To begin with, my listening LSA was my favourite! Before the Delta, I had no idea I would enjoy teaching listening so much. I got a distinction for both my teaching and essay.

Most of my friends and colleagues who had completed their Delta before me, advised me against teaching a listening lesson or at least, not leaving it for LSA 4. I chose to follow their second advice but not the first one. I wanted to be challenged! I feel more confident teaching reading, since once you’ve mastered a certain routine, it’s not so difficult for neither teachers  nor learners. All the input is written, it doesn’t disappear causing panic, as it does in listening lessons!

The next step was to choose an area to research. After reading this great blog post, , written by one of my IH Barcelona tutors,  I decided to focus on decoding or bottom-up listening.

I soon realised, that all these years, I was not teaching listening; I was using the pre-while-post sequence that we all learned when doing our CELTAs.  This includes, as I’m sure you already know:

  • doing very long lead-ins,
  • teaching learners to rely on strategies, such as predicting content, or guessing right answers from context
  • comprehension-check tasks
  • reaction to recording, e.g. discussion or writing
  • language focus

And of course this is a great sequence  but it doesn’t address the fact that learners can’t decode the stream of speech! Still, they complain that they don’t understand everything, that the speaker spoke really fast or that an entire sentence sounded like one word with “ups and downs”. This means that they need to be trained to decode the acoustic signal.

To quote some authors here, Wilson (2008) wrote that this approach (comprehension or product approach) tests listening rather than teaches it. By playing a recording and setting comprehension tasks , we’re testing their ability to listen. This is something students can do at home. How are we helping them, then? How are we teaching them to be better listeners? We should be teaching them how to listen, as Vandergrift (2004) said.

There are a lot of reasons why learners cannot always decode what they hear.

  • They know the written form but not the spoken form.
  • Unfamiliarity with  word stress, sentence stress, individual sounds, stressed and weak sounds.
  • Fast speech leads to linking sounds, thus making it impossible for the learner to segment this big mess into words. Not only are words connected,  but many sounds sneakily change.
  • Some words have different soundshapes (Cauldwell, 2018) , e.g. privacy in American and British English; students may be familiar with one but not the other.
  • Spontaneous speech can be difficult to follow, if learners aren’t familiar with vague language or fillers.

The list goes on and on.. Read this book for more details:

Cauldwell, R. (2018). A syllabus for listening. Birmingham: speechinaction.

How do you teach a decoding lesson?

Here’s a suggested routine:

  1. Set  the context -tell students what they’re about to listen. Don’t use very long lead-ins.
  2. Listen once for main idea, so that students get familiar with the speakers, their accent and the topic.
  3. Second listening- set a specific task, e.g. a gapfill .
  4. Then choose an element or two that you want to focus on and use micro-recordings to train your learners’ ears. You could play sentences and tell them to notice what happens between words. E.g. playing the sentence I went to Paris last year, you could focus on the yod coalescence that occurs between /t/ and /j/ in last year . Then, you could give students another sentence and have them predict where this element would occur, e.g. I want you to come with me. You could do this with one or more elements of connected speech; my advice is don’t overload them. Two are enough. Finally, you could play new sentences including taught elements and ask learners to try and decode them in groups.
  5.  Differentiation: Weaker learners could just focus on comprehension, whereas you could ask stronger learners to try and produce these sound changes.

Evaluation: This kind of activities help students notice how the spoken form is different from the written form. Then, they’re more likely to decode connected speech without getting confused and frustrated, when they hear it on TV or from their co-speakers. Doing such micro-listening tasks in every lesson will help them slowly gain confidence and become better listeners. One day, they might come to you and tell you how they noticed the other day on television, that someone said I never use twitter omitting the /t/ (the so-called glottal stop) and they were really proud that they decoded /ˈtwɪʔə/! Yes, it’s happened to me 😊

Important notes:

If you plan to use  the phonemic script, make sure you know your sounds. Using it incorrectly may not only confuse learners, but you’ll also probably partially meet or fail criteria 7c/d.

Some learners might pick up on other elements too, e.g. different connected speech features, or patterns of stressed or unstressed words. As in any other LSA, be prepared for such questions, as you want to meet criterion 7e. For instance, I was teaching elision of /t/ and /d/ and gemination, but a student noticed two examples of catenation (in straight ahead and for a, see my whiteboard picture) . I immediately praised her and highlighted catenation on the whiteboard.

If learners don’t decode the target sentences immediately, replay them. As many times as they need. This is how ear-training works. With repetition.  Remember, you’re teaching the learners, not the plan!

This is part of my bibliography (yes, there was more!) that I believe is vital when working on a decoding LSA. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment or message me if you have any questions.


Anderson, A. and Lynch, T. (1998). Listening. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cauldwell, R. (2018). A syllabus for listening. Birmingham: speechinaction.

Caudlwell, R. (2009) The functional irrhythmicality of spontaneous speech: A discourse view of speech rhythms. Apples – Journal of Applied Language Studies, 2(1), pp. 1-24.

Field, J. (2003). Promoting perception: lexical segmentation in L2 listening. ELT Journal, 57(4), pp.325-334.

Field, J. (2010). Listening in the language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Hedge, T. (2000) Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom. Oxford. Oxford University Press.

Nunan, D. (1991). Language teaching methodology. New York: Prentice Hall.

Richards, J. (2008). Teaching listening and speaking. Singapore: Cambridge University Press.

Underhill, A. (2008). Sound foundations. Oxford: Macmillan.

Ur, P. (1984). Teaching listening comprehension. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Vandergrift, L. and Goh, C. (2012). Teaching and learning second language listening. New York: Routledge.


Vandergrift, L. 2004. ‘Listening to learn or learning to listen?’. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 24: 3–25

Wilson, J. (2008). How to teach listening. Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.

Wilson, M. (2003). Discovery listening–improving perceptual processing. ELT Journal, 57(4), pp.335-343.

Online sources

Cauldwell, R. (2002). Phonology for Listening: Relishing the messy. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Jul. 2019].

Swift, S. (2013). An ELT Glossary: Connected Speech – Sandhi Variations. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Jul. 2019].

Thornbury, S. (2011). zero uncertainty | An A-Z of ELT. [online] Available at: /  [Accessed 20 May 2019].

You can now download my lesson plan and background essay!