1. Where are you from? What do you do in your "free" time besides creating Web pages?
Take a look at my welcome page for this answer to the first part of the question. As for "free" time, I actually have hobbies beyond creating Web sites. Doing anything with family brings the most satisfaction in life: watching movies, going on walks, just talking. I also enjoy hiking and trail running which are things I can do in Utah far away from technology and the noise of the city. I'm a pretty slow runner, but the scenic views are what I enjoy. You can see more about one of my adventures HERE on my hiking Web site at http://www.hikinginutah.com.
2. Why did you create this site? Was it hard?
Basically, I wanted to create something on the Web that would help enhance language learning beyond the static page (i.e., just the printed word) and would focus on listening skills----a relatively underdeveloped area on the Internet at that time. (Now, this is one of several /speaking/pronunciation Web sites I develop including www.ezslang.com, www.trainyouraccent.com, www.dailyesl.com, www.englishvoices.org, www.dailyesl.com, and others.)
My EFL students were constantly asking me for ways on improving their listening skills outside of the classroom, and it dawned on me that online materials for autonomous learners would be real boon to students worldwide. I want to point out that the main objective of the site isn't to test students listening skills; rather, by doing the variety of pre-listening, listening, and post-listening activities, students can discover ways to learn how to develop their communication skills. Listening and speaking skills must be developed together, and working together with other students in groups and discussing the content of the listening activities help learners improve their overall communication skills by focusing on specific tasks.
Although the site was originally designed for learners of English as a second language, I have been surprised at the number of Web sites, audiologists, speakers at conventions, and physical therapists who have recommended my site to those with cochlear implants and to parents of autistic children. I am pleased that so many have benefited from my site. Furthermore, although the original focus was developing listening skills, my Web sites have expanded in scope to including speaking, writing, reading, and grammar exercises.
In terms of technology, the site has been designed with the specific goal and narrow focus of providing easy-to-use activities that can be used on almost any Internet connection. Of course, many more kinds of interactive learning activities are possible, and I am always experimenting with something new including my grammar/listening lessons. However, I want to give depth, not breadth (rather than snippets of this and that), to my original concept, one reason being that a large amount of time is needed just to create one activity.
In terms of pedagogy, however, my ideas on language learning and instruction have evolved over time. In the beginning, the main focus was simply to help students build their listening skills, but I have found that the one of the greatest challenges facing students is the inability to thinking logically because logical reasoning isn't something we are born with, nor is it something that students necessarily learn in the classroom. Unfortunately, without sound reasoning skills, work, school, and relationships can become more difficult. With this in mind, I am adding a section to each listening activity called Online Investigations in which I give students a task that they need to complete on the Internet that requires information-gathering and then the analyzing of the data to draw conclusions about the topic. I have found that these types of tasks help student learn to think and apply their language skills in meaningful ways.
It always has been a simple operation, and I created everything you see on my own, but I have also been blessed with the support of so many, including voices from family and a few friends. However, for me, the most difficult part of the whole process is coming up with interesting dialogues and conversations for the activities. I like trying to create scripts that are educational, natural, and enjoyable to listen to. I take all of the blame and credit for what you see here.
3.What software do I need to use your site?
For the basics, everything that you need can be found for free on the Internet: a browser and a media player. First, you need is an Internet browser, like Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, and Firefox. All of these are free. Next, you will need a free media player like Windows Media Player (which is actually already installed on Windows computers), or more recently, you don't need extra player software because the media files use an embedded Flash player to make the site easy to use. You can also play the media files on portable devices such as the iPad and iPhone. Click HERE for some options. Be sure to check this page to learn how to control the software for better learning options, including the audio playback speed.
4. Is your site really free? How do you pay to develop and maintain the site? Why do you have ads on the site?
This is always a very common question, and I hope visitors can understand the background behind my approach, from an expense and even pedagogical viewpoint.
