К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2012
Автор: Юрина Ольга Юрьевна
It is not uncommon
that language learning depends on listening. Listening is the language skill
that is used most often in everyday communication. O’Malley informs us that “we
listen twice as much as we speak, four times as much as we read, and five times
as much as we write” [3, 16]. Furthermore, listening comprehension is the
foundation upon which the other language skills are acquired.
the aural input that serves as the basis for language acquisition and enables
learners to interact in spoken communication.
comprehension not only plays a crucial role in first language communication,
but it is also “at the heart of second language learning” [3, 20]. Teacher’s
task is to inform and show students how they can adjust their listening
behavior to deal with a variety of situations, types of input, and listening purposes.
They help students develop a set of listening strategies and match appropriate
strategies to every listening situation.
this essential language skill has often been neglected in the language
classroom. Teachers sometimes assume that students are developing their
listening skills just because they are listening to the teachers use the target
language. Yet listening is a complex process that requires phonological, semantic,
syntactical, discourse, and pragmatic knowledge of the language as well as understanding
of the context and of nonverbal communication. Learners then have to apply this
knowledge in a range of contexts, both unidirectional (e.g., lectures, radio
broadcasts) and bidirectional (e.g., classroom discussions, conversations)
listening situations, and while using a variety of technologies (e.g., telephones,
computers, digital audio players) [2, 14]. Taking into consideration the
complexity of the listening comprehension process and the contexts in which it
occurs, it cannot be supposed that a learner’s listening skill will develop on
its own. Teachers must make conscious and systematic efforts to develop this
skill in learners.
are usually divided into two groups: bottom-up listening skills and top-down
listening skills refer to the decoding process, the direct decoding of language
into meaningful units, from sound waves through the air, in through our ears
and into our brain where meaning is decoded. To do it students need to know the
code. How the sounds work and how they string together and how the codes can
change in different ways when they are strung together. In other words
bottom-up decoding shows how meaning moves from recognition of individual
sounds to recognition of the meaning of whole utterances. It is not uncommon
that most students have never been taught how English changes when it is strung
together in sentences. The example of bottom-up skills:
phoneme sequences which form words;
- Recognizing word
syllable reduction due to weak forms and/or elision;
It is obvious that
they tend to be phonological, and that is why teacher’s goal is in focusing
systematically on phonology during the course for students to better teach
bottom-up processing skills.
Top-down skills or
processing refers to how we use our world knowledge to attribute meaning to
language input; how our knowledge of social convention helps us understand
meaning. These are the skills that listening teachers should be teaching in
their classes. Richards stated: "An understanding of the role of bottom-up
and top-down processes in listening is central to any theory of listening
comprehension" [4:50]. Top down processing refers to the attribution of
meaning, drawn from one's own world knowledge, to language input. It involves
"the listener's ability to bring prior information to bear on the task of
understanding the "heard" language" [3, 52].
Brown proposes the
following top-down skills:
• getting the gist
• recognizing the
• using discourse
structure to enhance listening strategies
• identifying the
• finding the main
organizing principals of extended speech
There are a great
number of sub-skills, which construct the overall skill of listening. Sometimes
the ‘bottom-up’ skills are called ‘micro’ skills [2, 78]. O’Malley proposed his
own (subjective) checklist of sub-skills involved in listening, which shows the
wide range of possible skills [3, 70]. He distinguishes the following skills:
perception skills (recognizing individual sounds, discriminating between
sounds, identifying reduced forms in fast speech, identifying stressed
syllables, words, recognizing intonation patterns), language skills
(identifying individual words and groups and building up possible meanings for
them, identifying discourse markers which organize the content of information –
then, as a matter of fact, first, second, third, to start with), using
knowledge of the world (using knowledge of a topic to guess what the speaker
might be saying about it), dealing with information (understanding gist
meaning, the main points, details), interacting with a speaker (coping with a
variety of speakers in one recording – differences in speed of talking and
accents, recognizing the speaker’s intention, to identify his mood, attitude).
