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Catedra de Limba i literatura englez EFL Methodology for English students, year II, 2011

DEVELOPING LISTENING COMPREHENSION SKILLS


Without being taught to listen, people may be able to express themselves orally. However, they will never be able to communicate successfully if they are unable to understand what is said to them. We cannot develop speaking skills unless we develop listening skills. For many years, listening skills did not receive priority in language teaching. Teaching methods emphasized productive skills, and the relationship between receptive and productive skills was poorly understood. A recent change of emphasis in the way listening is viewed has come from a realisation that speaking is not a separate skill in itself; but part of a broader skill that of participating in oral/aural interaction - that is, in speaking and listening. Even extended speaking activities like joke telling, recounting an incident, or giving a lecture, usually require the active participation of listeners. Some applied linguists go so far as to arguw that listening comprehension is at the core of language acquisition and therefore demands a much greater prominence in language teaching. Your pupils are likely to need a higher degree of aural (i.e. receptive) ability than of oral (i.e. productive) ability. In other words, they will need to listen to and understand a much wider range of language spoken to them (in terms of function, topic, grammar, vocabulary, accent, style, etc.) than they will need to be able to speak. This means that you must ensure at least as much listening practice as speaking practice, if not more. The amount of emphasis will depend ultimately on what level of accuracy and what level of communicative sophistication your pupils are aiming at. Moreover, listening to spoken language is also an important way of acquiring the language structures and vocabulary. Unit objectives: By the end of this unit you should be able to: identify the various sub-skills involved in the listening process select and apply appropriate classroom activities to develop these sub-skills set up, apply and monitor a variety of interactive classroom listening activities offer a theoretical justification for each of these activities integrate listening activities with the development of one or more of other skills assess the learning outcomes of the listening activities.

Key concepts: oral and aural skills, listening styles, redundancy, intensive and
extensive listening in the classroom, pupil response to listening, methodological model for listening activities, background information, alienation

1. The nature of the listening process and the listening subskills


In order to develop listening comprehension, it is first necessary to understand the nature of listening. Two models of listening can be identified: the bottom-up and the top-down processing models. The bottom-up processing holds that listening is a linear, data-driven process. Comprehension occurs to the extent that the listener is successful in decoding the spoken text. The top-down model of listening, by contrast, involves the listener in actively constructing meaning based on expectations, inferences, intentions, and other relevant prior knowledge. The language data serve as cues to activate this top-down process. Both processing skills are important as they both play important, but different roles in listening.

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Listening is vital in the language classroom because it provides input for the learner. Without understanding input at the right level, any learning simply cannot begin. Listening is thus fundamental to speaking. What sort of skills do your pupils need to develop, and how can you help them to do this? We need to look first at what the listening process consists of. Sound discrimination and recognition Identifying different intonation patterns Recognising words and understanding their information content Identifying grammatical grouping of words Understanding redundancy Recognising non-linguistic cues such as gestures Using background knowledge to predict and confirm the meaning.

To these subskills we may add prediction, selective listening, listening for different purposes, inferencing, and personalising.

Real-life listening and classroom listening

If you want to prepare your pupils for real-life listening, you need to be aware of the differences between real-life listening and classroom listening. Classroom listening is usually controlled and contrived, that is, listening situations are set up in advance, well prepared, and frequently scripted. Furthermore, the reason for listening is often a linguistic one. The material listened to may be read aloud from a written text, and as such it is likely to consist of full, grammmatically accurate sentences, clearly articulated and delivered at a deliberately slow pace.