In the very beginning, I financed the entire site on my own without the help of funding from any source. Back then, the site was small, the visitors were few, and thus, the demands weren't too taxing. Now, I run my Web sites on a dedicated server with mirrored drives and backups, and besides these expenses, I take care of costs related to content production, computer hardware, audio recording/editing equipment, media file licensing, software, domain registrations, bandwidth usage, supporting web-based software applications, and personnel resources. In addition to developing Web sites, I give presentations on developing similar materials, and teachers are often surprised when I have given away audio equipment, MP3 players, USB devices, and other items at such regional and international conferences. My reasons for sharing this background are not meant, in any way, to sound self-serving; rather, I only want to help visitors understand the evolution of a Web site and the other activities I am involved in to support teachers worldwide.
In some cases, other Web site developers receive financing or compensation in different ways, for example, people who are allowed to create and maintain their sites during their regular working hours at a company or educational institution, where the sites might be housed on company servers. However, in my case, I do everything outside my real teaching job, and thus, I depend on other sources. Fortunately, I now raise funding for the site by using targeted and relevant advertising matching the content of each listening activity. Such advertising allows me to continue to maintain and expand my Web sites completely free for visitors, something I have done since 1998. I am very concerned about the needs of learners and teachers in educational environments, and I try to balance the needs of users with those of maintaining a site.
From a pedagogical standpoint, I have tried in the past to include relevant links in my materials that allowed students to visit external sources and develop their critical-thinking skills as part of my pre-listening activities, if students so choose. In the world we live in today, I think it is important for students to learn how to analyze data from various sources, make conclusions based on the information they find, and accomplish all of this using the target language. By reviewing the questions, ideas, or links presented in the pre-listening section of my quizzes, students can better anticipate and prepare themselves to deal with similar content presented in the actual listening activity, and the ads try to match each page's content. However, in following policies of use, I leave the option of visiting the ads completely up to visitors.
Finally, most of the Internet is based on goodwill and free exchange of ideas and information. Making a learning tool available to all free of charge is one of the best tools to spreading the message of goodwill. I've benefited from works of others, and this is one way to giving something back. Sending your comments about the site always helps support my site.
5. Are there any legal restrictions on the use of your site?
Glad you asked. I have added this section at the specific request of visitors who want to respect my work, but also want to use the site as part of their study and teaching. My site is free to use online, but there are several limitations on how the material can and cannot be used to protect the intellectual properties, copyrights, and licensing agreements related to this site. There have been times when companies have illegally used my materials (one example being Anta Entertainment), but most people make great efforts to protect and honor the rights of others.
However, free to contact me if you would like to purchase the rights to use the materials beyond the limitations stated below. Any variations to these restrictions must be approved by Randall S. Davis:
the contents of this site may be used online for personal use either at home, at an educational institution, or at a company;
the quiz questions or scripts may be printed for personal use offline. In other words, the quiz questions and a script can be printed and then used in a student's free time away from the computer for review and personal study.
the materials may be used online at educational institutions, either for individual or teacher-guided instruction;
teachers are permitted to make copies of a limited number of pages for students for incidental use, and the following copyright notice must appear on each copy:
Copyright (c) 1998-2014 by Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab (www.esl-lab.com). All rights reserved.
making reference to the site and its activities in workshops or other presentations may be done without permission (I always encourage people to get the word out about my sites); however, permission to do so is requested if original graphics, screen shots, quizzes, or transcripts are used as part of that presentation (which I usually grant).
copying, modifying, or redistributing the quizzes and scripts for students beyond the limitations mentioned above whether it be for non-profit or profit purposes. In other words, you cannot republish the materials in any format whether it be for educational or commercial purposes, even if you cite this Web site;
modifying the materials without written permission from Randall S. Davis. Of course, please contact me if you have any particular suggestions about improving the material;
saving the sound files by any means to a local computer or electronic media (cassettes) for either personal, educational, or commercial use or uploading of html, sound, and graphic files to any server either for storage or redistribution (e.g., you cannot create your own site and upload my files there, regardless of whether you identify my site as the original source);
converting the sound files to any other format including .wav, .mp3, .mp4, .avi, .mov, and .aiff;
installing the media files in any format to portable electronic devices including MP3 players and mobile phones (iPhone, iPad, etc.);
uploading and storing the html and sound files to a local network, such as a computer lab, whether it be for educational or commercial use;
creating a CD of my materials either for personal, educational, or commercial purposes;
embedding the sound files in any other application or Web site.
