OER for your Ear – Adapting Audio Material for Language Learning

Here’s a post for this month’s ELTresearch blog carnival on Listening – for info click here.

Article: Using internet-sourced podcasts in independent listening courses: Legal and pedagogical implications

I chose this article, involving listening, because it brings up the issue of Open Educational Resources (OERs) that I find interesting and important. However, the article doesn’t quite get into the OER topic as much as I thought it would. I’ll provide a short summary of the article (in note form) and then some comments and suggestions of my own.

Podcasts and audio files have become popular in Language Learning (LL) because

  • Decreased cost (of internet, mobility, etc)
  • Increased access to content
  • Podcasts are good source of authentic language

Discussion arose out of designing a “Listening for Scientists” course for University level LLs

  • Students were weak in listening
  • Students has little time
  • No commercial material for specific content needs
  • Authentic materials were too high level

Because of this last point, there was a need for supplemental materials

  • This created potential copyright problems.

One solution: provide links directly to the audio material

  • no saved files
  • no transcripts

Selection of Podcasts/Audio Files based on:

  • Match area of Specialization
  • Range of Learner Levels
  • Transcript Availability

Design of supporting materials was based in research, focusing on complex and multiple ways that LLs listen.

Listening activities were supported by pre-listening activities to activate learners’ schema AND by ‘key idea’ and ‘summary’ tasks.

Both of the above were made explicit to students.

3 types of podcasts were used:

  • VOA Special English Health Report and Agriculture Report (public domain)
  • Scientific American 60-Second Science (conventional copyright)
  • MIT OpenCourseWare – Intro Biology course 7.014 (Creative Commons – attribution, noncommercial, share-alike)

Because of the conventional copyright, Scientific American was the most restrictive and provided the most problems (a useful flowchart (p225 in the article) highlights the restrictions).

No more than 10% of audio or transcript could legally be used.


The rest of the article describes the course in which the materials were used. My notes will stop here, as I want to focus mainly on the relationship between ESL audio material and OERs.

The underlying issue of the article is the diligent steps that educators and course designers need to take to ensure that materials are used fairly and legally. It may seem like a lot, or bothersome, but it is a small price to pay for access to materials.

And this is the special consideration of OERs and their relation to ESL: There is a fair amount of potential material online because target language is content AND medium. OERs, for language learning uses, exist unintentionally all over the place.

The big problem with this, as described in the article, is finding a suitable level of material for your students. This is difficult because copyright restrictions limit the supplemental materials that you can provide along with the audio files, and because OERs that are useful for language learning but were not specifically made for language learning will not have ESL or EFL specific metadata attached to them.

In the article, look at the difference between the Scientific American material and the other two sources. Because of copyright, the Scientific American materials were more difficult to adapt for use in the classroom compared to those under more open license.

The authors of the paper offer one method for adapting such copyrighted materials for language classroom use: include links to the file, contact the copyright holder for permissions, and reduce the amount of transcript to 10% of text or less.

Another approach the problem of OER suitability for language learning classes, and perhaps the long-term solution to the problem, is to start creating your own OERs.

Real power of OERs in language learning comes with that buffer zone of supplemental material that bridges the gaps between content and context:

  • Use an authentic language audio file
  • Adapt it via supplemental documents
  • Tag the documents for ESL/EFL purposes (ie: topic, skill focus, level, vocab, etc)
  • Put an open license on it

And, better yet still, see what authentic audio you can collect from your own class interaction, and create authentic language OERs from this:

  • Record students (with consent) discussing an authentic audio clip
  • Use this recording as an OER in itself. Students can:
    • Transcribe the audio document(s) on their own or in pairs/groups
    • Compare with transcriptions/understanding with partners
    • Offer corrections
    • Cite correct vocab use/eloquent language use
  • Add a CC license to the newly created OER
  • Include metadata (ie: topic, skill focus, level, vocab, etc)
  • Post it somewhere along with other supplemental materials (worksheets, etc, that students can also create)

Here’s a list and search of OER websites.  These are not specifically for language learning, but many can be easily supplemented for such purposes.

What would be great is if a collection of OER supplemental language learning materials existed somewhere. Does anyone know of such a thing? If not could it be created and would it be useful?

5 thoughts on “OER for your Ear – Adapting Audio Material for Language Learning

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  4. I laughed a little when I started reading this post because I had just tried to explain to a class why I could not put a listening activity online for them, “Sorry guys, copyright laws.” They looked at me as though I had sprung a third head! The idea of copyright to students who haven’t paid to see a movie in years is pretty foreign. Thanks for the suggestion of using OERs. I usually end up scrolling through youtube or TED, but I am glad to have another source.


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