This is one of things I’ve never felt quite sure about. Instinctually, I feel that reading a text and listening to it simultaneously is, or can be, a good thing. In most staff roms where I’ve worked though (and there’s been rather too many for my own liking), it’s typically one of those “of course nots”. And it’s not just other people, there’s some part of my brain that accords. A part of me believes it must be on the same level as dictation and grammar/translation. Let’s see.

Why it’s not a good idea – listening

It’s not a good listening activity. You stop listening and start reading instead. You don’t have to listen out for all those nasty little schwas. You’re not going to train your brain/ear to associate sounds with words. You become a lazy listener.

The flipside is that on a second/third listening it can help students to see not just what they misssed, but why they missed it. The tape transcript is a real tool there.

Why it’s not a good idea – reading

It’s not a good reading activity either. Where’s the skimming and scanning? You are forced by the listening to read at a certain pace. More than that, you read every word. I certainly don’t do that and extrapolating out: it isn’t an authentic reading exercise.

Here again, I see some justifications. One would be it can help slow readers move more quickly: it can help train the eye to move along the page and not get stuck on one word.

Why it surely is a very, very good idea sometimes – spelling

I remain undecided on the reading/listening front. Sometimes it makes sense, sometimes it doesn’t. It all depends on your teaching/learning goals. The more I think about though, the more certain I become it can be a super idea for spelling:

  1. you see the word
  2. you hear the word
  3. you associate the sound with spelling
  4. you match the spelling to the sound

This is good spelling practice. It may not be perfect but it is one more tool in the spelling teacher’s arsenal.

Where to do it?

This is my real reason for writing this. I love Words in the News, it’s my all time fave resource site. It’s also a reading/listening site. I need to find a justification. This is it.

A footnote

This is passive spelling of course. I like that. It’s learning to spell by doing other things: reading and listening. To make it work, it’s going to need to be repeated lots. This is one reason why Words in the News is such a good resource: you can keep on going back there and still find new things and there will be something there for anyone.

15 Comments so far

  1.    Shelly Terrell on January 17, 2010 4:33 pm      

    I do a lesson with my adult students where I have them listen to a podcast without the text. Then with another text we listen along to the podcast. Finally, we try reading the text without a podcast. Afterward, I survey the students. In all cases that I have conducted this experiment the majority of students prefer both listening and reading along. Their reasons are because they can hear the pronunciation and since they are surrounded by non-native speakers this is important to them. This exercise is a way to get them in the habit of incorporating podcasts into their daily routines. We go through the process to see if it is something that would work for them!

  2.    Shelly Terrell on January 17, 2010 4:33 pm      

    By the way, I forgot to mention that I love the new Voki!

  3.    Dominic Cole on January 19, 2010 12:05 am      

    Great research. I completely forgot about this aspect of it when I was writing this- what students actually like. Big mistake.

    As I say I am a big Words in the News fan and my students do love the support of being able read and listen simultaneously. And given the complexity of most of the texts there I’m quite happy to let them run free. If only for this very important reason – it makes them read/listen. One without the other may be too challenging and they may stop reading/listening. This matters to me because I try to sell them the exercise as something they can do by themselves out of the classroom.

  4.    Anne Hodgson on January 19, 2010 5:09 pm      

    Hi Dominic,
    When I was first studying French I loved hearing the text as I was reading along, putting pronunciation and spelling together and recognizing the short forms. It was a great preparation for dictation, which in turn was (for me) one of the best ways into grammar/ word order/ collocations in context. Perhaps it’s an emotional thing, you feel like you’re being read to, like a child, and can relax into “non-activity” and just take in the language and associate.
    I do it sometimes with my students. For a bit of “activity”, I’ll change words and have students discover the differences, just with TPR (“raise your hand when you notice a difference” or asking for the alternative they’ve heard.

  5.    Dominic Cole on January 19, 2010 8:50 pm      


    Fascinating comment thank you. I’m only supposed to look at his blog at weekends but I can’t resist getting off a response now.

    I had just his sort of interface between reading/listening and dictation at the forefront of my mind when I wrote this piece. One thing you’ve made me see is how the way I use reading/listening in the class is in fact really just a variation of the dictogloss. They read/listen, make a few notes of key words, talk to each other about the different stories they’ve read/listened to (jigsawed as often as not), then they write about they read (did they agree with it and so on). How much of this gets done depends on time, sound working on the computers, availability of headphones and, I suppose, learning/teaching goals. But in essence it is the dictogloss.