2.1

Characteristics of real-life listening situations

Different listening texts have different vocabulary, grammar and even different phonology. For instance, there will be different phonological features in a chat and a supermarket staff announcement. A chat will generally go fast, it will make use of more contractions and there may also be a lot of fall - rise intonation. A supermarket staff announcement is generally issued in a monotone. The style of texts can vary from very formal, to formal, casual or intimate, with no hard and fast dividing lines between the styles. If you wish to make your classroom listening tasks authentic, you need to consider which of the characteristics of real-life listening you can realistically bring into the classroom. In real life, the language we listen to is quick, informal and improvised, with the speakers putting it together as they go along. Speakers and listeners often know one another and can anticipate what they are likely to talk about. Informal and spontaneous speech has the following features: A conversation is usually broken into short chunks as people take short turns to speak, usually of a few seconds each. The pronunciation of words is often slurred, and different from the phonological representation given in a dictionary. The vocabulary is often colloquial (e.g. guy for man, kid for child, etc.) Informal speech tends to be ungrammatical: utterances do not usually divide neatly into sentences; a grammatical structure may change in mid-utterance; unfinished clauses are common. There will be bits of the discourse that are unintelligible to the hearer, perceived by the latter as being noise. This may be because the words are not said clearly, or not known to the hearer, or because the hearer is not attending. We usually comprehend less than 100 per cent of what is said to us, making up for the deficit by guessing the missing items or simply ignoring them and gathering what we can from the rest. The speaker is normally redundant, that is, says a good deal more than is strictly necessary for the conveying of the message. Redundancy includes repetition,
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paraphrase, glossing with utterances in parenthesis, self-correction, the use of fillers such as I mean, well, er. To some extent redundancy compensates for the gaps created by the noise. Imagine someone asking you: What did you do yesterday? The question meaning is expressed by the word what, by the grammar (inversion and the auxiliary verb), and by the phonology (high start on What, fall - rise intonation on do). There is an abundance of information so that, if we happen to miss one of the items, we will still have four more chances at interpreting the utterance correctly. The discourse will not be repeated exactly; normally it is heard only once. This may be compensated for by redundancy, and by the hearers possibility of requesting repetition or explanation. To these language features we may add a few characteristics of the real-life context: Real-life listeners know what to expect. The listener almost always knows in advance something about what is going to be said, about who is speaking or about the basic topic. Linked to this is the purpose a listener normally has (e.g. to find out something). A listener always expects to hear something relevant to this purpose. Looking as well as listening. Only a very small proportion of listening is done blind (e.g. listening to the radio or telephone). Normally, a listener has something to look at that is linked to what is being said; usually the speaker him-/herself, but often other visual stimuli as well (e.g. a map, scene, or object, or the environment in general). In real-life, the speaker expects listener feedback. The listener is usually responding at intervals as the interaction is going on. It is relatively rare for us to listen to extended speech and respond only at the end. The responses are normally related to the listening purpose, and are only occasionally a simple demonstration of comprehension.

The speaker usually directs the speech at the listener, takes the listeners character and intentions into account when speaking, and often responds directly to his/her reactions, whether verbal or non-verbal, by changing or adapting the discourse.

2.2

Listening styles in real life

There are many types of listening, which can be classified according to a number of variables, including purpose for listening, the role of the listener, and the type of text being listened to. These variables are mixed in different configurations, each of which will require a particular strategy on the part of the listener. Listening purpose Listening purpose is an important variable. Listening to a broadcast to get a general idea of the news of the day involves different processes and strategies from listening to the same broadcast for specific information. Thus, there are two ways in which we listen: casual and focused listening. Sometimes we listen with no particular purpose in mind, and often without much concentration. Examples of casual listening are listening to the radio while doing housework or chatting to a friend. Usually we do not listen very closely, unless we hear something that particularly interests us. At other times we listen for a particular purpose, to find out information we need to know. Examples of focussed listening are listening to a piece of important news on the radio or listening to someone explaining how to operate a machine. In these situations, we listen much more closely; but we do not listen to everything we hear with equal concentration we listen for the most important points or for particular information. Usually, we know beforehand what we are listening for and this helps us to listen. Role of the listener Moreover, the way we listen changes according to what we are listening to, who we are
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listening to, where we are, etc. Another way of characterising listening is in terms of whether the listener is also required to take part in the interaction. This is known as reciprocal listening. When listening to a monologue, either live or through the media, the listening is nonreciprocal. a) Interactive/reciprocal and non-interactive/non-reciprocal listening. Interactive listening is, typically, listening in conversations, where the listener is also a speaker. Non-interactive listening is the kind of listening where the listener has no possibility of contributing. Arrange the following listening situations along the continuum interactive - non-interactive: instructions, traditional lectures, conversation, sermons, guided tours, loudspeaker announcements. interactive