need to be able to use a combination of sub-skills simultaneously when
processing spoken language; the skills they will need at any particular moment
will depend on the kind of text they are listening to, and their reasons for
listening to it. Of course, in the beginning, language learners will not be
very good at these skills and teachers will need to teach them strategies for
coping with what they have missed or misunderstood.
efforts to compensate for uncertainties in understanding, and could include
making inferences, realizing where misunderstandings have occurred, and asking
for clarification. As students get more familiar with the language and more
competent at listening skills they should need these strategies less and less,
although even very proficient native speakers will need to rely on them occasionally.
Strategies can only really be taught effectively by interrupting the listening
process and getting students to reflect on what they have just been doing.
To teach both
strategies and sub-skills in conjunction teacher should grade the activities so
that they move from “easier” listening texts and tasks to more difficult ones.
“Easy” texts are shorter and feature familiar voices and topics. “Easy” tasks
are those which allow students to be participants rather than in the more
distant roles of audience or over hearers. The tasks and texts get more
difficult and become longer. They may feature unfamiliar voices and topics, and
they place students in the more distant role of audience. Listening strategies
are techniques or activities that contribute directly to the comprehension and
recall of listening input. Listening strategies can be classified by how the
listener processes the input. Names of listening strategies coincide with those
of listening skills. Linguists distinguish between the following listening
strategies: met cognitive, cognitive, social, top-down, and bottom-up
O’Malley’s point of view “Learning strategies are complex procedures that
individuals apply to tasks; consequently, they may be represented as procedural
knowledge which may be acquired through cognitive, associative, and autonomous
stages of learning. As with other procedural skills at the different stages of
learning the strategies may be conscious in early stages of learning and later
be performed without the person’s awareness” [3, 52].
There are three
main types of linguistic strategies which can also be applied to (listening as
well) learning four types of language skills. These are met cognitive,
cognitive and social or affective strategies. Met cognitive strategies include
the following activities:
attention: focusing of a listener on special aspects of learning tasks, listening
for key words or phrases.
planning to concentrate on certain aspects or parts of listening passage,
listening for a gist.
focusing on a task, information that should be remembered, or production.
evaluation of language production after it has taken place, comprehension after
a receptive language activity has been completed.
strategies are divided into the following activities:
repetition of names of items or objects to remember them;
guessing meanings of new linguistic items, predict outcomes, complete missing
parts using heard information.
activity where listeners synthesize what they have heard to ensure the
information has been retained.
activity in which learners apply rules to understand language.
5) Imagery: use of
visual images or pictures for understanding, remembering or organizing new
ability to use known linguistic information to apply to and facilitate a new
7) Elaboration: an
ability to link or integrate new ideas contained in new information to those
with known information.
affective strategies contain:
an activity where learners work with peers to solve a problem, exchange
information, check notes, share ideas, or get feedback on a certain type of activity.
2) Questioning for
clarification: receiving from a peer or a teacher additional explanation,
clarification, paraphrasing or examples.
3) Self-talk: the
process of thinking to assure oneself that a learning activity will be
completed successfully or to decrease anxiety about a task.
strategies are listener based; the listener taps into background knowledge of
the topic, the situation or context, the type of text, and the language. This
background knowledge activates a set of expectations that help the listener to
interpret what is heard and anticipate what will come next [3, 85]. Top-down
• listening for
the main idea;
strategies are text based; the listener relies on the language in the message,
that is, the combination of sounds, words, and grammar that creates meaning.
Bottom-up strategies include:
• listening for
listeners also use met cognitive strategies to plan, monitor, and evaluate
• They plan by
deciding which listening strategies will serve best in a particular situation.
• They monitor
their comprehension and the effectiveness of the selected strategies.
