Frequently-Asked Questions

 

Information

Where are you from? What do you do in your "free" time?

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, playing games, or 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 https://www.hikinginutah.com.

Why did you create this site? Was it hard?

Back in the 1990s, my EFL students in Japan 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. 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 have added activities 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.

Was (is) the site hard to create? Well . . . . ., yes and no. It does take time to put all of the pieces together, but it's fun and rewarding. It takes time to create one language activity: racking my brain to come up with a good script, writing the test items, authoring the content through a Web-based content management system, taking a needed break to spend time with family, creating the sound file(s), adding sound effects, encoding the files, testing the activity, fixing problems, and uploading all of this to the server. Video quizzes take more time.

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.

What tools and services do you use to create your content and site?

Wow. There are too many to name for all the services I have used over the years. Some of them no longer exist. I think what some people might be interested in some of the basics.

In the beginning, I created all of the html static pages by hand. A long, technical process. However, I know use WordPress, a popular content-management system, for creating the pages. In addition, I use a content delivery network to handle audio and video files, backup storage with DropBox, numerous other services for handling other behind-the-scenes tasks.

For audio recording, I use the Blue Yeti for most of my recordings, Audacity for recording and editing, and other devices such as pop screens and tripods.

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  and a host of other paid supporting services. I also take care of costs related to content production, computer hardware, audio recording/editing equipment, media file licensing, software, domain registrations, supporting web-based software applications, and personnel resources. 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 learning worldwide.

Although I teach English full time at a university, I work on all of my Web sites outside of this teaching position so there is no conflict of interest. To support my Web sites, I raise funding by using targeted and relevant advertising, and 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.

Thus, in structuring my site in this way, I can provide the content for free. Take a look at my Terms of Use for complete details.

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.

Are there any restrictions on using your site?

Glad you asked. Visit my TERMS OF USE page for detailed information on this.

May I download any or all of the materials and then sell or distribute them for either educational or for profit?

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. Visit my TERMS OF USE page for detailed information on this.

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. Visit my Terms of Use page for detailed information on this.

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.

Which listening activity do you like best?
  • With my oldest daughterFirst Date - This is one of the classics on my site. I loved creating it. It reflects my concern and (overly)-protective nature for my daughter's safety when dating.
  • With my brotherCar Repairs - It highlights my fears of cars breaking down on long tips.
  • With me and myselfJust a Haircut, Please! - It is one of the few recordings in which I play both parts of the conversation.
  • With me and my wifeRunning Shoes - It reminds me to always be completely honest with my wife. Honesty strengthens relationships.
  • With the familySpace Radio Theater - It is the only recording in which four of our family play parts, and it was written by our son, Josh.
  • With me and my wifeAlcoholics Anonymous and Drug Addiction- These highlight serious health and social issues. Suicide Prevention is another topic close to my heart, since our own son, Joshua, died by suicide in 2012.
  • With the my youngest sonEnjoying the Zoo - It contains a completely unscripted conversation with my youngest son --- a conversation with the youngest person ever on my site.
  • With me sleepingHomestay in the USA - A puppet show with me sleeping through the entire conversation.
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 condenser 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 results are ones that I have purchased.

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. Now, my audio files are in MP3 format and play directly in the computer or mobile browser without any additional software.

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 you have your computer speakers turned on, and the audio is not muted. Sounds simple, right? Yes, but people still forget to check.

Next, try my site on different computers and devices from different locations. Probably the most common problem deals with an issue on a local computer, and not my site, and when people switch to a different device, they realize that a problem of some kind resides on their end. 

Finally, when people say that a site is down, it actually could be unrelated to the Web site that 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.

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.

Are you planning to add more Video activities to this site?

This is an ongoing project. I have 80+ videos in my section called English Culture Videos. I hope to add more. If you have a suggestion for a new video, please let me know.

May I add a link of your site to my homepage?

14. May I add a link of your site to my homepage?
Sure, no problem and please send me a message letting me know where it will be found. You can simply add this code to your page:

<A HREF="https://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.

Are you available to give workshops or presentations on language teaching or online materials development?

Very much so. You can read more about my speaking events HERE.  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, specifically 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.

Here are some of the presentations I have given as an invited or plenary speaker:

  • When Being Wrong Leads to More Empathy and Better Teaching. International Language Fair, Guadalajara, Mexico.
  • Embracing and Celebrating Imperfection on the Road to Better Teaching Thailand TESOL International Convention. Chiang Mai, Thailand Mexico
  • Finding New Pathways in a Dynamically-Changing Profession. MEXTESOL International Convention. Monterrey, Mexico
  • 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.
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.

Who are the voices in the listening activities?

I have to give the most credit to my wife, children, my brother, and former colleagues for their tremendous help in adding spice, life, and variety to this site: Jeff Brown, Jim D'angelo, Markus Hallensleben, Steve Ryan, and Judy Venable. Thanks to them, you're not stuck listening to my voice all the time.

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 a number of others 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 50-160 kilometers as "fun," but I have found that the mental challenge of completing a race that can take 30+ 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.

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 (SEE HERE). Contact me for details. Please specify how the materials would be used when writing.

Do you accept advertisements on any of your sites?

Yes. Feel free to contact me HERE for more details.

How often do you update your Web sites?

I update my Web sites regularly 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 rethinking, 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 several Web sites that 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.

People sometimes ask about the design of the site. To keep the site familiar and simple (and without the need of changing URLs of pages that have been up for years), I haven't modified the design much. In fact, I am still doing all the HTML coding my hand rather than rely on Web site building platforms that have become popular. The challenge with suc systems is that they can be very proprietary (relying on their own coding methods), and it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to switch to something else if you are unsatisfied with their service. With HTML coding, you can control the Web site without being dependent on a particular online design platform.

Thus, my site may look a little basic, but it still does what is designed to do: give learners opportunities to improve their listening skills. It is a system that I have been using for more than 20 years, but I am also open to change, especially in making it more accessible on mobile devices. As I design new sites, I may use other services or approaches to create and develop them.

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.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 university 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.

  3. Increase your internal motivation to learn. It can be difficult to motivate some students when they don't see opportunities to use the language 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.
  4. 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.

  5. 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.
  6. Visit Web sites that provide language learning material. I started this Web site at the end of 1997, and I have created a number of others including Daily ESLEZSlang, Train Your Accent, and Tips For Students. There are also many other great Web sites that can help you learn.

These are only a few ideas on learning faster and better. Good luck.