Types of Listening in the ESL Classroom

Published on December 26, 2021 | Updated on June 19, 2024

There are 4 language skills that teacher have in mind when they teach a lesson.

Teachers can focus on speaking, listening, reading and writing or a combination of all or some of them.

Speaking and Writing are productive skills while listening and reading are receptive skills.

Listening is a passive skill because you don’t need to produce language in order to use your listening skills.

Listening as a receptive skill is really important since listening to others help us learn new vocabulary, improve our pronunciation among other benefits

Types of Listening in the ESL Classroom

We have a purpose when we write,read, speak and listening is not the exception

There are five primary purposes of listening in the English classroom:


All types of listening regardless of the purpose can be categorized in the following

Listening For Gist

This type of listening refers to the situations in which we listen with the intention of knowing the general idea of what’s being said.

Listening for Specific Information

 This refers to occasions in which we don’t have to understand everything that’s being said, but only a very specific part

Listening in Detail

This refers to the type of listening we do in which we can’t afford to ignore anything because we don’t exactly what information of the listening passage will be necessary to complete the task

Inferential Listening

This refers to the type of listening in which we have to reach conclusions based on the information we hear.

Types of Listening Texts

One way of classifying texts that we hear is to consider two basic categories:

  • Monologues: where one person does all or most of the talking
  • Dialogues:  where two or more people are talking together


These monologues or dialogues might be planned or unplanned. For example, when a student gives an oral presentation at the university, this is an example of a planned monologue

If someone meets an old school friend in the park by accident, then their conversation is an example of an unplanned dialogue.


Another basic distinction to consider is whether we can see the person who is listening to us or not. For example, a conversation with someone on the telephone is either planned or unplanned dialogue with someone unseen. 

Deprived of any clues from body language, we need to listen carefully to intonation and word choice to be able to judge the other person’s emotions. 


Another subcategory is interactional and transactional listening. Interactional is the kind of social communication that we frequently carry out when we talk to our friends.

 Transactional refers to trying to obtain or exchange information. So if you listen to someone giving instructions about how to use a new computer program, this is a mainly transactional listening.


 Sometimes, we listen to familiar topics. In this case, we don’t have to listen so carefully to every word. If we are listening to someone talking about an unfamiliar topic then we will have to pay much more attention.


It is important to be able to distinguish between these different types of listening because students may face different kinds of difficulties with different sorts of listening texts. 

When we have a clear understanding of the difficulties that students face, we are able to choose a suitable range of techniques to help them.

Manuel Campos

Manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of EnglishPost.org, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English