In C. S. Heng, M. A. Quayum, & R. Talif (Eds.), Diverse voices: Readings in language, literature, and culture. (pp. 144-152).  Universiti Putra Malaysia Press, 2000.

Using Videotaped Lectures for Listening Practice—Student Views

Johanna E. Katchen




Many university students in Taiwan go abroad after graduation for further study.  To meet the needs of English majors with these goals, an elective Advanced Listening course was set up focusing on video-based academic and informative materials.  As part of the course requirements, students were given an out-of-class assignment using videotaped plenary lectures from IATEFL conferences (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language).  They had to outline and summarize their respective lectures, transcribe a five-minute segment, comment on their listening skills with regard to the video, and critique the lecture.  Each student met with the teacher to discuss the draft of their paper before competing it and review the transcription.  Students in general thought the assignment was useful. Problems mentioned included comprehending British English; learning to hear rapidly-spoken function words, elisions and contractions; understanding new vocabulary and concepts; following the main points of the speaker to make an outline; comprehending humor; and speaker use of run-on sentences.  Students recognized and appreciated characteristics of a good speaker and discovered specific areas of deficiency in their own listening ability.  In this paper, a brief description of the course and assignment will be provided, after which student reactions, comments, and evaluations of the assignment will be presented, and the implications for teaching listening for academic varieties of English will be discussed.




Finding appropriate materials along with sufficient native speaker input for our students can be difficult in EFL contexts.  With more and more information coming to us in our mother tongue and even in foreign languages by way of television, videos can be an effective medium for providing listening input and other linguistic practice as well as content knowledge. For students who need practice in listening for information, news broadcasts, documentaries, and interviews can provide practice (for example, Koenig & Lindner, 1993; Katchen, 1996).  Those planning to study abroad may benefit from practice with lectures in English


Research (see Flowerdew, 1994) indicates that lectures have their own special characteristics, that ESL/EFL students can have varying levels of difficulty with them, and that these difficulties are not based solely on language skills.  Moreover, different disciplines may have different preferred patterns of presenting information to students (Dudley-Evans, 1994).  To help prepare students for academic lectures, some schools (Haeseler & McCabe-Hidalgo, 1996) have videotaped lectures given by their own staff and then developed activities for them.  These applications to ESP may also be applied to the subjects of linguistics and English language teaching.  That is, while students going abroad to study TEFL should have a high level of English ability, they may still benefit from added training in listening to foreign lecturers.


In EFL situations, videotaping local lectures may not be practical because the only people lecturing in English may be the teachers with whom students are already familiar.  An alternative is to use professionally-recorded lectures.  Since its 1994 conference, IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language, UK) has been videotaping and selling copies of the conference plenary lectures; these lectures were used in this project.


There are a number of good points in using professionally-recorded IATEFL plenary videos.  The quality of both picture and sound is high.  We have a close-up view of the front face, pronunciation is visible and easy to hear, while the nonverbal behavior is easy to see.  Plenary lecture speakers tend to have clear articulation, and many of the IATEFL speakers approximate Received Pronunciation with regional features.  As educated people, they use standard grammar and vocabulary and represent “good” British English (practical for students in Taiwan used to standard American varieties).  Moreover, the subject matter is relevant for students studying language.


For example, in the 1995 plenary English conversation: 1000 years on used for in-class instruction, Professor David Crystal provides us with a speech brimming with excellent examples for teaching public speaking skills.  He is entertaining, engaging, and uses humour with accompanying facial expressions and gestures.  His speech is well-organized and easy to follow; he begins his speech by referring to the immediate situation (planes ready to take off as this was the final plenary) followed by a relevant anecdote.  He then introduces his theme by asking two questions  (How rapidly is English changing?  Are all areas changing equally rapidly?) and indicates the development (four areas: pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, discourse).  Prof. Crystal defines terms (e.g., Alfric, an Anglo-Saxon cleric) and gives plenty of examples (e.g., stress timing, syllable timing).  He summarizes at the end of each section and at the end of the speech and ends by referring back to the initial anecdote. 