If you are in doubt, feel free to write.
6. May I download any or all of the materials and then sell or distribute them for either educational or for profit?
No. You cannot copy, reproduce, redistribute, or disassemble any of the code, text, or audio files for any purpose (for print or the Web) regardless if it is for educational or commercial use.The only time copying of the quizzes or scripts (not sound files) is allowed is for personal use or for a classroom activity, but they should not be mass copied and then given out as the text for a class. Contact me for more details.
7. May I download the listening materials so I can use them offline?
I completely understand the situation that some visitors face in using the Internet. For this reason, I have prepared the files specifically for slow-Internet connections, so they should play well for most users. However, I do not allow visitors to download the audio files, either for personal, educational, non-profit, or commercial purposes for reasons of intellectual property rights and licensing agreements. The listening materials on this site are currently available for online use only except for the conditions mentioned above.
8. Do you plan on adding other kinds of activities, like grammar, reading, and writing?
The primary aim of my site has been to focus and develop a niche, with a large amount of content, in one specific area, rather than try to create an "all-in-one" site that just contains snippets of this and that. Developing and maintaining a Web site can be a huge undertaking, and working specifically with listening has helped me customize materials for a specific audience. That said, I am continually expanding activities that build upon my listening activities, and one of these projects deals with grammar instruction and another one with speaking at EnglishVoices.org.
10. How did you create the sound and video files?
Magic . . . I wish. Seriously, I do my current work on a computer and with digital voice recorders, a video camera, pop screens, and a variety of dynamic and condensor microphones, but sound files can be created using almost any computer as long as you have the right software. Some of the software that I use is free, but most of the products that I use to produce the best sound/video editing resultsare ones that I have purchased.
I have encoded the final audio files using several formats including Flash, HTML 5, Windows Media (www.microsoft.com), and a small number of cases, RealMedia (www.real.com).
In the 1990s, I first used RealMedia because it was the standard back then. Over time, I used the Windows Media format because it comes preinstalled on Windows computers, and thus, users don't have to download software to use my site. Many companies, Internet cafes, and schools restrict what the computer user can install, but since the Windows Media Player is already an inherent part of the system, users can listen without installation issues. Furthermore, the Windows Media Player also has a speed control setting to vary the playback of the audio files which is ideal for learners wanted to listen intensively to the recordings.
11. I can't hear any audio? What should I do? Is your site down?
There are several possible reasons and a couple of options for solving this problem. Often, the solution may depend on whether you are trying to listen/watch files on a computer or a portable media device such as an iPhone.
First, be sure that your portable device or computer can play Flash files (which about almost computer can). I have also configured the media files to play on some portable devices that don't handle Flash (e.g., the iPhone or iPad). An additional option is to play the files using Windows Media Player. Often, visitors have no idea whether they have the software installed or not. Read about the Players here. Actually, you don't need the newest player of these software because I created the audio files to work on older players so more people (even those with older computers and slower Internet connections) could hear them.
Next, be sure you have your computer speakers turned on. Sounds simple, right? Yes, but people still forget to check.
Finally, when people say that a site is down, it actually could be unrelated to the Web site they are trying to access. In other words, when data files travel from the Web site's server to your computer, they must pass through any number of hardware devices called routers. If one of these routers is experiencing problems, your request for a Web page could be delayed, rerouted, or stopped, even though the Web site server is functioning fine at the site of origin, and other people from other locations might be able to view the page without a problem. So, before attributing the problem to the Web site, just remember that not being able to view a Web site could be due to other issues with the Internet unrelated to any one site.
