Children acquire. It provides a foundation
for all aspects of language and cognitive development, and it plays a life-long
role in the processes of learning and communication essential to productive
participation in life. A study by Wilt (1950), which found that people listen
45 percent of the time they spend communicating, is still widely accepted. Wilt
found that 30 percent of communication time was spent speaking, 16 percent
reading, and 9 percent writing. That finding established what Rankin had found
in 1928 that people spent 70 percent of their waking time communicating and
those three-fourths of this time were spent listening and speaking.
Listening is one of the fundamental language
skills. It's a medium through which children, young people and adults gain a
large portion of their education - their information, their understanding of
the world and of human affairs, their ideals, sense of values, and their
appreciations. In these days of mass communication (much of it’s oral), it is
of vital importance that our students be taught to listen effectively and
critically, though for most students listening is the most difficult to improve
whereas some teachers think that listening is the easiest skill to teach.
Perhaps it happens because we sometimes follow frozen routine – opening the
textbook and explaining new words, playing the tape recorder and asking\answering
the questions. But is there nothing more to teaching listening than testing the
students’ comprehension of the text being listened?
Difficulties that can be defined in
Listening is the ability to identify and
understand what others are saying. It is more than merely hearing words.
Listening is an active process by which students receive, construct meaning
from, and respond to spoken and or nonverbal messages (Emmert, 1994). As such,
it forms an integral part of the communication process and should not be separated
from the other language arts. Listening involves understanding of a speaker’s
accent or pronunciation, his grammar and his vocabulary, and grasping his
meaning. (Howatt and Dakin). An able listener is capable of doing these four
things simultaneously. But it's frustrating for foreign - language students and
teachers because there are no rules in teaching listening as for example in
grammar teaching. Speaking and writing also have very specific exercises that
can lead to improved skills. This is not to say that there are no ways of improving
listening skills; however they are difficult to quantify. In order to teach
listening skills, a teacher should firstly state the difficulties. In
listening to English as a foreign language, such difficulties can be defined
- First, coping with the sounds, as it is
difficult for students distinguish or recognize individual words in the stream
of speech. They are used to seeing words written in their textbooks.
- Second, understanding intonation and
stress, as natural dialogues are full of hesitations, pauses, and uneven
intonation. Students, used to the formal speech, may sometimes find such
dialogues difficult to understand.
- Third, coping with redundancy and noise,
as utterances may take the form of repetitions, false starts, re-phrasing,
self-corrections, elaborations and meaningless additions. It may make it more
difficult to understand what the speaker is saying. Noise, including both
background noises on the recording and environmental noises, can take the
listener’s mind off the content of the listening passage.
- Fourth, predicting, as foreign – language
students are not familiar enough with clichés and collocations in
English to predict a missing word or phrase.
- Fifth, understanding colloquial
vocabulary, as listening materials may be made up of everyday conversation, may
contain a lot of colloquial words and expressions; such as stuff for material,
guy for man, etc. Most of the students are not familiar with English
- Sixth, fatigue, as it is tiring for
students to concentrate on interpreting unfamiliar sounds, words, and sentences
for long periods.
- Seventh, understanding different accents,
as learners can be used to the teacher’s accent. They find it hard to
understand speakers with other accents.
- Eighth, lack of sociocultural and contextual
knowledge of the target language, as language is used to express its culture
(Anderson and Lynch).
And the last point, being discussed in this
work, is absence of visual environmental clues. Not seeing the speaker’s body
language and facial expressions makes it more difficult for the listener to
understand the speaker’s meaning. What can teacher do to help students to
muster these difficulties?
This brings us to the thought that, while
planning exercises, listening materials, task, and visual materials should be
taken into consideration. The teacher should produce a suitable conversation
while using recordings. A fixed purpose, continuing learner response,
motivation, success, simplicity, and feedback should be the things considered
while preparing the task. Visual materials are useful for contextualization.
Here are some solutions:
1. Grade listening materials according to
the students’ level. Select short, simple listening texts with little
redundancy for low-level students and complicated materials for advanced ones.
2. The materials should progress step by
step from semi-authenticity that display most of the linguistic features of
natural speech to total authenticity, because the final aim is to understand
natural speech in real life.
3. Design exercises to engage students’
interest. Make pictures or diagrams associated with the listened topics to help
students guess actively.
4. