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Listening sub-skills

Listening Skill Difficulties/Why Possible solutions and practice activities

Phonological The students have difficulty with recognizing the After listening to a live or recorded listening, ask the students to
recognition sounds in the language, especially supra- choose which word was said, e.g. bad/pad. Asking the students to
segmental phonology (sentence level phonology). count the number of words in a sentence and identify the weak forms,
These difficulties can be caused by the lack of a e.g. for /fir/.
similar sound in their native language or there Teaching the students the phonemic chart, activities, as above, from”
being two or more phonemes that sound similar ship or sheep”, dictations where the students have to count/identify
making it impossible for the students to individual words or activities from course books on
distinguish between them. The difficulty at pronunciation/stress/intonation, e.g. ‘Upper Intermediate Matters
sentence level can be caused by difficulty in de- Student’s Book”(students mark the stress, choose the correct meaning
coding the individual words in connected speech. (dependent on the speaker’s intonation, Part A Page 6)
“Once words have been integrated into sentences
within colloquial, spontaneous speech,
recognizing them becomes much more difficult.”
(Ur 1984 Page 41)

Prediction The students have difficulty in predicting the The teacher can elicit information about the topic as a class before the
general content and also have problems with students listen individually; this will enable the students to tackle
predicting the next word. They may not have the prediction more confidently.
cultural or topic knowledge to allow them to The students can brainstorm (work together in groups each student
predict the content of a listening, or it may be that giving their opinion.) in order to predict the content of the listening
the students do not have enough grammatical thus talking each other’s ideas through logically. Teachers can stop
knowledge to predict the next word, e.g. Abu mid-sentence when dictating and the students have to decide what the
Dhabi is a ___________ country. The students next word will be, this activity I have found to be particularly
may not realize that an adjective often precedes a successful when the students are put in teams and the team that
noun. guesses correctly gets one point. Similarly, this can be done with
recorded material. Most importantly the teacher must create a purpose
for the students to listen

Listening for specific The listener may have difficulty in identifying the At lower levels the teacher can provide practice in listening for
information. specific information required if they try to listen specific information by following a cloze procedure: giving the
to all the words, including the redundant words in students a copy of an incomplete text that the students have to
the text. For the listener there is sometimes no complete as the teacher reads. If the teacher wants the students to
redundancy in the text and the learner overloads deduce the meaning, he/she can give the learners time to complete as
and cannot cope with the task. The students may much as possible before the listening takes place. Charts can be used
not recognize the discourse markers leading up to for the students to complete with as much or as little information as
the required information and therefore do not find necessary. At higher levels, the students can complete bar graphs, pie
the information required. charts or flow charts where the students have to complete the missing

Global comprehension. Students may have difficulty in identifying what The students must be provided with the opportunity to listen to a
the speakers are talking about. This could be due variety of listening materials in a relaxed way and given simple
to the frantic need to understand every word or questions to answer. It must be stressed that they students do not have
simply that the opportunity to listen to materials to remember every word that is uttered and that even native speakers
in a more relaxed way has not been provided in would not be expected to remember/understand every word of a
the classroom by the teacher. (More detail on dialogue, for example. Activities that would help the students develop
student problems in this area on Pages 7 &8) this sub-skill would be activities such as: answering simple questions,
e.g., Where are the speakers? Do they know each other? What are they
taking about?

Inference. This skill enables the listener to develop the When using listening material it is important to look at the level of an
process of arriving at a hypothesis of a listening inferential task given to match it with the student’s language level. The
text by deducing the meaning from the context of elementary students in the group I will be teaching for the next few
the listening material. Inferring can be a difficult months could not yet cope with a difficult task that would involve
sub-skill for students to master. This can be due to them in inferring a great amount of information, so the listening
their lack of knowledge in the second language, material that I use with them at the moment is fairly explicit, or the
which can result in the student resorting to more task set fairly simple.
child-like processing skills of only remembering However I hope to make the material less explicit in some listening
what is stated in a text. However, it is important exercises as their knowledge of the English language becomes more
not to over-simplify extensive. Some listening activities that could improve the learner’s
material or it may be seen as condescending to sub-skill of inferring are: asking about the situation the speakers are
the students. taking about, how old the people are, how many people are in the
“However, care needs to be taken that the situation, where they are, what they look like etc. Questions that
provision of explicit information is not perceived cannot be answered simply by the information in the text. At
by the adult L2 learner as a simplification of elementary level I would only give the students a few questions of this
intellectual content rather than of linguistic form” type, e.g. What do the people look like? This would make the task
(Anderson1988 Page52) manageable for the students.

Inferring attitude This would involve the student making In the past, I have sensitized the students to body language by basing
assumptions about the speaker’s attitude: whether lessons on body language and comparing the students own body
the speaker is happy/sad/angry/upset etc. language to others. This has proved to be both enlightening to the
Difficulties that would prevent a listener from students and to myself, e.g. I discovered that I was being very rude if I
becoming proficient in this sub-skill would be an blew my nose in front of a Japanese student. In a multi lingual class,
inability to understand the speaker’s body this type of lesson can produce a better understanding of each other
language, lack of knowledge in the topic area. A and can promote the gelling of the class. In a monolingual class, such
situation with which the student is unfamiliar, as the class I am presently teaching, it encourages the students to focus
inability to read the meaning of word/sentence on the visual clues that would normally be used in their own language.
stress when listening to the speaker. Work on pronunciation and stress would also be beneficial.
(See page 8 for activities on pronunciation /stress)

Detailed When the learner is expected to extract the With this group, I have done some dictation work, getting the students
comprehension majority of information from a stream of to record all of the information given to them by a peer. This I have
discourse, their must be a realistic purpose in done in the form of ‘shouting dictations’, where student A stands at
doing so, e.g. If listening to a radio programme, I one side of the room shouting the information to student B who writes
would not expect the listener to remember the down the information This helps the students to cope with other noises
majority of the words. However, if the listener when listening. We have also tried some ‘running dictations’, where
wanted to know how to cook a particular dish, one student has the information stuck on a wall and follows this
he/she would have to remember each step of the procedure: read/ retain/ run/ tell partner/ go back to text to get more
task. “You can’t make pavlova without whipping information, meanwhile student B is writing down the information
egg whites.” The problems for the listener may be given to him/her by student. Accuracy can be checked, using a model
the listening may be too fast, (this is often the of the original text or by getting the student to carry out a task, e.g.
case for L1 listeners, so it is much worse for L2 making some food for a class party. The students can also be given
Listeners) the task may be too difficult, the building tasks, using cuisenaire rods, be given directions and
language may be too advanced or the listener may following them, or taking important telephone messages. Relevant
not comprehend the situation as he/she does not pre-listening activities can be designed by the teacher to enable the
come across the same situation in his/her country. student to cope with a situation that is foreign to them.