non-interactive b) Transactional and interactional listening. Transactional listening takes place when we need to know what our interlocutor is talking about because we have to act upon it somehow. A transactional discourse has a purpose to solicit goods or services or a favour. Buying a pair of shoes in a shoe shop, ordering food in a restaurant, inviting someone to come to a party, are all examples of transactional discourse. Transactional listening requires attentiveness and selectiveness: we have to attend carefully in order to carry out (or refuse to carry out) what our interlocutor requires. For instance, a waiter has to listen and note the food and drink required, and so on. Interactional listening has to do with building and maintaining social relations. It covers all those conversations where we tell each other what we did yesterday and what we are going to do tomorrow. It also covers those short interchanges with strangers or distant acquaintances where we swap platitudes about the weather, comments about sport, etc. Whereas in transactional listening we need to listen attentively and selectively, in interactional listening we do not need to do so. However, we may decide to do so when an interactional conversation takes on a transactional flavour. c) Submissive and assertive listening. In submissive listening the listener submits her/himself to the authority of the speaker. The aim of the listener is to find out what the speaker means, what his/her opinion is, or to apprehend his/her vision of things. We might listen to a film or play, to a lecture or a sermon in this way. Assertive listening is to do with listening to a text for what it can give us. We may not care about the speaker, his/her point of view or style. All we want to do is get out some facts which are of use to us. We might listen to a loudspeaker announcement in this way, or to the weather forecast.

Classroom listening activities

The traditional aims for listening lessons were the presentation or practice of grammatical structures and vocabulary. Even now the principal rationale behind the selection of listening material in textbooks seems to be either a grammatical or a lexical one. However, it is often necessary to create lessons or lesson sequences that specifically address the listening
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comprehension problems your pupils have. The following could be aims for listening activities: to increase the pupils awareness of how listening with a purpose can make listening more effective to increase the pupils awareness of different styles to present various aspects of culture enabling the pupils to make useful predictions to present strategies for dealing with individual unfamiliar words or, more specifically: to increase the pupils awareness of the extent and frequency of contractions/short forms in normal, rapid speech. to introduce and provide practice in common collocations to provide practice in various grammar structures, focussing attention on their meaning to provide exposure to a variety of dialects, etc.

Some of these aims may still remind you of the traditional use of listening activities to present or practise language items. The big difference is that the texts used now are mostly authentic. Think first! How authentic does the following conversation seem to be? What features of authenticity does it show? A: Where are you going? B: Im going home. A: Are you walking or going by bus? B: Im walking. Im not going by bus. A: What are your plans for the weekend? B: Im going to give a party. A: See you tomorrow. B: See you. incomplete sentences repetition of certain structures contractions hesitations and fillers changes of topic redundancy ungrammatical utterances

3.1

Listening to spontaneous speech in the classroom

Most listening texts you use in the classroom should be based on either genuinely improvised, spontaneous speech, or on a fair imitation of it. These texts have the advantages of speaker visibility (your pupils will see you talking to them) and of being a kind of direct interaction, which the pupils may interrupt. A written text that is read aloud as a basis for classroom listening activity is unlikely to incorporate the characteristics of informal speech and will provide your pupils with no practice in understanding spoken discourse. You should improvise at least some of the listening texts yourself in the classroom. Video also makes a positive contribution to the effectiveness of listening practice, as it supplies the aspect of speaker visibility and the general visual environment of the text. When using spontaneous speech, encourage your pupils to develop the ability to extract the information they need from a single hearing. Help them by using texts that are redundant enough to provide this information more than once. Whenever possible, they should be able to stop you to request a repeat or an explanation.
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However, even if the pupils can do the task after one listening, you may wish to let them hear the text again, for the sake of further exposure and practice and better chances of successful performance. Can you think of any advantages of teacher spontaneous speech over recorded speech? Do you feel confident when using spontaneous speech?

There are many thoroughly authentic instances of listening to spontaneous speech in the classroom which present themselves in the normal run of things. The following procedures provide, in themselves, authentic listening: giving instructions, checking registers, answering questions, instructions, encouraging students, correcting, explaining, checking, answering questions, solving students problems. Authentic listening activities in class which do not necessarily occur normally, but which can easily be made to occur are, among others, student presentations and pre-lesson chit-chat.

3.2

Intensive and extensive listening

According to focus, listening activities can be classified as intensive or extensive. Intensive listening is done either for detailed comprehension of the meaning of a text or for language. During the activities which focus on the detailed comprehension of meaning the pupils are reinforcing a structure or practising a grammar point that is linked to the rest of the lesson. This can be done through: Comprehension questions: (i) (ii) factual, where the answer is clearly stated somewhere in the passage. inferential, where the pupils have to make some sort of connection themselves, such as a connection between two parts of the passage or between something in the passage and the pupils knowledge of the outside world. personal, where the question is related to the pupils own experience or opinion.