The one negative point is that typical classroom lectures are not like this.  Ordinary lectures are often less well-organized and may exhibit more hesitation phenomena, incomplete thought units, and seeming confusion.  The lecturer may not speak clearly or s/he may have a non-standard accent.  In real classrooms visuals are often used—OHP transparencies, chalk and board.  These visual aids are used differently in different fields and may assist student learning (however, see King, 1994, for evidence that visual aids may confuse rather than clarify for some ESL students).  In classrooms, not all students can see equally well what the lecturer is doing.  There is often interaction with the students in the form of the teacher asking the students questions or the students asking the teacher questions, whereas this behavior is usually not exhibited in plenary lectures.  Nevertheless, for listening comprehension, we can start with the ideal lecture and then gradually introduce variations.  Moreover, if students ever have to lecture in English (e.g., as teachers/teaching assistants), they will have some idea of what native speakers of English consider the features of a good lecture.


The Project


Until recently, all students in Taiwan, including those in this study, began their formal study of English in the first year of junior high school.1  English is one of the required subjects on the Joint College Entrance Examination, and our university students are primarily the products of this traditional exam system.  That is, they may be adequate readers and be able to recite grammar rules, but their speaking and listening abilities are not as high as they might be.  Even English majors feel that their listening ability is poor.  To address this need, the Advanced Listening class was set up primarily for third and fourth year English majors at National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan.


With the Advanced Listening class, we felt it was necessary to give students some sort of outside project in addition to the in-class activities (various information-based video materials with accompanying activities) and a midterm and a final based on the textbook with accompanying videotape materials (Stempleski, 1994) which they were responsible for outside of class.  In-class listening tests show students’ current ability, and language abilities do not improve rapidly despite student effort.  With an assignment in which students could reveal both listening ability and serious effort, we felt they would be more motivated to complete it and grading would be fairer.  More importantly, students should be able to learn something and believe they learned something from the assignment.


During the second month of the course, the David Crystal lecture was used in class with accompanying activities.  After this, students were given more independent and individual practice with another lecture as out-of-class follow-up; fourteen other videotaped plenary lectures from IATEFL conferences were used (see reference section of this paper).  All but three lecturers were native speakers of some form of British English.  Each student was responsible for one 60-minute plenary and had approximately two months to complete the assignment (for details of the assignment, see Appendix).  They had to outline and summarize the lecture, transcribe a five-minute segment, comment on their listening skills with regard to the video, and critique the lecture.  This assignment was given when the course Advanced Listening was offered in Fall Semesters 1996,1997, and 1998, and comments are from students in all three classes, a total of 54 students.




Students were strongly encouraged to check their transcriptions with the teacher before submitting the final copy of their paper.  In these meetings (about 30 - 45 minutes), students expressed a number of difficulties with the assignment.  Although they had previously taken three required linguistics courses and possibly other linguistic electives, and some were either working as tutors of English or aspiring to be English teachers, many still felt that they had little background of the topic of the lecture.  Consequently, they had trouble understanding the relationship of the general points and therefore with writing an outline and summary.  Another difficulty was with specific linguistic vocabulary, in particular with areas more commonly discussed in British EFL circles (e.g., references to corpus linguistics).  Unfamiliar names also presented problems.          


Students’ written comments indicated that in general they thought the assignment was useful.  Some expressed shock to find that their listening was not as good as they had thought, while others gained confidence in their abilities.  The following type of comment was typical.


“Frankly speaking, I am not a diligent student.  This final project took me almost two weeks to finish it.  At the beginning, I hate it and I was almost driven nut[s] about the presenter’s elegant accent.  However, I kept on listening and listening, and finally roughly understood it.  In this hardworking process, I listened more and more clearly and felt more and more confident.  Up to now, it’s quite difficult to express that kind of satisfaction.  I am so happy and satisfied.  I think I do gain something more in my listening ability.”


For Taiwan students, who learn American English, British English was a challenge, but some expressed that it was not as difficult as they had thought. 


“British English was a headache when I was first brought into contact with it; nevertheless, after being exposed to lots of programs in British English for a semester, I gradually got used to it.  That is, though British accent is sometimes a problem for me, it is no longer a tremendous one now.”


Students thought meeting with the teacher to go over their transcription was useful and expressed appreciation for being given help with the missing words as well as unfamiliar terms or names and for getting answers to their questions about the content and/or more general background of the lecture.


“What I regretful is that I didn’t come and see my teacher as early as I can.  What she has helped me was not only the solution of problems in the video but also creating my confidence.”