Another possible problem could be trying to retrieve the media files through a firewall (i.e., "security devices used to protect companies from unauthorized access to their servers), and many schools and companies have firewalls to protect their networks. Check with your network administrator to see you have difficulties retrieving the audio.
12. How did you decide on the content for the listening activities? Is it all original material?
The listening activities have written for high-beginner to advanced students and focus on both basic functional language and academic, critical-thinking skills. I have received numerous requests for more advanced listening comprehension exercises, and I have added several more challenging quizzes to accommodate these learners. All of the quizzes and scripts are original material, written by me, unless otherwise noted. I must say that many people, including my family, have inspired me to head in certain directions with Web site content. Hey, life is never dull with fun and creative family around.
13. Are you planning to add more Video activities to this site?
This is an ongoing project. I have 60+ videos in my section called Video Snapshots. I hope to add more, and I also am adding videos to the listening section of my grammar lessons.
14. May I add a link of your site to my homepage?
Sure, no problem, but please be kind enough to send me a message letting me know where and how it will be used. You can simply add this code to your page:
<A HREF="http://www.esl-lab.com">Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab</A><br>
This ESL/EFL multimedia site is designed to help English learners improve their listening comprehension through a variety of audio and video conversations, interviews, and news reports.
15. Are you available to give workshops or presentations on language teaching or online materials development?
Very much so. I enjoy meeting other colleagues in person and giving presentations on a variety of topics including:
demonstrating innovative activities for teaching all language skills, with special emphasis on listening, speaking, pronunciation, grammar
developing assessment tools, including classroom achievement and program placement tests
using video (commercial messages, movies, sitcoms, and student productions) to improving listening, speaking, and oral grammar skills
using technology, specificially digital voice recorders and MP3 players, to assessing students' speaking skills
teaching students to develop cross-cultural awareness through engaging simulation activities and games
developing ESL/EFL Web sites for self-access learning
designing web-based placement and proficiency tests
teaching effective techniques for searching and researching information on the Internet for academic purposes
creating audio and video language-learning content for the Internet
I have given such lectures and workshops in the US, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Peru, and Saudi Arabia, and you are welcome to e-mail me if you are interested in such a presentation.
Randall in Nanjing, China, giving lectures to Chinese English teachers on language teaching, cultural training, and educational technology.
Here are some of the presentations I have given:
Searching the Internet with a Backhoe, not a Toothpick. TESOL. New York City, New York.
Creating Listening Activities That Work. TEFL Conference for School Teachers. Trujillo, Peru.
Video Recipes for Enhancing Students' Listening and Speaking Skills. National Convention of Bi-national Centers. Trujillo, Peru.
Fostering Cross-cultural Understanding via Simulations. Korea TESOL Conference: Technology in Education. Kyong-ju, Korea.
Friend or Foe: Technology in the Language Classroom. National Autonomous University of Mexico. Mexico City, Mexico.
The ABCs of Authoring Multimedia for the Web. National Autonomous University of Mexico. Mexico City, Mexico.
Multimedia Web Sites for Improving Listening Comprehension Skills. TESOL. Daring to Lead, Tampa, Florida.
Ten Keys to Effective Speaking Assessment. TESOL. Daring to Lead, Tampa, Florida.
Creating an Effective ESL Website from the Ground Up. Brigham Young University at Hawaii, Laie, Hawaii.
Appraising Language Skills Development Through Alternative Assessment. Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Comic Strips: An Innovative Tool in the ESL Classroom. I-TESOL Language Conference, Park City, Utah.
16. What should I do if I find mistakes in the listening activities, scripts, or sound files? You won't get upset, will you?
By all means, send any corrections and/or suggestions. Good or bad, I'd like to hear from you. Your ideas keep my Web sites going.