(iii)

Summary questions. The pupils listen to a passage and then summarise what they have heard. They may take notes as they listen. The summary can be written up in the form of a letter or a newspaper report. Logical problems can be used to encourage very careful intensive listening.

Intensive listening for language provides detailed work on language once the pupils can understand what they are listening to. This work is effective if the linguistic exercises are related to each other and to the listening passage. In extensive listening the pupils are primarily concerned with following a story or finding something out from the passage they are listening to. You should prepare the pupils for the listening by telling them something about the topic of the listening text or by giving them key words. To a large extent, however, the division between intensive and extensive listening is somewhat artificial. It is easy to use the same listening text for both extensive listening and more detailed work.

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3.3 Listening comprehension activities classified according to learner response


Listening activities can be classified according to how the pupils respond to the listening material. Responses give the pupils an immediate motivation, structure the listening and make it meaningful. Think first! How can you know whether your pupils are following or not, when they are not supposed to give any response?

No overt responses The pupils may not have to do anything in response to the listening text, when they are engaged in such activities as: Stories. You tell a joke or real-life anecdote, retell a well-known story, read a story from a book; or play a recording of a story. If the story is well chosen, your pupils are likely to be motivated to attend and understand in order to enjoy it. Songs. You sing a song yourself, or play a recording of one. If no response is required the pupils may simply enjoy the music without understanding the words. Entertainment: films, theatre, and video. As with stories, if the content is really entertaining (interesting, stimulating, humorous, and dramatic) your pupils will be motivated to make the effort to understand without the need for any further task.

Even if the pupils are not asked to give a response during such listening activities, you can still watch their facial expression and body language to see if they are following or not. Short responses The class may be expected to give short responses when they are engaged in activities like the following: Obeying instructions. The pupils perform actions, or draw shapes or pictures, in response to your instructions. Ticking off items. You provide a list, a text or a picture; the pupils mark or tick off words as they hear them within a spoken description, story or simple list of items. True / false. The listening passage consists of a number of statements, some of which are true and some false. The pupils write ticks or crosses to indicate whether the statements are right or wrong; or make brief responses (True! or False!); or they may stay silent if the statements are right and say No! if they are wrong. Detecting mistakes. You tell a story or describe something the class knows, but with a number of deliberate mistakes or inconsistencies. The pupils raise their hands or call out when they hear something wrong. Cloze. The listening text has occasional, widely spaced brief gaps, represented by silence or some kind of buzz. The pupils write down what they think might be the missing word. If you speak the text yourself, then you can more easily adapt the pace of your speech to the speed of your pupils responses. Guessing definitions. You provide brief oral definitions of a person, place, thing, action, etc. and the pupils write down what they think it is. Skim and scan listening. A listening text is given, in which the pupils are asked to identify some general topic or information (skimming), or certain limited information (scanning) and note the answer(s). Written questions inviting brief answers may be provided in advance or a grid with certain entries missing or a picture or diagram to be altered or completed.
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Longer responses When you organise such activities as the following, you will expect longer responses: Answering questions. One or more questions demanding fairly full responses are given in advance, to which the listening text provides the answer(s). Because of the relative length of the answers demanded, they are most conveniently given in writing. Note-taking. The pupils take brief notes from a short lecture or talk. Paraphrasing and translating. The pupils rewrite the listening text in different words, either in English (paraphrase) or in Romanian (translation). Summarising. The pupils write a brief summary of the content of the listening passage. Long gap-filling. A long gap is left, at the beginning, middle or end of a text; the pupils guess and write down, or say, what they think might be missing. Extended responses In such activities, the listening is only a jump-off point for extended reading, writing or speaking (these are combined skills activities). Problem solving. A problem is described orally; the pupils discuss how to deal with it, and/or write down a suggested solution. Interpretation. An extract from a piece of dialogue or monologue is provided with no previous information; the pupils try to guess from the words, kinds of voices, tone and other evidence what is going on. At a more sophisticated level, a piece of literature that is suitable for reading aloud (some poetry, for example) can be discussed and analysed. A number of procedures can be used for encouraging response to a listening piece: 1. Ask pupils to interrupt/stop the tape and ask for clarification where necessary. Teach them appropriate language for doing so. 2. Give pupils a set of comments (What rubbish! That's interesting. I didnt know that. etc.) Ask them to stop the tape and make the comments in appropriate places. 3. With dialogue material, stop the tape after each line and ask pupils to say what they think the other person is going to say. 4. Ask pupils to fill in charts, forms, etc. where appropriate. 5. Ask pupils to take notes, especially from lectures, news, current affairs, etc. 6. Provide pupils with the 'task' that would be carried out if they were listening outside the classroom. For example, after listening to recorded messages on an answering machine, pupils note down the relevant information to pass on to their classmates. Which of the six procedures above can be adapted for reading, too?

