That Elusive Tapescript (Or…)

…not) That is a joke, or an attempt at irony, because the tapescript is usually anything but elusive.

In most of the textbooks I’ve used, it is proudly presented in the last several pages, so students can locate and thumb through it easily. Sometimes it feels as if that tapescript is the bane of my existence because students read it in advance in order to find the answers to the questions asked about the listening passage. Sometimes they even consult it during a listening, despite my well-intentioned advice to the contrary.

Generally speaking, it’s a good strategy to listen first and only listen first; given a proper introduction to the topic, this most closely mirrors the situation they will face in the real world. An appropriate task should be set up so students need to listen for gist and not worry about remembering or noting every detail the first time they listen. Listening is hard for many learners; lots of people feel stupid if they don’t get the answer right immediately. I often try to avoid this by giving students the chance to check answers in pairs before checking as a group, or I nominate either a generally stronger student or one who seems to know in that instance. Despite this, I never seem to escape that weak student who coincidentally has all the answers right for the listening.

What’s frustrating about this is that the students reading ahead aren’t doing it to serve as a thorn in your side; they often do it because they aren’t confident in their listening ability or overall English level. As such, putting them on the spot by pointing out they’ve done it is not a good solution in my book. The difficult part is that even when I’ve discussed it with classes, sometimes people still do it.

There are definitely uses for the tapescript. One is for the students to read along on a subsequent listening, and then listen again without the tapescript. Another, more illegal, way is to make a copy of the tapescript and black out ten or so words. Give students the words and they have to fit them in and then listen to check. This would hypothetically – if you’re into immorality – be useful for a difficult or lengthy listening. Highly motivated students may want to buy the cassette and listen with the tapescripts at home.

Solutions? I’ve tried a couple: discussing why it’s valuable to listen only, giving reasonable tasks, and avoiding putting people on the spot for their answers. A more authoritarian method would be removing and confiscating the tapescripts, which is what my eighth grade French teacher did with our workbook answer key, but which somehow seems not right with adults. Perhaps EFL teachers could, en masse, conult publishers and demand tapescripts be printed either in random locations throughout the book or backwards so that they can only be read using a mirror. Other suggestions to stop over-eager listeners?