The Effect of Frequent Dictation in Foreign Language Lessons

This is a guest post written by Tetyana Skrypkina

In my teaching foreign languages practice I do use frequent dictations with my students. For it to be more successful, before the dictation I provide students with the list of unknown words and collocations, which might not be recognized by them due to the accent or speed of speech.  Firstly, I give the list of unknown words, we read and translate (if necessary; and yes, I use the L1 for explanations), play the whole tape, then students are to write one chunk of meaningful speech after another, keeping the chunks in their mind. This helps strengthen their

At first, this activity might be time consuming, but if you practice it regularly, each time you will need less and less time.

Here is a brief example of my German classes. I had a one-to-one Skype lessons with a student .  The books we use have a CD with audio, each track is approximately 1 min 30 seconds long. In the beginning, it took us about 30 minutes to cope with one audio. But as we kept doing this activity, it took less and less time.

When I studied Spanish, my teacher used to give me frequent dictations as well. And it helped, not only with my listening comprehension in Spanish, but also when I was learning Hungarian in Budapest.

Unfortunately, I haven’t carried out any research on this topic, but this year I came across one piece of research: “The Effect of Frequent Dictation on the Listening Comprehension Ability of Elementary EFL Learners” by G. Reza Kiany and Ebrahim Shiramiry.

This study was conducted in April 2000 at the Kish Language Institute in Tehran. Sixty Iranian elementary EFL learners were chosen. These 60 participants were in four classes. Before the experiment all had been studying English in the Institute for three 20-session terms, approximately 100 hours each. “The students in the control group were given the listening exercises in their textbook”, Headway Elementary (Soars & Soars, 1993), and “the results showed that dictation had a significant effect on the listening comprehension ability of the participants in the experimental group.”

According to the Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics (Richards, Platt, & Platt, 1992), “Dictation is a technique used in both language teaching and language testing in which a passage is read aloud to students, with pauses during which they must try to write down what they heard as accurately as possible” (p. 108). Davis (1995) lists 10 reasons for using dictation in EFL classes, including giving a good listening practice to the whole class in a short time and making students listen attentively. Morley’s (1977) book Listening Dictation is about using dictation to develop basic skills in discriminative listening and in extracting meaning from spoken English sentences. Ur (1991) recommends using dictation exercises as an activity for listening both for perception and comprehension.

In the treatment, the two classes in the experimental group were given not only the listening exercises of their book, but also 11 dictation exercises. The two classes in the control group were given only the listening exercises in their book. The passages and conversations used for dictation were short, consisting of about 100 words each, and each dictation would take around 10-15 minutes. While taking dictation, the class was quiet and the quality of the tape and the cassette player was good.

The materials for giving dictation were the native-recorded passages and conversations in the course textbook. The procedure to carry out the treatment, giving dictation, was as follows. First, students were made aware of the topic of the passage or conversation to activate their background knowledge; they then listened to the whole passage or conversation without any pauses. Second, the tape was replayed and stopped after each meaningful chunk, and students wrote down what they heard. In the third stage they listened again to the whole passage or conversation to check what they had written. After the dictation they checked their writing against the tapescript in their textbook. Sometimes after checking their dictation, participants listened to the tape again while looking at their dictation and paying special attention to their mistakes.


There is a significant difference between the listening comprehension ability of those elementary EFL learners who are given frequent dictation and the listening comprehension ability of those who are not.

  • The participants in the experimental group were forced to listen more attentively to decode the foreign speech.
  • During each dictation participants had to keep one chunk of meaningful speech in their mind until they could write it on paper. This may have helped strengthen their memory.
  • Dictation with recording of native speakers of English makes learners aware of difficulties of understanding English spoken by native speakers in comparison with the English spoken by Iranian EFL teachers. This coincides with Kenworthy’s (1990) recommendation to use dictation of native recorded speech to make learners aware of these aspects of pronunciation.
  • When EFL learners are given dictation, they notice their weaknesses in perceiving and understanding English spoken by native speakers and try harder to improve their LC ability.


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