3.4

Guidelines for designing effective listening tasks

Keep in mind that nothing works all the time, for everybody, in every situation. If an activity is useful, add it to your repertoire. If it is not, abandon or adjust it. Here are a few basic points to remember: Warm up before each activity, by introducing the topic and relating it where possible to your pupils own lives and interests. Give clear instructions and then check that the pupils have understood them. It is not sufficient to ask if they understand. Those who do not may remain silent for fear of exposing their ignorance. Ask one of the weaker pupils to tell you what they
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are going to do. When using a text, give the title and ask the pupils to predict the kind of language they are going to hear. Write any key vocabulary that they suggest on the board. Give them something to listen for, so that they have a purpose in listening. Tell them you want to know when the incident occurred, where, or what person, animal or object was mentioned.

Give your pupils in advance some idea about the kind of text that they are going to hear. The mere instruction Listen to the passage is less useful than something like: You are going to hear a husband and wife discussing their plans for the summer. The latter instruction activates their previous knowledge and enables them to use it to build anticipations that will help them understand the text. Provide a listening purpose by setting a task. Thus, rather than say simply: Listen and understand. give a specific instruction such as: Listen and find out where the family are going for their summer holidays. Mark the places on your map. The definition of a purpose enables the pupils to listen selectively for significant information. Look at the following descriptions and tick the examples of purposeful listening:

map.

Pupils listen to someone giving directions and trace the route on a

Pupils listen to a weather forecast and decide where they will spend (After M., 1993, Tasks for Language Teachers, CUP) the weekend if they want to Parrott, have good weather. Pupils look at photographs of the teachers family and, while the teacher talks about the people, they have to identify them by name. Before listening to a description of the town in which they are studying, pupils make a list of points they would expect to be made. As they listen to the description they tick the points which are, in fact, mentioned. Pupils listen to a story and subsequently answer questions about the events.
The task you set for your pupils will usually involve intermittent responses during the listening. You should encourage the pupils to respond to the information they are looking for as they hear it, not to wait to the end. The fact that the pupils are active during the listening rather than waiting to the end keeps them busy and helps to prevent boredom. Although they are the most naturally occurring responses, verbal responses are impractical in the listening classroom. Here the answers will have to be in the form of physical movements or written responses which can be checked later. Providing the pupils with some idea of what they are going to hear and what they are asked to do with it helps them to succeed in the task, and it raises their motivation and interest. This is often provided by a visual focus: marking a picture, diagram, or map or even a written text. If there is no pre-set task, you must make sure that the text itself is stimulating enough, and of an appropriate level. Occasionally, for the sake of the fun and challenge, or to encourage your pupils to use real-world knowledge to help interpretation, you may wish to ask them to find out what the passage is about without any previous hint. There are also listening activities, such as listening to stories or watching exciting films, which need no clear task beyond the comprehension itself. One real problem may be that materials writers often overload the task: too many responses are demanded of the pupils, information is coming too fast, there is not enough redundancy and there is not enough time to respond during the listening. The result is pupil frustration and irritation, even if the listening text is repeated.
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Look at the following list of personal factors and indicate which is characteristic of effective and which of ineffective listening. Write either E (for effective) or I (for ineffective) in the space provided. The pupil tries to understand everything tries to listen word by word tries to activate general knowledge of the topic to help him understand the discourse guesses in order to help him understand when he misses information thinks ahead generally while listening (guesses how the discourse will develop/what is going to be talked about) uses his knowledge of the language to narrow down the range of possibilities with regards to what the next key word or phrase may be varies his attention during the listening process, concentrating on particular words which are stressed, and on stretches of speech which are pitched relatively high in the voice range.
After Parrott, M. 1993, Tasks for Language Teachers, CUP

