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What Are the Advantages of Dictation?

April 9, 2024
Jennifer Wozniak

These advantages demonstrate that dictation, when approached creatively and thoughtfully, can be a highly effective and multifaceted tool in the language learning process in secondary schools in England.

Originally from France, I experienced dictation as a learner in primary school as it was and still is part of the French educational system. This is something that is done weekly. In fact, in primary schools in France, dictation (known as "la dictée") plays a significant role in language learning, and it is integrated into the curriculum for several reasons:

  • Spelling test and language complexity: La dictée is essentially a spelling test, emphasising the complexity of the French language, which is full of homonyms and difficult conjugations. This makes it an effective tool for teaching not only spelling but also grammar and language comprehension​. 
  • Learning accents and sounds: French, being a language with many accents and hidden sounds, benefits from dictation exercises as they help pupils in accurately understanding and writing the language.
  • Fostering a love of reading and language: Teachers often use literary texts for dictation exercises, which can instil a love of reading in pupils. The exercise, when well-prepared and based on taught material, becomes an engaging and educational experience​.
  • Understanding the diversity of language: Through dictation and studying classic French poets and famous poems, pupils are exposed to the diversity of the French language, enhancing their understanding and appreciation of it​.

In England, dictation has a different role but is also emphasised in language learning, as Modern Foreign Language teachers have always made their pupils do activities such as running dictation or spelling bee. However, dictation has become even more fashionable lately, as it was revealed that it would be part of the new GCSE, with the first exam in 2026. This new task on the new GCSE is to test Sound Symbol Correspondence and will allow full marks, even if not fully accurate. 

Although I agree that it’s important to practise dictation at KS3, I would not personally encourage teachers to use the GCSE mark scheme for dictation at KS3 but rather practise dictation activities to train pupils. 

Decoding skills, which involve correlating written language with its spoken form, are essential for acquiring language skills, particularly for enhancing listening and reading fluency and dictation can help with that.

This is where dictation has a lot of advantages, for example: 

  • Development of all four language skills: Dictation can aid in the development of speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills - addressing various aspects of language acquisition from listening and pronunciation to grammar and spelling. 
  • Attentive listening and sound discrimination: It ensures that pupils listen attentively and trains them to distinguish different sounds.
  • Reinforcement of spelling and sound correlations: It helps reinforce the correlation between spelling and sound.
  • Improvement in listening skills: Over time, it can improve pupils' listening abilities.
  • Error identification and language awareness: When pupils compare their dictation with the original text, make them notice often-overlooked aspects of the language and identify common mistakes they make. Use the opportunity to discuss the language and ask questions about it (eg. why did we need an extra -e- there?). This practice can improve, over time, their ability to detect and correct errors in their own written work.
  • Focus on accuracy and meaning: Dictation exercises help pupils focus on both the form (accuracy of language) and the meaning of the text. This balance is important in language learning, as it ensures that pupils are not only correct in their use of language but also comprehend what they are writing or speaking.
  • Developing inference skills: Dictation can be used to enhance the ability to infer from context, such as by dictating texts with gaps for pupils to fill based on their understanding. This not only improves listening and comprehension but also encourages critical thinking and contextual understanding​​.
  • Engagement and fun: activities like 'running dictation', ‘delayed dictation’ or 'jumbled story' make activities more engaging and enjoyable. These methods involve pupils in active learning, where they have to memorise and determine text structures, thereby enhancing their understanding and retention of the language​​​​. 
  • Practicality for teachers: Dictation activities can be adapted to any level. It can be as simple as single words to a short text and the language used can be as simple or complex as you wish.

These advantages demonstrate that dictation, when approached creatively and thoughtfully, can be a highly effective and multifaceted tool in the language learning process in secondary schools in England. 

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Jennifer Wozniak-Rush is Assistant Headteacher at The Hollins in Lancashire.