Intensive and Extensive Listening


This is part of my series on Intensive and Extensive Learning and standardized tests. However Intensive and Extensive Listening are both valuable and important skills outside of the IELTS and TOEFL.


In our daily life we listen both intensively and extensively. When we are listening to an announcement about an upcoming fair or the sports scores on the radio, we tend to read intensively. That is, we are listening for specific information and details: When is the fair where will it be, and how much are the tickets. The IELTS presents great examples of this kind of listening and so IELTS textbooks are great sources of exercises for students.

For example, the first IELTS listening always involves filling out a form about a person while listening to them doing something like registering for a driver’s license or signing up for an English class, or even calling about buying a used car. It’s great practice for students to pick out specific details from a fairly realistic conversation.

Another IELTS lesson involves listening to a radio announcement about an event and filling out a table or a series of blanks with words from the listening. Again, this is wonderfully realistic practice. So they may have to listen to an interview with Mick Jagger about their next concert. And they have to fill in a table like this one:

Price of Tickets:3) _______________
Proceeds Donated to:4) _______________

But the IELTS also throws in some nice tricks to make it more realistic for students. For example, on the listening, Mick may say, “Tickets will set you back 40 pounds.” Students have to understand that he is talking about the price. Or the information may go in a different order. So the students may hear about the charity being benefited by the concert first, then the place, then the time and finally the price. Again, this is more realistic practice since we don’t always give details in a logical order or in the order our listeners expect.

In short, the IELTS gives good realistic practice in picking out detail from a listening passage.

Extensive Listening

However, we also do a lot of extensive listening in our lives. For example, the interview with Mick Jagger may mention the concert but in fact the main topic is about being an aging rock star . So students have to be able to move beyond facts and details and grasp the larger picture.

The TOEFL provides great practice in understanding the main idea of a conversation or a lecture and the major supporting points. Another great skill that TOEFL listenings can help students learn is interpreting intonation. When we listen to people, we not only listen to their words but also to their voices. If Mick Jagger says, “That album sold really well,” he could mean it literally. Or he could express sarcasm and mean that actually that album sold very badly. Or he could express surprise, meaning that they didn’t expect the album to be popular. He could even emphasize the word “sold”, indicating that in some other way, the album wasn’t very good.

Teaching students to listen for intonation also helps students to speak with intonation. Many students focus so much on not making mistakes when they speak that they don’t think about their tone or what words they emphasize. It also may be that their native language has different patterns of intonation than English.

Next time

Next time, I’ll discuss Intensive and Extensive Speaking and how to help students learn to speak with intonation. I’ll also discuss the difference between TOEFL-style Speaking exercises and IELTS-style dialoguing.

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5 thoughts on “Intensive and Extensive Listening”

  1. Thanks for the information in the article on intensive and extensive listening skills. It was quite useful for my assignment on listening skills.

  2. In the last paragraph there’s a link to another article “Intensive and Extensive Listening”, but I suppose you meant “Intensive and Extensive Speaking”, didn’t you? = )

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