever possible. Use interesting jokes. Use small relevant stories to illustrate a point. Ask several questions in order to elicit the students' experience related to the content being focused upon. While asking the questions, the teachers should remember the knowledge level of each student in the class. There is no point in asking a hard question to a student who has already shown himself to be struggling hard to cope up with the class. Ask him a simpler question so that he can succeed. Encourage him if he falters, with cues so that he can pick up the thread.

Do not allow yourself to be led by the "bright" students of the class. It is true that the quick and correct responses gladden the hearts of the teachers and make their spirits soar high, but, alas, it is not our 'feeling good' experience in the class that should take precedence over the goal of enabling every student in the class understand as much as they can in their own pace. Language learning is not that easy. Some accomplish it easily, but most always have some problem or another. When a student feels that he does not have an opportunity to learn in the class, he can easily shut himself out. No learning takes place. His performance in the language may not improve. He will just bide his time complete the course. He will leave the course with severe listening errors.


As a language teacher your goal is to improve the language skills of your students in the language you teach. You also aim to enable your students to express the content they wish to communicate in as simple as possible in an acceptable language. You are not there in your class to exhibit your knowledge of the language. You are there to model the language in such a way that your students are able to learn how to use it naturally.

Sometimes it will be a great help if the questions are put to a team of students, who together will frame the answer for the question asked. Use illustrations, examples, stories, etc., in the class with the objective of explaining some teaching points. Pointless and excessive deviations from the teaching point through jokes not connected with the matter under discussion should be avoided.


Various situations may demand various teaching strategies. Listening to a speech from a platform demands a strategy that does not always insist upon following every word said. On the other hand, interpersonal conversation requires that the participants in a conversations how mutual respect to each other by listening carefully to what is being said. Attention to details may be required here. In a drama, the progress of the story will be understood even if not all the conversations are properly listened to and interpreted. However, at times, the story will depend entirely upon a single sentence, phrase or word. If the student misses this particular aspect, he will have a lot of difficulty in understanding and enjoying the story. The characters may have adopted different speech styles that reveal their social and professional backgrounds. If the student is not able to decipher the social and professional backgrounds of the characters from the variety of speech they use, he will have difficulty in following and enjoying the story. Specific situations demand specific strategies. The teachers should list the situations, identify the specific language use in terms of words, sentences, phrases, and other linguistic variables and expose the students to the variety one by one in some hierarchically organized listening processes.


Probing questions are always very effective to develop the skill of analytical listening among the students. Whenever there is an opening to raise probing questions, the teachers should ask questions that have either direct or indirect link with the teaching point. Such questions should elicit information from the students from their environment. The answers will be given by the students based on the experience they have. For example, if the content of the lesson is about a national leader, some probing such as the following may be asked. Do you know any other leader who has similar ideas like the person about whom we are presently studying? Do you know any body in your town or school who may have similar ideas like those of the person about whom we are presently studying? Probing questions can be framed easily but the teachers should think over the questions and restrict these to the most relevant items of the lesson. Teachers usually start the lesson with some probing questions.


The students in the Indian classrooms in any city usually constitute a mixed ability class. In addition, there is often some linguistic heterogeneity. Students come from different mother tongue, dialect, cultural, social, economic and family backgrounds. While caste in itself is no contributing factor to the performance of students, the socio-economic status of the caste and the history of education in the family certainly contribute to the performance of the students. Do not think that such factors influence the performance of students only in subjects such as mathematics and science. Language learning is also affected by such factors. While every one will agree to the statement that English language learning is affected in such conditions, I have seen that the learning of the skills in mother tongue are also affected under these contexts. In the past we have assumed that students hailing from disadvantaged family, caste and regional backgrounds performed well in their mother tongue, but they did poorly in English and other subjects. This was an assumption borne out of certain pre-conceived political notions.


The teachers should always keep in mind the importance and the contribution of the gestures and other suprasegmental features while teaching the listening skill to their students. Several new words and their meanings may be made comprehensible to the students with the help of non-verbal communicative strategies. Also, the use of suprasegmental features such as intonation, pitch, and stress focusing on certain points and concepts help the students to be attentive to what is being taught.

Teachers may ask the students to observe the movement of the speech organs such as lips, teeth, and tongue when they pronounce a new word or sentence. When a sentence is uttered, students should observe the possible accompanying gestures, and voice inflection. The teachers can exaggerate the gestures in order to draw the attention of the students. If the students imitate the voice inflection, then they will be able to utter the sentences in the language they learn in a natural manner. For the mother tongue learners, such activities or suggestions may seem superfluous, but an effective speaker always needs the help of such props even in his own mother tongue. The flow of the language is facilitated by the gestures in some manner.

Both in the mother tongue and second language learning classes it is a good strategy to expose the students to speech styles recorded on the tapes. Listening to radio speeches including drama is a great way to expose students to a variety of styles. Moreover, because the radio drama lacks the visual help, the script uses a variety of props to bring out the context of the situation in a dialogue. There may be birds chirping, or background voices and noise that indicate the locale. Or there may be cues in the verbal communication that indicates the day or the mood or the intent of the conversation, etc. All these become proper subjects for listening. In fact, the audiotapes are an excellent aid to develop analytical listening. Sometimes I think that the audiotapes are far superior to the videotapes for the purpose of listening. However, each has its own merit, and we need to use both. I would suggest some ranking between the two to be done by the teacher herself taking into account the level of her class. Show the videotape for a class that is not yet fully geared to use the analytical listening. Use the audiotapes for the advanced class. This is only a suggestion. You have to decide what is best for the particular class. Students are challenged to make guesses more often when you use the audiotapes. Lack of visual cues challenges the students to work out mental images and provide the answers for the analytical questions asked. There is so much social and cultural information linked to the voice inflection and this comes to the fore in the audiotapes. The assumptions of the participants in a dialogue have to be deciphered without any visual cue, using only the audio cues.

In the next section we shall see how listening to discourses could be developed.

HOME PAGE | Kodava Speech Community: An Ethnolinguistic Study | Language and Culture in India's Foreign Policy-Part III | Mother Tongue and Medium of Instruction - A Continuing Battle | Bringing Order To Linguistic Diversity: Language Planning in the British Raj | An Introduction to Natya Sastra | CURRENT ISSUE of the journal | CONTACT EDITOR

Sam Mohanlal, Ph. D.
Central Institute of Indian Languages
Mysore 570006, INDIA