A few students felt themselves lucky to have the background to match the content of the lecture.  One student wrote that she had taken a course in discourse analysis the previous semester and thought Michael Hoey’s lecture on the subject did not present great difficulties in vocabulary.  One of the students who received the Claire Kramsch lecture containing examples from American students learning German expressed great pleasure because she was taking German as her second foreign language and could understand the examples and feel a kind of solidarity with other learners of German.   Yet another said that the lecture on vague language helped her to consolidate linguistic material she received from other classes.


“The content of the lecture includes some information that I’ve learned from some classes before, such as Applied Linguistics and Sociolinguistics.  Therefore, this project helped me to review the knowledge I have acquired before and even deepen my impression about the information.


A problem mentioned by many students was that of going from word meaning to sentence meaning and beyond, a problem that may, at least in some cases, be related to having sufficient background knowledge in the topic area.


“...although I understand most of the speech in terms of words, I cannot figure out what these words convey.  That is, I might know every word, but fail to understand the ideas the speaker wants to express.”


Generally, teachers tend to avoid giving students practice listening to nonnative speakers, and students themselves may reject this, yet much of nonnative speakers’ use of English takes place with other nonnative speakers, so such practice at advanced levels can be helpful.  Those students who received the nonnative speaker lectures felt that these presenters spoke extremely clearly and were rather easy to understand, thus breaking the stereotype that non-Chinese nonnative speakers are difficult to understand.  About the Kramsch lecture, one student wrote


“It seems that she attempts to pronounce every word distinctly, and maybe because she teaches German, she speaks in a German way—making efforts to utter every word strongly.  This is why I can understand most of the sentences in her speech the first time.”


English majors in their third year at NTHU are required to take a two-semester public speaking course, so perhaps they were more tuned in to factors involved in effective speaking.  Students commented on the helpful presence, or lack of, clear introductions and conclusions, the effective use of transition words, of pauses to attract attention or show the end of a unit, the use of examples to illustrate points, the use of facial expressions, gestures, and AV aids such as transparencies.


“...her speaking is a little bit rapid for me.  However, when the speaker is talking about some important points and giving some important information, she always speaks with her speed slow[ed] down.  ... whenever she is going to the next part, she will say ‘O.K.’  I think for a learner of English like me, it’s really helpful to know in which part the speaker is and can also predict what she is going to say.  ... she would pause a while when she finishes talking about one part.  And that gives me enough time to think about what she has mentioned previously, and also let me prepare the next part.”


“He used such words as first, second, third, finally, etc. to help the audience understand what he was talking about.  Beside[s], he used a lot of quotations and available material to make the speech more colorful like the popular issue of animal rights.  Furthermore, you can feel the power of his words through his emotional voice and sincere attitudes.”


“...I was deeply impressed by [     ]’s facial expressions—tilts of his eyebrows, the curves of his lips resulted from his smiles, and his eye contacts—altogether communicated with us his agreements, disagreements, surprises, and all kinds of moods.  In addition, his vivid hand gestures helped the audience understand topics under discussion much more easily.  Plus the visual aids—his rather poor drawings, as he claimed, and lists of the alluded paragraph—not only enhanced my capability of understanding but created an easy, relaxing atmosphere.”


Students thought that transparencies in particular were a big help, primarily because key vocabulary appeared in written form so that they did not have to struggle transcribing these sometimes unknown terms.  Transparencies helped students in general to understand and enjoy the lecture.


“...provided many examples by using transparencies with a big screen, and it helped a lot to comprehend the materials she used to describe and support her ideas on the topic.”


Students learned to recognize some of their individual problems with listening: elision and fast speech (e.g., firstofall), hearing contractions and function words, and determining words from context (e.g., dear or deer).  The most advanced students noticed speakers using long, continuous sentences containing digressions and expressed worries about conjunctions, tense, and the placement of punctuation in their transcriptions.


“Now I regard that the conjunction, tense, and when to put the punctuation marks to be the most difficult part.  Because every time she makes a conjunction, I will make it to be another word which makes a confusing meaning of the sentence.  At the same time, I found I will unconsciously drop out those weak sounds which presents the past tense and be puzzled about the location of the punctuation marks and causes a lot of mistakes.”


“I did not catch words such as ‘they’d,’ ‘tests,’ and ‘it’s.’  I think that it can be avoided to dropping of the ‘d’ and ‘s.’  If I can listen more carefully, I can avoid this kind of errors.  Other things can be noticed are that the same sound may have different form.  I made a funny mistake that I wrote ‘dear’ instead of ‘deer.’  Therefore, when I listen, I should pay more attention to the correspondence of words to the context.”


