Listening Comprehension in TEFL

Listening Comprehension is related to one of the four main language skills‏‎ areas in English language learning: listening‏‎, reading‏‎, writing‏‎ and speaking‏‎. Essentially it is the ability to listen and understand language.

The basic process for a beginner‏‎ when they listen to something is:

  1. They listen to an utterance.
  2. They translate what they hear into their mother tongue‏‎.
  3. They understand what is said.

As the student becomes more proficient in English‏‎ the translation phase is slowly removed with the translation only happening for words or phrases the student is not completely familiar with. An intermediate level student might work like this:

  1. They listen to an utterance.
  2. They understand most of it immediately; some words have to be translated into their MT though.
  3. They understand those “missing” words and thence understand all the utterance.

The goal eventually is to completely drop step 2. An advanced student will work like this:

  1. They listen to an utterance.
  2. They understand what is said.

Of course even native speakers will occasionally have problems. These could be due to a strange accent, unknown words or even external influences such as an airplane flying overhead just as someone says something!

In the TEFL Classroom

You need to prepare any listening comprehension exercise. It is not good to jump straight in and give the students a listening exercise and expect them to understand it completely.

For one, this does not reflect the way in which we listen in real life.

For example, real life listening scenarios will include: talking with friends, listening to the radio, listening to announcements, receiving instructions and so on.

In each of these cases even native speakers will have a good idea of what they are about to hear. If you are at a railway station, for example, and there is an announcement you will normally assume that it will relate to the train schedule, a delay, security baggage announcement or perhaps a lost child having been found. You would not expect the railway announcer to talk about what was on TV last night.

And thus it is with you as a teacher: before playing the audio file or tape, you should prepare your students. Tell them that they are about to hear a conversation between an antique dealer and an old lady he is visiting and then a good idea is to get your students to try and predict what the conversation is likely to be about; discuss this with your students and build up a list of likely vocabulary.

This means that when the tape is played your students will already know the meaning of possibly difficult words and will thus not get stuck in the translation phase of the listening comprehension.


Before the lesson begins make sure the equipment is ready. Play the audio and sit at the back of the class to make sure you can hear it easily.

Quick Tip: it also helps if you turn up the treble and turn down the bass when you play something in class; it is clearer to the ear like this.

When you give a listening comprehension to your class you can follow this general method.

  1. Warm up on the general theme of the listening.
  2. Listen for gist (general understanding) and then check for comprehension.
  3. Listen for detail (specific items) and then check for comprehension.
  4. Practice using new words/phrases from the listening.


These days there are plenty of resources for listening. You can go online and download everything from spoken recipes to airport timetables easily (often as Podcasts).

Remember, of course, to make the subject of the listening comprehension relevant to your students! There’s no point in giving 10 year olds a recording of a political debate!

Useful Links

Listening Skills in TEFL – an overview of listening

Listening for Pleasure – a change in TEFL making listening a fun activity

Language Skills – an overview of all the language skills in TEFL

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Posted in Language Skills.

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