17. Who are the voices in the listening activities?
I must give credit to former colleagues and family for their tremendous help in adding spice, life, and variety to this site: Jeff Brown, Jim D'angelo, Markus Hallensleben, Steve Ryan, Judy Venable, Jeff Davis, and my family. Thanks to them, you're not stuck listening to my voice all the time.
18. Where do you find the time to work on your site(s)? Do you ever take a vacation or sleep at night?
I've been surprised at how many people have asked me this question. As I mentioned earlier, it takes a lot of time to create and maintain one site, let alone eight of them I currently have, and I do my work on my Web sites outside of my regular job either on the bus to and from work, before the crack of dawn, or late at night. The difficulty comes not from just creating a site, but constantly maintaining and enhancing it to meet the needs of students and teachers.
However, I enjoy my free time which including spending most of it with my family. I love hiking, trail running, camping, canyoneering, and almost anything in the outdoors. You can see some of my adventures at my Web site, Hiking in Utah. Most people wouldn't think that participating in foot races of distances of 50-100 kilometers as "fun," but I have found that the mental challenge of completing a race that takes 15+ hours over often rugged mountain terrain can help in other aspects of my life. I'm not a fast runner, but just like learning another language, the journey is just as important as the destination.
19. How many hits to you have each month?
The word "hit" means many things to different people, and often misunderstanding occurs depending on how it is defined. When a site claims to have over 10,000 hits a day, it doesn't necessarily mean that they had 10,000 different people visiting a Web site. In basic terms, a hit is any file (document, graphic, sound, etc.) that is requested by the server when you visit that site. In other words, if you visit a page with five pictures, that could mean six hits (the page and five graphic files).
Let's just say that if people are enjoying the site, then I am satisfied, and the site is all worth it.
20. Do you sell the rights to use your materials in other commercially-prepared teaching materials?
At times, I license the rights to use my material in other text publications such as books and magazines, or for use in listening tests. Contact me for details. Please specify how the materials would be used when writing.
21. Do you accept advertisements on any of your sites?
Yes. Feel free to contact me HERE for more details.
22. How often do you update your Web sites?
I update my Web sites daily even though some of the changes might be transparent to visitors. What visitors see most is the new material I am always working on, but I am constantly revising, changing, and trying to improve the current content to help students learn better. Although most people are not aware of this, my listening lab is only one of eight Web sites I am currently developing, in addition to other future projects; however, I feel it is also important to add new material as quickly as possible.
23. How did you decide on the audio format and quality of the sound files?
I recorded the original source audio files in .wav format and then encoded them for the Web in RealMedia or Windows Media format, mainly because of the popularity and ease of use of these media types for many different computer platforms.
More recently, many of my listening activities use a Flash player that plays the audio right inside the Webpage, so visitors don't have to work between a browser window and the media player.
As for the encoding rate for the media files, I have prepared the files in a format that is small and, more importantly, can play on older versions of media players so that users with older (and slower) computers can listen to them. With these smaller files, the quality is not CD audio, but I would rather prepare media files that can be heard by almost anyone in any part of the world than higher quality (and thus, much bigger files) that can only be heard by those users with high speed connections, and often, the newest versions of the software.
My goal has always been to create the site with a global audience in mind.
24. Do you have any suggestions for starting an educational Web site?
Well, there are many things to consider when creating a Web site. First of all, you need to decide on the objectives of your site, and I would first do a survey of existing sites to see what is out there. I suggest focusing on one specific area of language teaching and learning, and develop depth for that particular niche. Too often, people try to create an all-encompassing site only to be overwhelmed at the task. People often ask me why I don't expand my site to cover other skills areas, and the answer I give is that (1) I don't have the time and expertise to cover all of them, and (2) I realize that most people would rather have a banquet of content than snippets of this and that.