3.5

Procedures for the systematic development of listening comprehension

If you follow a systematic approach to teaching listening skills, then you might want to include phonology teaching procedures in your listening lessons. You could go beyond the phonological level and provide lexis and discourse recognition tasks, too. Developing recognition and discrimination of phonological features 1. Model, drill, show on board phonemes, consonant clusters at word boundaries, weak forms, main stress, intonation 2. Pupils show recognition (by raising: a left/right hand; a red/blue rod; a card with 1 or a card with 2 written on it; etc. ) of: word boundary phenomena (Did you hear /p/ or /b/?) minimal pairs stress recognition (Which word was stressed flower or red?) intonation recognition (Did the intonation on the stressed syllable go or ?) 3. Pupils listen and mark stress on a transcript. 4. Pupils listen and mark pause, change in pitch, etc. by drawing a line. Skim listening Skim listening (or gist listening) is listening to get an overall idea of what is going on. This is not to be confused with a first listening procedure, where you allows pupils to listen to a tape once through to get a general idea, before going on to more detailed comprehension questions. The point of this is simply to help learners over the difficulties of alienation from the tape recorder. The most obvious way of doing this is to expose pupils to different non-interactive listening pieces and to point out, by comparison, what sort of overall message is going on. Building confidence with listening pieces and texts 1. If you are planning to make extensive use of a tape recorder or video recorder for listening, then you can help them to feel confident by using the equipment in the
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2. 3. 4.

first instance to play music or to show film with no dialogue. Use a short extract at first, building up to longer pieces. Confidence can be built up by providing very easy tasks initially, moving on to more difficult ones. Pupils can increase their confidence in reading by underlining everything they understand (this encourages a positive attitude, focuses attention on meaning rather than on difficulties, and provides a vocabulary avoidance strategy).

3.6

A basic methodological model for the teaching of listening comprehension

From the late 1960s, practitioners recognized the importance of listening and began to set aside time for practising the skill. A relatively standard format for listening developed at this time: Pre-listening. Pre-teaching of all important new vocabulary in the passage. Listening. Extensive listening (followed by general questions establishing context). Intensive listening (Followed by detailed comprehension questions) Post-listening. Analysis of the language in the text (e.g. Why did the speaker use the present perfect?) Listen and repeat: teacher pauses the tape, learners repeat words.

Over the past several decades, teachers have modified this procedure considerably. Now you can work with a model which has five basic stages: 1. Lead-in/pre-listening: Setting the context and creating motivation Pre-teaching of vocabulary has now largely been discontinued. In real life, learners cannot expect unknown words to be explained in advance; instead they have to learn to cope with situations where part of what is heard will not be familiar. It may still be necessary to present three or four critical words at the beginning of the listening lesson, but these must be absolutely indispensable key words without which any understanding of the text would be impossible. Although some kind of pre-listening activity is now usual, involving brainstorming vocabulary, reviewing areas of grammar, or discussing the topic of the listening text, one should set two simple aims for the lead-in/prelistening activity: To provide sufficient context to match what would be available in real life; To create motivation (perhaps by asking learners to speculate on what they will hear);

Prepare the class or have the pupils to prepare themselves for the task and get familiar with the topic of the listening activity. One of the major reasons for this is to create expectations and arouse their interest in the subject matter of the text. 2. Directing comprehension task: Make sure that your pupils know what they are going to do (to answer questions, fill in a chart, complete a message or try and re-tell what they heard). Explain and direct the pupils purpose for listening. Listening for the task. Speak or play the record while the pupils listen to the text to perform the task you have set. Extensive listening Most teachers make use of the extensive/intensive distinction. On a similar principle, listening tasks and international examinations usually specify that the recording is to be played twice. This is unnatural because in real life one gets only one hearing. However, the whole situation of listening to a cassette in a language classroom is artificial.
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3.

Furthermore, listening to a strange voice speaking in a foreign language demands a process of adjusting (to the pitch, speed, and quality of the voice). An initial period of extensive listening allows for this. Preset task/preset questions There have been changes in the way that comprehension is checked, too. We recognise that learners listen in an unfocused way if questions are not set until after the passage has been heard. Unsure of what they will be asked, they cannot judge the level of detail that will be required of them. By presetting comprehension questions, we can ensure that learners listen with a clear purpose, and that their answers are not dependent on memory. Intensive listening More effective than traditional comprehension questions is the current practice of providing a task where learners do something with the information they have extracted from the text. Tasks can involve labeling (e.g. buildings on a map), for filling (e.g. a hotel registration form), and completing a grid. Another benefit of tasks is that they demand individual responses. Each learner can make choices and makes something of what s/he hears. 4. Directing feedback. Checking answers When the pupils have performed the task, help them to see if they have completed the task successfully and find out how well they have done. This may follow a stage in which pupils check their answers with each other first. Post-listening: directing text-related task. Examining functional language Organise follow-up tasks related to the text. For instance, ask them to do more analytical work. Thus if the first task involved getting the general picture, return to the text for such a task as inferring attitude or deducing meaning. Inferring vocabulary meaning Also as part of post-listening, you can ask learners to infer the meaning of new words from the contexts in which they appear just as they do in reading. However, if the pupils perform unsuccessfully in their first comprehension task, redirect them to the same task to try again.

