Listening Guidelines for English Language Learners Webinar Excerpt

A laptop with varying language books portrayed on the monitor.

Editor's note: The following is a transcript excerpt from "Listening Guidelines for English Language Learners," a webinar presented by Madeline Milian.

Teachers who work with students who are visually impaired know that smell, touch and hearing explain the world. But when the individuals can no longer rely on listening skills because the language they're using is different from the language of instruction, they suffer a significant setback in understanding what's going on around them. For our English Language Learner (ELL) students who are visually impaired, it's not only a matter of learning the language, but also interpreting the new environment that they are in now. Here are some basic guidelines to use when working with ELL students who are visually impaired:

Match listening activities to the student's English proficiency level. If your student is at the beginning stage and is starting to learn sounds, those are the kinds of activities that you need to be supporting. Begin instruction with functional vocabulary that is needed for basic communication. Classroom and school vocabulary is important. So many children who are ELL and visually impaired have never been to school before. So when you think about this functional vocabulary, you have to think about what have they been exposed to before?

Develop lessons around environmental sounds, particularly those new to students. Sounds are particular to different environments—rural sounds, urban sounds are very different. You need to know where the child came from to anticipate what sounds may be new to them. This is also very particular to smells, because smells, as you know, are very particular to settings, and so the flowers that grow in one setting are not the flowers that grow in another setting.

Teach key phrases that will help the student solicit clarification. This is where we, as teachers, really need to become very active and provide strategies children may not know themselves. For example, teach them to say, "Please repeat." When they're talking to someone and they realize that they have lost the meaning or they realize that they don't know that one word, it's okay to say, "Please repeat," "Please tell me again," "Can you tell me another meaning for that word?" Explain to children that it is okay to ask, "Please repeat." Even when we're using the same language, we sometimes don't hear things correctly or we may not hear it the way that it was supposed to be said.

Learn the basic difference between students' native language and English. This really informs you, in terms of pronunciation challenges. What sounds are present in the child's language that are not present in English? What new sounds is English presenting? What new sounds are there for a child who is now learning English but has never heard that sound? Typical sounds, for example, like we all know, or most of us know that, for example, Spanish speakers have a very difficult time with hearing the difference between the "sh" and the "ch,"because in Spanish those two sounds are spoken the same way. The "ing" ending in words in English is very challenging to many speakers of other languages. The "th" sound, for example, is very, very challenging for some speakers, particularly the German speakers. The articles are challenging for many people from Asian languages. And so there are components of our English language that are not present in other languages, and those are the problematic features that are challenging when you're learning English as a second language.

Teach key questions. Teach key questions that would allow students to obtain or verify the information. "What is that?" "How do you say it?" "What does that mean?" And those are questions that will really allow children to express that they need more information. "I didn't get it. I didn't quite get that." "So what is that?" "How do you say it?" If they have a new object in their hands, "How do you say this? What is it? Can you explain to me what it is?" Those are really key questions.

Connect listening with literacy skills. This is key. Everything that we need to be doing in schooling has to be connected to literacy skills and content area information. Think of how every listening skill can contribute to the child's literacy skills.

Pay attention to your wait time. We know that wait time is really important, and we also know that many teachers do not wait enough time for answers, even with English speakers. We know that wait time is essential for emerging bilinguals, because they need more time to process answers in a new language. So especially in those very early stages, so make sure that you provide enough wait time. Typically, three to four seconds may be sufficient. Some kids may need more.

Use appropriate rate of speech. We're not saying here that you need to be very slow, because very slow speech is not natural speech, but that you pay attention to your rate. Not too fast, not too slow but somewhere in the middle. Use repetition and hands-on materials.

This is excerpt is part of an entire webinar series based on Learning to Listen/Listening to Learn: Teaching Listening Strategies to Students with Visual Impairments from AFB Press. The webinar series and book are available for purchase at

Laptop computer photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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