Once you have the idea, you have to determine if you have the time, skill, and financial resources to accomplish the task. Personally, I realized long ago that the area of multimedia development would take a great deal of time and progressive technology to accomplish. Furthermore, I needed complete access to servers to upload and test my projects . . . and I needed a great deal of time to do this. (I also have been blessed with a very understanding family). I could have sought professional webmasters to handle the technical issues of the site, but I wanted to learn all aspects of managing a multimedia Web site. With this in mind, I decided to learn all the skills myself so that I could develop and maintain the site exactly the way I wanted.
This has been a long and arduous process, but it has been the right process for me. The most fascinating part about the whole journey of discovery is that Web pages are dynamic, and you can constantly modify them as your own philosophies on education evolve. Traditional textbooks are static and lack this flexibility.
Personally, I believe that the greatest leaders of innovation in our field are teacher practitioners, not publishers, and I'm excited by what I see.
25. How can I learn English better?
This is probably the question I hear most from visitors to my site, and it is difficult to answer in a few sentences. It would be nice if there were a very simple answer, but so much of our success depends on a variety of issues.
Basically, learning a language involves many factors and activities, some of which I have listed here. Not all of these will be applicable to everyone, but they might get you started.
Ask yourself if you have a natural ability to learn. You can't buy this. If you find learning in general easy to do, then you might be better prepared to learn a language. For other people, keep in mind that it might take you longer than someone else to learn a language. Just be patient. Also, some students have a natural ability to speak, but their writing, spelling, and reading skills are very low. Everyone is different.
Have realistic goals. Unfortunately, not all students will learn enough academic English to go to a university in a foreign country. Others won't be able to enter a unversity in the time frame they expect. Some think that they will be able to pass the TOEFL with a high enough score within months or even a year, and they then become discouraged when things don't work out. Personally, I have accepted the fact that I will never be able to dunk a basketball. I can practice 32 hours a day, and the result won't change. However, learning how to shoot the ball better is a realistic goal for me.
In addition, too many students think that they can learn on their own with little effort, but they really need help right from the beginning of a class. Some schools might provide after-school help with tutors. Take advantage of such opportunities. All too often, I tell students to go and get such help, but they think they will be able to figure out what they don't understand on their own. Then, when it is too late and they are failing, they wish they had listened to me.
Increase your internal motivation to learn. It can be difficult to motivate some students when they don't see opportunities to use the langauge in the near future. Think about this: If your father promised to buy you a new car if you got a good score on the TOEFL, then you might be motivated to learn. That isn't always the best motivation, but it can work for some people. A better level of motivation is one that comes from within. All too often, some of my students start a class with a casual attitude to learn and only start pushing themselves until it is too late to pass a class. "Randall. Please. Help me pass. I know that I didn't study, but please!" That is being reactive, NOT proactive. Planning and thinking ahead is the key.
Students who learn the fastest often have different techniques or methods for picking up a language. One of the biggest problems I see in my own students is that they don't know how to use the words they are learning. In other words, they might have a general idea on the meaning a word (for example, encourage), but they have no idea on how to use it in a sentence or question (for example, My teacher encouraged me to study harder for the test.).
Weaker students tend to simply use a basic dictionary on their smart phone to find the meaning of the word and then write the meaning in their language next to the new word. This process can be very fast, but it still leaves students wondering how to use the word. Instead, students need to use a good dictionary (that often costs money for a good one) that has plenty of sample sentences. A dictionary I like for the iPhone and iPad is the Merriam-Webster's Learners Dictionary. You can also use the Web version of it HERE. This app costs about the price of a hamburger, but it can help learners understand how the word can be used in so many ways.
Be active in your learning, and watching a movie is NOT the best way to learn English. Picking up a language at a movie theater with a box of popcorn, a candy bar, and a drink could certainly lead to greater indigestion (stomachache), but just like any skill, learning means more than sitting and watching the action. In other words, you will improve your speaking AND listening skills by TALKING about what you watch. Listening and speaking go together. Get together with some friends and talk about the movie.