“One is that I find many of his sentences incomplete or interrupted by other sentences, so sometimes it is hard to follow his ideas.  The other is that he speaks very fast and becomes very challenging for understanding when he gets excited.”


When speakers told jokes and the audience laughed, students realized their limitations, which can be due to linguistic or cultural factors or simply lack of topic background. 


“The speaker was humorous enough and used a lot of jokes to attract listeners, but because I don’t have the same linguistic knowledge or backgrounds with the speaker and the listeners, I could hardly feel her jokes laughable.”


“...from time to time the audience will burst into laugh when the speaker cracks a joke.  However, I cannot understand why it is funny and I feel I am so ignorant.  And this is a very unpleasant feeling.”


On a lighter note, one student who found previous required linguistics courses boring discovered, from the practical examples of lecture, that linguistics and language could be fun.


“In fact, I have little study about linguistics.  This speech just gives me an opportunity to know something about linguistics.  It is not so boring as I first considered.”


Moreover, some of them said they actually learned something new about language.


“In general, I find this speech is informative.  It gives me some information about the difference between the real language people speak and the conversations in EFL books.  I learn that language is always changing and finding new expression for old uses.  This is very interesting and important for us L2 learners.” 




This assignment will continue to be on my syllabi for the Advanced Listening class for future semesters.  Comments from the previous semesters in which the project was used indicate that although students find the assignment a lot of work, they find the assignment useful.  When they first listen to their assigned lecture, they face the fact that their listening is not as good as they may have thought it was.  After listening several times, general comprehension usually improves.  Some have difficulty seeing a general structure and making an outline; this difficulty may be caused in part by disorganization or some linguistic features on the part of the speaker.  As they work on the transcription segment, they discover some specific problems they face, such as insufficient vocabulary, lack of careful attention to specific sounds marking grammar, and background knowledge.  Most said that after they discussed their transcription with the teacher, many of the problems of background knowledge and specific vocabulary were cleared up and they felt more confident.


The problem of background knowledge is hard to solve.  The students are primarily English majors, many of whom are in the teacher training track.  Those students interested in literature or the occasional one who comes from outside the department usually manage quite well, although there are occasional complaints.  If there are valid comments on voice quality, unclear speech, or disorganized presentation, I eliminate that videotape from subsequent assignments.  It is true that in real life we often have to listen to poor or poorly prepared speakers.  For this assignment, however, I feel better giving students the better-presented, more interesting lectures in order to give them a positive experience in exchange for their hard work.


Finally, let me close with a student comment on the Joanna Channell lecture on Vague Language with the hope that at least a portion of it applies to this paper as well.


“I enjoyed her talk, actually, especially the questions she raised and examples she illustrated on vague expressions that I didn’t notice before.  It was never too serious or boring just because it was a lecture given by a teacher in a conference, which people often have the impression of formality and academics on conferences.  In fact, it appeared to me quite on the contrary, not only informing but interesting.  I think that’s why I didn’t fall asleep during the time working on it.”



1English is now being introduced in the primary schools.



Dudley-Evans, T.  (1994).  Variations in the discourse patterns favoured by different disciplines and their pedagogical implications.  In J. Flowerdew (Ed.), Academic listening: Research perspectives (pp. 146-158).  Cambridge University Press.

Flowerdew, J.   (1994).  Research of relevance to second language lecture comprehension—an overview. In J. Flowerdew (Ed.), Academic listening: Research perspectives (pp. 7-33).  Cambridge University Press.

Haeseler, J. and McCabe-Hidalgo, A.  (1996).  EFL students in the lecture hall: Noteworthy discourse.  Paper presented at the 30th IATEFL International Conference, University of Keele, UK.

Katchen, J.E.  (1996).  Using authentic video in English language teaching.  Taipei:  Crane Publishing Co., Ltd.

King, P.  (1994).  Visual and verbal messages in the engineering lecture:  Notetaking by postgraduate L2 students.  In J. Flowerdew (Ed.), Academic listening: Research perspectives (pp. 219-238).  Cambridge University Press.

Koenig, J. & Lindner, J.  (1993).  Capitalizing on public broadcasting to teach academic listening.  Paper presented at the 27th Annual TESOL Conference, April 13-17, 1993, Atlanta, USA.