5.

3.7

Choosing listening materials for the classroom

Your choice of listening materials can be affected by considerations which have to do with presenting and practising grammar or vocabulary items. Apart from that, it is also possible to select texts and listening material on skills development basis. In this situation, you will consider the skills that the pupils will use outside the classroom and not the areas of phonology, grammar or vocabulary that are creating difficulties. Apart from these, several other factors need to be taken into account, like text type, style and register and listening style. An effective listening lesson will be characterised by the following features (Nunan, 241): The materials should be based on a wide range of authentic texts, including both monologues and dialogues. Schema-building tasks should precede the listening Strategies for effective listening should be incorporated into the materials Learners should be given opportunities to progressively structure their listening by listening to a text several times and by working through increasingly challenging
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listening tasks. Learns should know what they are listening for and why. The task should include opportunities for learners to play an active role in their own learning. Content should be personalised. Using authentic listening texts

If we use authentic texts, the pupils will be unable to identify most of the words they hear. In real-life situations, on the other hand, understanding of what is said may be less than perfect. Consequently, we need to help our pupils to adopt coping strategies: Identify the words in a few fragmented sections of the text. Make inferences linking the parts of the text about which they feel most confident Check those inferences against what comes next.

This kind of strategy is not confined to low-level learners. We need to encourage learners to listen and write down the words they understand; to form and discuss inferences; to listen again and revise their inferences; then to check them against what the speaker says next. In doing this, they get practice in the kind of listening they are likely to do in real life and we also make them realise that guessing is not a sign of failure, but something that most people resort to when listening to a foreign language.

3.8

Problems with classroom listening

Think First! Can you name some of the reasons why your pupils may not understand a spoken text? What aspects of listening to English are particularly difficult for your pupils to cope with?

Listening to a voice coming from a machine is neither easy nor common. Most pupils listen to the radio mainly for music. The only parallels with life outside the classroom are listening to announcements in airports, stations or supermarkets, or listening to commentaries in museums and on tourist buses. Trying to understand the spoken word through a similar medium presents particular difficulties. Besides the obvious difficulty presented by divorcing the spoken word from its normal visual circumstances, pupils may be alienated by the quality of the recording and their inability to have any control over what they are listening to and, in particular, over the rate at which it. The topic can be strange or unknown, and the pupils may feel it is offensive on their normal capacities. Their ability to listen extensively is determined, to a great extent, by their awareness or knowledge of the topic. If they know what they are going to listen to, they have expectations that they expect to be fulfilled, and they make predictions about what the speaker(s) will say. These expectations and predictions channel their attention to specific parts of the utterance. By knowing what to expect, and what they are listening for, they can more easily home in on what needs most attention or concentration. The pupils may not have enough background information. They need a network of general background information to help them comprehend the things they hear. Even extremely competent language users can have difficulty in listening when they are unable to use or to perceive the background information. Background information is an important factor in the expecting, predicting, recognising
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and inferring chain of skills. This information can be in the shape of the general situation (e.g. where the listening takes place), or the way speakers look (e.g. how they are dressed, or the expressions on their faces), or the scenario that is called up as the monologue or conversation gets under way. We refer to our experience to get ready and interpret what we hear correctly. The classroom may have a strange effect on some pupils normal capacities. Under normal circumstances, we always listen or read for a reason: enjoyment, curiosity, interest; or the need for a train time, an address, etc. There is always a purpose to our listening. This reason helps us to set up expectations about the content of the message and helps us to interpret it or to decode it. Similarly, under normal circumstances, we tend to get our bearings before listening. We do this in a number of ways: we may hear the title of a programme on the radio; at the beginning of a conversation we may ask a couple of questions to our interlocutor to check that we are both talking about the same thing; we may summon our existing knowledge (schemata) about the subject to the fore of our minds; we may look at the object our companion is pointing to, and so on. Finally, under normal circumstances, we may choose to listen in different ways: we may decide, for instance, not to listen to a loudspeaker announcement which is intended for someone else. The pupils in the classroom, however, have these normal mechanisms suspended. To most pupils, the purpose of listening in the classroom is an instructional one. This is one reason why pupils can normally listen to your instructions with less difficulty than when they are given a listening activity. Additionally, the classroom provides distractions which may hinder normal attention and also creates tensions, like being asked questions in front of others. Lack of linguistic knowledge will hinder the pupils attempts at understanding what they listen to. They may have difficulty understanding non-standard variants or they may be unfamiliar with many of the words in what they are listening to. In such situations they will give up trying to understand the text. If their grasp of grammar is shaky then they will misinterpret the message of the text. Why does the presence of individual unfamiliar words hinder the understanding of a spoken text?

