First, You Have to Hear It! ESL Oral Language Practice

Article excerpt

There is no question that the development of oral language skills in second (as well as first) language learners is of prime importance. Language learners must focus on oral language proficiency because it is eventually the skill they will most use. Indeed, "...oral language interactions account for the bulk of our day-to-day communications, remaining the primary mode of discourse through out the world" (Peregoy & Boyle, 2005, p. 119). But oracy in second language learners does not develop in a vacuum. It is inextricably intertwined with the other language skills (reading, writing, and listening). In addition, by the time students are studying a second language, they have begun learning literacy skills that we also wish to develop in the target language. The National Standards for Foreign Language Learning clearly support the notion of integration of skill areas with the goal area of Communication. The first standard in this goal area is 1.1: Students engage in conversations, provide and obtain information, express feelings and emotions, and exchange opinions (National Standards, 1999). This interpersonal communication standard implies two-way communication in which aural and oral language both play a key role.

Oral language development needs two essential elements in order to be maximally realized: comprehensible input (CI) and social interaction (Peregoy & Boyle, 2005). The language learning environment, be it a classroom or other venue, should be structured to include CI as well as encourage the aforementioned two-way communication qua social interaction. In this column, we examine two sites that provide CI for English language learners and also make provision for subsequent two-way interchanges that allow learners to practice their oral output.

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Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab provides the English language learner with many audio files that offer language sound bites on numerous topics. These sound files are graded "easy," "medium,"and "difficult" as a guide for the instructor and/or self-motivated learner. According to the creator of the site, Randall Davis,

   "the main goal has been to try to combine pedagogically-sound
   content while making use of Internet technology to deliver it....
   to create listening activities with pre-, listening, and
   post-listening activities to build content schemata, help check
   students' understanding while introducing new vocabulary, and then
   encourage speaking activities to expand on language students have
   learned." (personal communication, July 14, 2005)

To that end, each audio file is supported by several components that enable the language learner to prepare for, negotiate, and master the CI. The example below, "Camping under the Stars," shows the information available to the learner who selects this audio clip and its concomitant activities. This particular clip is graded "medium." It is a conversation between a man and a woman, and lasts 1:17 minutes.

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As shown above, the language learner initially encounters pre-listening exercises: generally topical questions that serve as advance organizers (see Ausubel, Novak, & Hanesian, 1978; Hadley, 2001) for the listener. Next come listening exercises. The student presses a button on the screen to listen to theaudio. While listening, the student can click on radio buttons for each question to make multiple choice responses. After finishing the quiz, the learner can click another button to see the score and correct responses.

The learner also has access to the audio script on another page, complete with glossed vocabulary. Some of the RealPlayer audio clips include scrolling captions for reading the script while listening--for instance, the College Life audio.

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In addition, the learner may take a text completion quiz with a modified cloze format and word bank. …