Iqbal Al Balushi
Randall’s ESL Cyber listening lab
About the author
Randall Davis is the person responsible for this very successful ESL Cyber listening Lab. Randall attended and graduated from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, with a degree in Spanish education. He moved to Japan after he finished his master’s degree in TESL and taught English, intercultural studies, and computer literacy at several colleges and universities for many years.
About Randall’s ESL Cyber listening lab
Randall created his lab in January 1998 for students around the world who want to improve their listening comprehension in English. This website was originally designed for learners of ESL. Presently, this ESL listening website features worksheets with quizzes on everyday conversations for all levels. Randall’s ESL cyber listening lab also includes resources such as self-study guides, handouts, tips for teachers, and vocabulary quizzes.
Students must have computers equipped with RealAudio Player or either external speakers or headphones. The Lab offers students short listening exercises and long conversations with RealAudio and long conversations with RealVideo. The short listening exercises are divided into three categories — easy, medium, and difficult. Topics include animal sounds, families, telling time, telephone conversations, and personality types. Each exercise has an accompanying multiple-choice quiz. When finished, students can submit their answers for scoring. They can then request to see the correct answers.
In the long conversations, students can choose from among 24 conversations, divided into four levels of difficulty — easy, medium, hard, and high altitude. Topics include sky airlines, hotel reservations, radio commercial, a story to remember (Randall’s favorite), and saving the Earth. Each long conversation has an accompanying multiple-choice quiz that can be submitted for immediate scoring. Students can then request to see the script of the conversation and can listen to it as they read it. Many quizzes allow users to click on selected vocabulary items in the scripts, which will then open pop-up windows with definitions.
Randall has begun to add sound effects to his long conversations to make them sound authentic. For example, as you listen to the dialogue between a man and a woman in “Camping Under the Stars,” you can hear the sounds of thunder and pouring rain in the background.
Randall has added a third category, long conversations with RealVideo. There are two levels of difficulty, medium and hard, with two conversations each. The subjects are an interview with Steve Ryan, a minilecture on culture shock, a news report, and guidelines for safe investing. The Lab offers several convenient features. It includes a search page that allows visitors to search by listening topic, by level of difficulty, by kind of speaker (e.g. man, woman, child), and by listening type (RealVideo, RealAudio, or .wave sound file).
The Theory of Comprehensible Input
One of the reasons for learning to become naturally good in using English as a second language is to engage yourself in several different kinds of ways to learn the language. One unique idea is to listen to interactive conversations, remembering and taking notes on the main ideas and major details through this kind of website. This ESL website is designed to enhance your English language skills through listening quizzes from general to basic listening quizzes as well as listening quizzes for academic purposes. This website also provides language and life skills tips with audio and discussion questions for you to listen and learn the English language in a diverse way. Listening skills are important to a teacher in a class or to several people in a debate, you need to give the speaker your undivided attention to understand the information you hear. Once you understand the literal or exact message the speaker gives, you can then interpret and evaluate what you hear.
Comprehensible input is the input that contains i+1 level of difficulty, where i represents the current level of a learner’s competence and that a learner understands with the help of context and extra-linguistic information (Krashen, 1982, p.21). Krashen says that there are actually two systems “learned” and “acquired” one, the former is responsible for monitoring, and the latter – for fluency, so it is impossible to “learn” fluency, because the systems do not have an interface. What is acquired can be accessed without conscious thinking i.e. this is what a fluent speech is. Krashen argues that the second language acquisition is akin to the first language acquisition, and that there is a silent period of understanding and processing that is very important for further production, because during this silent period a learner acquires syntactic structures of the language. According to his theory “speaking ability emerges on its own after enough competence has been developed by listening and understanding” (Krashen, 1982, p. 27).
My Reaction to ESL Cyber Listening Lab
I have used Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab (http://www.esl-lab.com/) several times in my listening skills classes as an extra activity especially if the lesson ended early and there was still time at hand. I could only use the ESL Cyber Listening Lab if the class was in a lab.One good thing I like about the listening texts is that it offers pre-listening and post-listening questions for discussion but unfortunately they could be used only if the listening is done in a group. Another good thing about this site is that different students are able to choose listening texts according to their difficulty, individual needs and interests when choosing a topic. Self-scoring is another feature which is encouraging which gives immediate feedback and evaluation. There are short listening texts around 30 seconds and there are longer ones which last more that 2 minutes. Another good thing about the Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab is that students can use the site on their own when they are free. This site can be used by students who do not attend school and college who are willing to improve their English language ability in general and the listening skill ability in specific.
What I do not like about Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab is that it provides only one type of questions which is only five multiple choice questions for each litening text. There is not variety in question type and the number of the questions are only five. Although, there are mixed-up questions and sentence and vocabulary matching but they are not directly related to the listening questions in other words one does not have to listen to the text and answer these questions. Randall could have included true and false questions, WH questions, sequencing questions, filling gap questions, vocabulary questions, etc.Variety is good in the typology of questions. Fisrt, students do not get board with the same time of questions. Second, students will find change and diffrent students might find different types of questions appealing). Randall could add longer lectures and note taking activities which what most of the college students need. Not all students needs for litening activities are the same. My students needs for listening was to listen to lectures in different English accents and understand the content and be able to take notes.
All the listening texts on the ESL Cyber Listening Lab site are unauthentic texts. They are made solely for the purpose ESL listening skill classes. One of the reasons ESL students need to learn a language is to understand it in real context with different accents, background sound affects, overlapping turn taking or adjacency pair sentences and the unclarity of the voices and sounds that are heard. All these are missing from the listening texts which are offered by the site. I wish Randall could make an effort to include authentic texts to the Lab.
Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab has not developed or evolved over the years with the development and the availability of new technologies in the recent past. The focus on a single skill which is the listening skill is not enough. The site could add other skills besides the listening skill and even could change it’s front page with a newer look. Things constantly develop to the better and imprvements are needed in this fast developing field of Second Langugae Acquisition (SLA) and the internet. More recently Randall has added a Facebook and a Blogs page to the site which allows him to communicate with the site users and answer their questions and querries. There are other sites such as http://www.Livemocha.com and http://www.Busuu.com who are challenging this site and I aasume have more users. The Livemocha.com site allows users to learn not only a single skill in a single language but all the four skills and thirty eight different languages. The following web site (www.zencollegelife.com) gives the names of 75 free language learning resources online.
Krashen, S. D. (1982). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. New York: Pergamon Press Incy.
Krashen, S.D. (1981). Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon.