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Approaches To Teaching Listening

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2238 words Published: 28th Apr 2017

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Through the time there has been a shift in language perspective. Listening as a skill takes priority over details of language content. Along this shift different approaches were chosen to teach listening. In late 1960s and in the early 1970s comprehension approach was used. It was a teacher centered approach in which no attention was given to mistakes or what may cause these mistakes. Teachers focused upon the outcome of listening rather than upon listening itself, upon product rather than process. Learners kept experiencing the same difficulties in same listening exercises as they were not taught how to deal with them. Comprehension approach provided practice in listening but failed to practice it. To make listening more effective it is necessary to judge understanding not only by the number of learners who answered the questions correctly but also to follow up responses in order to understand where understanding broke down and to put things right. This happens if the listening lessons are seen as diagnostic activity. Diagnostic approach requires teachers to identify and redress learner’s weaknesses as listeners. According to Brown: ” Until we have some diagnostic procedures the teacher can only continue to test comprehension not to teach it. We need to move to a position where the teacher is able to recognize particular patterns of behavior manifested y an unsuccessful listener and to provide exercises for the students which will promote superior patterns of behavior.” More listening does not necessarily mean better listening. Breaking listening into sub skills and planning series of short listening exercises can ensure better listening as it supports diagnostic approach, making it easy to identify the failure. More recently as listening takes the priority it should be seen as form of expertise. This requires intensive practice to become more automatic and exposure to real life experiences where taught practice have to be used appropriately and under the pressure of time.

Process in understanding spoken discourse

There are two kinds of processes involved in understanding the spoken discourse. These are generally referred to as Top down and Bottom up approaches. Bottom up refers to using the incoming input as the basis for understanding the message. Top down method on the other hand, uses background knowledge in understanding the meaning of the message. There have been several arguments about the use of these two methods. According to Vandergrift bottom up help learners to develop word recognition skills, whereas top down method help learners to develop real life listening skills. But alone it’s not adequate for developing word recognition skills. Tyler (2001) suggested that Bottom up method can be used for long term language retention but top down method can be used for quick acquisition by learners such as travelers, as it provides insufficient basis for communication. As a result it can be seen as a matter of the aim of the listening. At the same time it’s been clearly stated that effective listening occurs when Top down(meaning to language) and Bottom up (language to meaning) approaches occur together.

Appropriate Tasks for effective listening

The nature of comprehension is one of the main concerns to think before choosing the listening task Hundred percent correct and objective answers should not be expected form learners during the listening activity as what they understand recall or pay attention to are depend on the factors like their interest background and purpose in listening. ( Sheerin) Complete recall of all the information in an aural text is an unrealistic expectation to which even native speakers are not usually held. Listening exercises should be success-oriented and help students to build up confidence in their listening ability. The aim of the teachers should be making listening in second language (L2) as easy as listening in first language (L1). It is possible to make listening activities more effective by choosing appropriate tasks. Appropriate listening tasks must provide learners with necessary background knowledge and also cultural context when it’s needed, to make learners memory load less. Listening with more language knowledge make learners have more room in work memory to retain all information and make necessary revisions or inferences as they listen(Vandergrift). Listening task become more effective as listeners become more familiar with what they are listening. Tyler (2001) also supported this view by stating: “Topic familiar-texts may inhibit the development of bottom up skills.” Moreover listening tasks must have a purpose. As different listening tasks require different kinds of listening behaviors, learners need to know the purpose of the listening task to be able to choose the appropriate listening behavior. Shorter is easier to process principle rather than longer texts must be adapted as L2 listeners who can remember what they have heard perform more effectively (Brown). Effective listening materials consists of three parts; Pre listening, While Listening and Post listening and contain activities that link bottom up and top down listening (Field 98). Each part has specific aim therefore in an effective listening task; these three parts must be identical. Pre listening stage is used to activate knowledge, make predictions and reviewing key vocabulary. This stage must be used to simulate the appropriate background knowledge and to help learners to identify the purpose of the listening activity. While listening activities focuses on comprehension through exercises whereas Post listening generally involves response to comprehension. They all must be treated equally. All above these one of the main concerns about the listening task is authenticity; whether to provide L2 learners with the real life like listening materials or not. While some researchers support the use of authentic listening materials, others argue. Field suggested the use of authentic materials as they offer examples of hesitation, false start and pause, which characterizes the natural speech. Ur also emphasizes the importance of having listening instruction resemble real-life listening which makes the listener to built a sense of purpose and expectation for listening. These views match with the recent listening materials as it’s obvious that recent materials are trying to adapt more authentic tasks than before. In spite of these still there are some opponent views of the usage of authentic materials. Namely, Karen suggested that the authenticity might be a goal but not a starting point for learners. And Rost’s view supported Karen’s as he stated that authentic materials are difficult both for learners and teachers and planning is necessary to be able to use them. Teachers must ensure that learners adopt their inference strategies they use in L1 to L2 listening. Using authentic materials are popular and believe to be effective however there is no proof that they are inherently superior to pedagogic recordings. The important thing is to use the one which is effective for learners to get better. Along authenticity discussions, simplicity is yet another concern for researchers and teachers. Learners, when they are children, initially receive simplified input in learning their first language. There are some advantages of simplified language for L2 learners such as providing greater ease of comprehension for L2 learners and greater initial self competence in protected classroom environment. However it can cause learners to create unrealistic expectations that all L2 should be simple and easy to understand and it may cause to lose self esteem outside the classroom environment when learners cannot understand unsimplified speech. Hence activities must use authentic language without significantly slower or simpler speech than would normally be used in real life. Consequently it can be said that meaningful, interesting listening tasks using ordinary ,unsimplified, second language speech are effective.

Importance of support in teaching environment.

Importance of support in teaching L2 listening cannot be underestimated. Along appropriate tasks teachers still need to provide support during listening (Sheerin). This support can be in the form of a visual, transcript and/or positive feedback. In real life generally listeners have the opportunity to see the speaker. This supplies cultural information and so enable learners to predict more accurately. Visual aids such as maps, diagrams, pictures, or the images in a video help contextualize the listening input and provide clues to meaning. Moreover visuals reinforce the aural message and focus learner’s attention on the most important information. They are useful way of setting context which makes the activity more meaningful (Turner). Despite of the arguments about the necessity of them, transcripts are still thought to be other important support for learners. As use of the written record of the tasks are discussed, Sheerin supported the idea of transcript use by saying “full and accurately written transcript is important source of support for learners. It makes learners aware of the fact that they don’t have to focus on every single word they hear.” When examined Sherrin’s words carefully it can be clearly seen that use of transcripts not only help learners to improve themselves but also affect learners psychologically. Learners improve their listening if they have opportunity to see the whole text they heard. This enables them to see the use of the words. Moreover they feel that they don’t need to afraid of missing some of the words as they listen. Transcript use is a beneficial learning activity which must be provided as a supplementary activity at the end of the listening, after students made some effort. Furthermore easiest and widely use form of support is positive feedback. Positive feedback is very important in listening as it is a demonstrative skill and repeated failure can cause panic and psychological barrier to effective listening. Therefore it must be ensured that positive feedback is provided during the learning process as a mean of support.

Strategies and Strategy training

Strategies and strategy training are most demanding and discussed issues about teaching effective listening. First of all the definition of the strategy and the distinction between the strategy and sub skill must be understood. Sub skills are competencies which native listener’s posses and which non-native listeners need to acquire. Strategies, by contrast, are strictly compensatory. They are already available in L1. The goal in effective listening is to ensure that they are transferred into L2. Moreover strategies defined by Rost as; “Some aspects of listening are under conscious control of listener while others are automatic and not under direct control. The conscious aspects of any goal oriented behavior are viewed in psychology as strategies.” (Rost) Listening strategies can be thought of the way learners approach and manage the task. “The effect of different types of listening strategy was investigated by Rubin (1988) with high school learners of Spanish. The performance of three experimental groups was compared with that of two control groups in the comprehension of video. Although not all the hypotheses were confirmed, results demonstrated that the use of some listening strategies can help students work with more difficult material” (Vandergrift).Buck suggested two types of listening strategies; cognitive and metacognitive. Cognitive strategies are mental activities related to comprehending and storing input in working memory or long-term memory for later retrieval and metacognitive strategies are those conscious or unconscious mental activities that perform an executive function in the management of cognitive strategies. A lot of different researches have been done to find successful strategies. (Buck). As a result of these researches five commonly used successful strategies are defined as; Prediction, Making inferences, Attempting to clarify areas of confusion, Monitoring one’s own listening process and Responding to what one has understood( Vandergrift 96,98,99). Despite of the fact that there are different strategies available for L2 learners, they often do not approach the listening tasks in the most effective way despite what they may do in their L1 ( Mendelsohn). Therefore it is necessary to help learners to find the correct strategy. With this view, some researchers suggested strategy training. According to Mendelsohn strategies can and must be taught as training students about how to listen leads to improvement in their listening ability. Training effective listening requires identifying one’s goals in listening situation and act appropriate skills and strategies for one’s listening goals. ( Rost) As learner centered models of L2 instructions became the focus of attention, teachers became the trainers of listening strategies rather than simple providers of comprehensible input.. Learners are made aware of the possible strategies through the use of strategy training and this leads to teaching and learning effective listening.


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