“Listening” by Ian Badger from the Collins English for Life Series

By Jane Potts

Ian Badger came to talk to ELTABB in November 2013 and gave me this book when he was here.

I was really excited to get it as I am teaching a group of students at B1/B2 level who are studying foreign languages including English with a view to using their language skills in offices and business places. One element of their course involves being able to interpret for their employers – of course they are not expected to act as official interpreters (!) but they need to be able to communicate the gist of a phone call or conversation, and as we all know, in real life, people don’t all speak as clearly as ELT teachers or the CDs we find in the back of language textbooks.

This book bridges the gap between listening exercises from textbooks and listening to everyday English on Youtube clips or television. The CDs are full of all the little things that people say without noticing that they’re doing it – the ums, ers, you knows, the hesitations and repetitions and half sentences that make it difficult for non-native speakers to understand. What makes this useful is that Ian has supplemented the listening exercises with a range of exercises designed to aid the listener – talking about the subject matter first to gain/rehearse appropriate vocabulary, questions to listen for the answers, discussions of language usage and Cobuild check – a box of examples to explain the different ways in which a certain word is used in context.

There are a range of accents and dialects covered in this book but of course it’s not exhaustive – you could produce a whole series of these books on Britain alone without even starting on all the other countries where English is spoken. One thing which came out in the talk was that students of English often have to use English, not only with mother-tongue English speakers but with other people whose first language is not English, simply because it is their only common language. Ian reflects this in his book, including scripts from, among others, Chinese, Austrian and Polish speakers of English.

I’ve now used this book with a group of students for two lessons. The first example I used was a man from Derbyshire. Most of the students found him very difficult to understand, which surprised me, as I am from the North of England and thought that as they’d got used to listening to me over the last 3 months this wouldn’t throw them too much. The American who was the subject of the 2nd lesson was much easier for them! They found the exercises very helpful and this helped to reassure them that they didn’t have to understand every word that they heard to be able to get the main points. Finally, I gave them the transcript and got them to read through it and cross out all the “little extras” so that they had a coherent script to read. Before the next session I suggested that the students looked up the website to listen to additional scripts not in the book but using the same speakers so that they could familiarise themselves with the accents. They were really enthusiastic about this – I had only asked them to listen to two people, but several students seemed to have spent most of their weekend on the site.

We had quite an interesting discussion on whether English speakers hesitate a lot more in their speech than German speakers – the overall feeling was that we and the French do it a lot more than German speakers and why this might be. Students were able to point out American politicians who do it a lot.

I would recommend this book to teachers of reasonably confident students of B1 and above. To be honest, I could see it being used quite successfully by students of C1 level as well. There are a few errors in the book – though it’s rare to find a book without errors and as long as you read through and check the exercises first you’ll find them. It’s also affordable at 13.99€ – no small consideration if you work for employers who don’t supply teaching materials. I think I’ll be using this book a lot this year and also taking a look at his books for business listening skills.

You can listen to supplementary transcripts on www.collinselt.com/listening. Although these don’t have accompanying exercises, they are the same speakers as in the book, so you get an idea of the material used.