    What I find fascinating is how you say dictation was a great way into language for you. I assume that means you quite enjoyed it. That makes sense to me. If I think back to school, there were those who positively enjoyed the dictation – typically the ones who were good at it. I didn’t. I was born with a tin ear. Exactly half my lifetime ago I left university able to write quite handy Latin and Greek prose but incapable of ordering a cup of coffee in Paris. I know most/many of my students feel much the same way about dictation as I do, but presumably there are also a few Anne Hodgsons amongst them too.

    Now, this is the scary bit. I’m going to make the assumption (judging from your web/email address) that you are a GOOD language learner. I’m a BAD language learner, of living languages anyway. Frankly, I would prefer my students to model themselves on you and not me. Does this mean I should try and sell them the dictation? I’m aware that my distaste for it is based on irrational phobia and not just rational ration. I know also that it would be a logical fallacy to argue that because good language learners can do dictation, dictation makes good language learners. But.

    Those were the interesting, fascinating and scary bits. Here comes the truly frightening bit. As a language teacher I long since moved beyond the concepts of “right” and “wrong” into “works” and “doesn’t work”. I need to give dictation another go. All my certainties shattered at the stroke of the keyboard. Thank you.

  6.    Anne Hodgson on January 20, 2010 9:33 pm      

    Hi Dominic,

    I’m intrigued: When you listen while you read, do you actually tune out what you are hearing? Too much input?

    Gapfill listening & jigsaw listening might get students used to hearing the text. Do you think that’s a useful preliminary step before a dictation or dictogloss?

    One of the Rivoluccri dictation exercises my students like is: Dictate a sentence, let students make up a sentence or two to continue the story. Dictate a second sentence, repeat. And a third, repeat.

  7.    Dominic Cole on January 23, 2010 2:34 pm      

    Ooh, lots to think about here.

    Yes, in short,speaking personally I suppose I do tune out to a degree – being a largely visual and not aural creature. My second (living) language is Romanian and my read Romanian is certainly well in advance of my listened Romanian. I taught myself the language by reading newspapers (mostly the sport) and watching English language TV with Romanian subtitles. That was no problem as it took little mental energy to listen in English while I was doing the hard bit of reading the Romanian.

    Does this apply to students? I suspect that that depends on their level to some extent. The better they are, the easier it is for them to read/listen simultaneously. Also, I guess it depends on their learning style/aptitude. Good listeners and good readers may be able to keep a better balance between the two forms of input; whereas those weaker in one skill may tune out from that form of input.

    And, yes, I can see the gapfill listening as possibly being helpful for learners in the dictogloss/dictation process. My concern there is that the production of the final text might become a test of how accurately you could rewrite the original seen text and not an exercise in re-producing a meaningful text. Though I imagine that there are ways round that.

    I like your Rinvoluccri exercise – if only because in another incarnation it was something I used to do a lot of myself. I like it because it is involving and the emphasis is on the production of a meaningful text.

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  9.    Tefl Jobs on February 15, 2011 3:00 pm      

    I agree with Shelly in that it’s also good for pronunciation, in particular this excercise may help students when they have to read aloud.


  10.    Phil on May 2, 2011 3:17 pm      

    While learning Japanese, I used the read-along with the CD method. However, this was followed by a grilling by the instructor to ensure proper pronunciation.

    The combination was very effective.

  11.    Jacob on May 24, 2011 9:05 am      

    Actually, this was a very good thing. Unfortunately, many people who are think this was a boring activity. There must be other ways that can be make the people do not get bored while doing this activity.

  12.    Tucson architect on June 13, 2011 10:16 am      

    I believe that this method, reading while listening to the same context is just for primary school only. Children read a printed text while listening to the same text, in which an extraneous spoken word was occasionally substituted for one appearing on the page. Subjects signaled to the experimenter each time they detected a mismatch between what they were reading and what they heard.

    Doing the same on the secondary? I think no need to do it for students who are old enough. For them, listening to music while reading is much more a good idea.

  13.    Dominic Cole on July 19, 2011 1:42 pm      

    I see where you’re coming from but I’m going to have to differ. I query music personally. Partly because it will work for some learners but not all. More particularly though it is a highly unusual form of listening – I very often don’t know/can’t entirely make out the lyrics I hear to some of my favourite songs. As for reading/listening at secondary, I increasingly think there is a place for it on occasion.

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