What happened when Leo Listening went live?

Sep 9, 2016 | listening tips | 2 comments

Last Friday, I organised a live listening event in Besançon, the city where I live.

But wait a minute, you’re an online teacher! What did you do that for?

Let me explain (or lemme explain as we say in spoken English). And after you can join in the fun too!

Why live and local?

You might think that being online would make it easier for students like you to find out about me. I mean, if you’re reading this, it means you somehow found me online – thanks, it’s great to have you here! But, in fact, it’s tricky to get noticed online – my website doesn’t show up on the first page of Google and I don’t have huge social media followings. In the online world I’m pretty anonymous, especially as I’ve only had this website for a couple of months.

Compare that with my offline life in France. I’ve been in the same city for 9 years, and I spent 5 of them teaching English full-time. It makes much more sense to activate my offline network. It’s also the sound advice I got from one of my business besties, Elena Mutonono. And every time I follow through on her advice, something good happens to me.
Speaking of my local network, last year, I spent 7 months working in a high school. One of my former colleagues runs weekly English conversation clubs. I asked her if I could do a live listening event in collaboration with her conversation group. She agreed! The conversation meet-ups take place on a Friday evening in a local café. The regular participants joined in and I also invited some friends, as well as a person who had enquired about lessons with me.

A Caribbean island and a broken toe

As the conversation meet-ups are held in a relaxed atmosphere, I knew I had to plan a fun activity to help the participants understand spoken English. I chose the theme of listening jokes. Where did I get the inspiration for that? Let me (or lemme!) take you back to an incident that happened a couple of years ago.

2 summers ago, while visiting my parents in Scotland, I broke my big toe – I know that sounds ridiculous but stay with me. On that day (a Sunday) we went out to a restaurant for lunch in a coastal town near Glasgow. My toe was swelling up under the table, although at that point I didn’t know it was broken. We left and decided to head to the accident and emergency department of the local hospital. On the way there, we drove past a street called ‘Jamaica Street’.

My dad couldn’t resist telling us this awful joke:
Jamaica?
No, she did it of her own accord

What does that have to do with a Caribbean island? If you don’t understand this joke, it’s perhaps you’re not aware of some of the magic tricks native and fluent speakers use to make their lives easier when they speak.

This joke actually contains some really important listening principles.

The question, ‘Did you make her?’, sounds like Jamaica, the island in casual, spoken English because of:

Transforming sounds: did+you => dja

Disappearing sounds+relaxed sound+linking sounds: make + her => maker
  • the ‘h’ sound in ‘her’ disappears
  • the vowel in ‘her’ is a schwa sound (that’s the most relaxed sound in English)
  • ‘her’ joins to ‘make’ because it’s an unstressed word.

English rhythm is generally a pattern of stressed and unstressed sounds. That’s why unstressed words like articles, prepositions or pronouns often link to stressed words like nouns and verbs.

Just joking

Below are the jokes we worked on in the live session. Each one of them contains one or more examples of these magic tricks. You can listen to them, read them and discover the listening principles behind them.

Listening Jokes

by Cara Leopold | Leo Listening Live

A: Where’s she from?

B: I dunno, Alaska

Alaska = I’ll ask her

disappearing sounds => /h/ ask her=> asker

disappearing sounds =>/aɪ/ => /aɪ/ => I’ll => al

lettuce = let us

linking sounds => let us (unstressed word ‘us’ links with ‘let’)

Relaxed sound = vowel in ‘us’ /ə/

Saul Goodman (character in TV shows Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad) = it’s all good man

Squeezed sounds and disappearing sounds: it’s all => sall
‘it’ is one of these annoying words that’s really hard to catch in fast, informal spoken English. Squashed or squeezed expression.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Four candles = fork ‘andles

Disappearing sounds in certain accents – here the ‘h’ disappears from ‘handles’

In all accents of English, /h/ sounds disappear from unstressed pronouns like ‘him’, ‘her’, ‘his’, ‘he’

Dictation time

Once everyone had understood the jokes, we moved on to some dictations.
Again, if you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know I LOVE dictations as a listening exercise. That’s because they enable you to know exactly which listening problems you have. You’ll notice that these sentences give you further practice of some of the concepts above.
Would you like to try them out?
Listen to the audio below and write what you hear. When you’re ready, you can check against the answers which are just below.

Dictations

by Cara Leopold | Leo Listening Live

How did you do?

1 .What are you doing later?

2. He made out a cheque for a hundred dollars

3. Do you like tea or do you prefer coffee?

4. Tell her I’ll meet her in an hour

5. She’ll never figure it out herself

6. We went to the shops and then to the bank

7. She hasn’t come in yet today

8. This morning I drank three coffees

9. I’ve already asked him and he doesn’t know

10. Do they want to come too?

When’s the next one?

We had a couple of technical issues with the little whiteboard I passed around as it kept breaking! But everyone agreed that the evening was a lot of fun and kept asking me when I’m going to organise the next one. For the next one we’ll need to find a quieter venue. Understanding spoken English is hard enough as it is, without a load of background noise to contend with! Thank you to all the participants, particularly to Fatima and her conversation club and Héloïse who took the pictures and filmed the videos.