Stempleski. S. (Ed.)  (1994).  Earthwatch.  ABC News Intermediate ESL Video Library.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice Hall Regents.  Videotape and Workbook.

IATEFL videotapes used for this project:*


Aitchison, Jean.  (1997). Lost nails and maypoles: Some current language issues.

Brumfit, Chris.  (1995). People’s choice and language rights: EFL language policy.

Cameron, Deborah.  (1994). Verbal hygiene for women: Linguistics misapplied?

Carter, Ronald.  (1996). Speaking Englishes: Speaking cultures.

Channell, Joanna.  (1996). Vague language—What it is and what it does.

Crystal, David.  (1995). English conversation: 1000 years on.

Hoey, Michael.  (1997). How can text analysis help us teach reading?

Houston, Gaie.  (1995). Warfare of working group?

Kramsch. Claire.  (1997). In another tongue.

Legutke, Michael.  (1995). Redesigning the language classroom.

McCarthy, Michael.  (1995). When does grammar become discourse?

Medgyes, Peter.  (1996). Teachers turned ambassadors.

Summers, Della.  (1997). Credibility gap: The language we use and the language we teach.

Thomas, Jenny.  (1996). Pragmatics and English language teaching.

Ur, Penny.  (1997). Are language teachers born or made?


*These videotapes are available for purchase.  Contact the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language at IATEFL, 3 Kingsdown Chambers, Whitstable, Kent CT5 2DJ, ENGLAND.  Fax: (44) 1227 274415.  E-mail: <>


Outside Assignment with Lectures

FL4077/4089                                                                                                                                 Dr. Katchen


You have each been assigned one 55-60 minute lecture about some aspect of linguistics or English language teaching.  These lectures were given at conferences in England in 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1997.  All the speakers use a relatively standard, educated variety of British English.  They are all teachers.


There are two lectures recorded on one videotape, so you will have to coordinate your use of the video with classmate.

For your assignment you will do the following:


            1. Write a brief summary—about two pages (double-spaced), to let me know that you understood what the lecture was about. 


            2. Write an outline of the lecture (about one page) to indicate the structure of the lecture.  Note:  If you have difficulty doing this, indicate why, for example, you didn’t understand the topic very well, the lecturer was disorganized, and so on.


            3. Choose about a five-minute segment and write a word-by-word transcription.  This will naturally take up a few pages.  Make this section double-spaced to leave room for corrections.


            4.  Comment on your listening ability with regard to the video.  Was the speaker easy or hard to understand?  Why?  Have a strange voice?  Speak rapidly?  Use unfamiliar vocabulary?    Did gestures and visual aids help you to understand what s/he was talking about?  What difficulties did you have in doing the transcription?  This should take at least one page.


            5. This part is optional.  You may also critique (point out the good and bad points of) the lecture itself.  Would it have been better if ...?  What were its good points?  Bad points?


Please type your assignment on the computer. 


Possible Procedures for Completing the Assignment


Here is one possible way to start doing this assignment.


            1. Watch the whole lecture from beginning to end for fun and to see what the speaker is talking about.


            2. Watch it a few more times to make sure you understand the main points of the lecture.  Try making an outline of the main points.  You might want to repeat certain parts.  You can also begin writing parts of the summary at this point.


            3. As you do Step 2, take note of places that are easy, difficult, enjoyable, etc. because you may want to go back to them later.  You may decide on the parts you will transcribe.


            4. Make an audiotape of a portion of the lecture, especially parts you may want to transcribe.  You may even record the whole lecture and listen when you have time. 


            5. Do your transcription from audiotape.  Going back and forth and pausing frequently hurts both machine and tape.  VCRs are more expensive than ordinary tape recorders.  After each section you transcribe, you can go back to videotape to check. 


            6. Don’t leave the assignment until the last minute.  Start on it as soon as possible because it will take a lot of time.  You have about 8 weeks, so do the outline the first week, the summary the second and third weeks, the transcription the fourth and fifth weeks, write your comments the sixth week, then check it all during the last two weeks.  This way, when you have heavy assignments or tests from other classes, you can take a break from this project for a while.


            7. Whenever you encounter some difficulty, come and see your teacher.  Bring the tape and we will look at the trouble spot together and try to figure it out.  You may also want to discuss the meaning of some of the points in the lecture.  The purpose of the assignment is for you to learn something—about the English language, about the content of the lecture, about your own listening abilities.  Let’s learn together.

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