Anything we listen to is overflowing with information, and competent listeners are given a large number of chances to decode the message of a text. Competent language users are familiar with the patterns of sounds, stress, intonation, spelling, lexis, grammar, discourse and style are able to eliminate unlikely alternatives spontaneously and unconsciously at every tiny step of the unfolding of the discourse. Exploiting redundancy means that when we are listening and we miss a word or a grammar marker, such as past-tense morpheme, we can usually guess what that word or marker was by hearing to the rest of the utterance. In other words, it is knowledge of patterns that makes the task of listening easier. The expectations of which sounds follow which, which words commonly go together, how words combine syntactically, along with background knowledge, reduce the amount of sounds, sound-groups, letters and words they actually need to hear. Can you understand what this speaker, with a slight speech defect, is saying: Top talking, tand till and tay there until I tell you to move. Why (not)?

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A good knowledge of how English discourse works helps the pupils to predict what they are about to listen to and to make correct inferences about what they have just heard - to make backwards and forwards connections to other parts of the discourse they are engaged in. This enables them to build a picture of the meaning of the discourse and of the relationships within it. The pupils lack of familiarity with the linguistic patterns of English reduces both their predictive and their guessing ability. Also, if your pupils level of language is not good enough, they cannot understand fast, natural speech. They will often ask you to slow down and speak clearly (by which they mean pronounce each word the way it would sound in isolation). If you do so, you will help them to learn to cope with everyday informal speech. Your pupils should be exposed to as much spontaneous informal talk as they can successfully understand. The pupils may find it difficult to keep up with the listening task. They may feel overloaded with incoming information. The solution is not so much to slow down the discourse but rather to encourage them to stop trying to understand everything, learn to pick out what is essential and allow themselves to ignore the rest. The pupils may often need to hear things more than once. There may also be good pedagogical reasons for exposing them to texts more than once. In real life, however, they will have to cope with one-off listening. You can try to use texts that include redundant passages and within which the essential information is presented more than once and not too intensively. You can also give them the opportunity to request clarification or repetition during the listening. The pupils will get tired. This is one reason why listening passages should not be very long, and why you should break them into short chunks through pause, listener response or change of speaker. Teaching or testing listening? We have little option but to use some kind of checking procedure to assess the extent of understanding that has been achieved. We tend to judge successful listening simply in terms of correct answers to comprehension questions and tasks. We focus on the product of listening when we should be interested in the process what is going on in the heads of the learners. On this view, the main aim of a listening activity is diagnostic: identifying listening problems and putting them right.

Summary
Listening is seen as a complementary skill to speaking in communication. Pupils may find listening difficult because some teachers consider it a passive skill, which does not need teaching. However, as listening is a medium over which the pupils have no control, it should be taught along with speaking. The pupils should be exposed to as many different types of listening as possible, as the objective of listening comprehension practice in the classroom is that pupils should learn to function successfully in real-life listening situations.

Further reading
Field, John. The Changing Face of Listening in Richards, Jack C. and Renandya Willy A. 2002, Methodology in Language Teaching. Cambridge: CUP. Harmer, Jeremy, 1991, The Practice of English Language Teaching, Longman Hubbard Peter et al., 1983, A Training Course for TEFL, OUP Nunan, David. Listening in Language Learning in Richards, Jack C. and Renandya Willy A. 2002, Methodology in Language Teaching. Cambridge: CUP. Richards, Jack C. and Renandya Willy A., 2002. Methodology in Language Teaching. Cambridge: CUP. Ur, Penny, 1996, A Course in Language Teaching. Practice and Theory, CUP

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