• They evaluate by
determining whether they have achieved their listening comprehension goals and
whether the combination of listening strategies selected was an effective one.
top-down skills a teacher can get her students to predict the content of a
listening activity beforehand, using information about the topic or situation,
pictures or key words. By doing this a teacher is helping students to develop
their top-down processing skills, by encouraging them to use their knowledge of
the topic to help them understand the content. This skill is very important,
even advanced learners are likely to come across some unknown vocabulary. By
using their knowledge of context, they should be able to guess the meaning of
the unknown word, or understand the general idea. There are other examples of
common top-down listening activities that include putting a series of pictures
or sequence of events in order, listening to conversations and identifying
where they take place, reading information about a topic then listening to find
whether or not the same points are mentioned, or identifying the relationships
between the people involved. A list of top-down strategies proposed by Richards
working out what comes next
- Teacher plays
half a sentence, learners complete, or answer multiple choice questions.
relating pronouns, etc., to the items they refer to
- Teacher pauses
cassette after ambiguous referring expressions; learners say what they refer
- Teacher lists
referring expressions/general nouns; learners listen for them and write down
what they refer to.
- Learners monitor
a long text for key words.
identifying important points made
- Filling in
- 'Find (four)
Learners need to
be able to listen effectively even when faced with unfamiliar vocabulary or
structures. If the learner understands very few words from the speaker or
recordings, even knowledge about the context may not be sufficient for him/her
to understand what is happening, and they can easily get lost. Of course,
low-level learners may simply not have enough vocabulary or knowledge of the
language yet, but there are situations in which higher-level students fail to
recognize known words in the stream of fast-connected speech. For this purpose bottom-up,
listening activities can help learners to understand enough linguistic elements
of what they hear to be able to use their top-down skills to fill in the gaps.
listening depends on the ability to combine these two types of processing
(skills). Activities which work on each strategy separately should help
students to combine top-down and bottom-up processes to become more effective
listeners in real-life situations or longer classroom listening. A list of
distinguishing minimally different words
- Ear training in
- Teacher dictates
identifying words in continuous speech
- Teacher dictates
sentences, which include contractions, weak forms, elision, and assimilation;
transcribe a section of an authentic passage;
- Learners listen
with transcript, paying attention to weakly stressed items.
working out the spelling of unrecognized words
- Teacher dictates
words in spelling groups (laugh, cough, enough);
- Learners guess
the spellings of difficult-to-recognize cognates;
- Matching names
to words on a map.
There is an
example of how using top-down strategies a teacher can get students in listening
for main idea. To extract and understand meaning from listening, students need
to follow four basic steps:
- Figure out the
purpose for listening. Activate background knowledge of the topic in order to
predict or anticipate content and identify appropriate listening strategies.
- Attend to the
parts of the listening input that are relevant to the identified purpose and
ignore the rest. This selectivity enables students to focus on specific items
in the input and reduces the amount of information they have to hold in
short-term memory in order to recognize it.
- Select top-down
and bottom-up strategies that are appropriate to the listening task and use
them flexibly and interactively. Students' comprehension improves and their confidence
increases when they use top-down and bottom-up strategies simultaneously to construct
comprehension while listening and when the listening task is over. Monitoring
comprehension helps students detect inconsistencies and comprehension failures,
directing them to use alternate strategies.
To sum up,
teachers and learners focus too much on the product of listening and too little
on the process. The solution is to perform different listening exercises and
activities using bottom-up and top-down strategies to acquire listening skills
in learners. Listening exercises should fulfill different purposes: familiarizing
learners with the features of natural conversational speech, and training
learners in two types of listening skills. These skills and strategies
practiced in isolation must later be combined and applied to a longer text.
Effective use of listening skills and strategies will help us achieve desirable
results in a classroom and real-life listening.
Brown, Gillian, and George Yule. Teaching the Spoken Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986
Brown, G. 'Investigating listening comprehension in context'. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989
O'Malley, J. M., & Chamot, A. U. Listening comprehension strategies in
second language acquisition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990
Richards, Jack C., and Charles Lockhart. Reflective Teaching in Second Language
Classrooms. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994
5. Ur, P. Teaching Listening Comprehension .Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2012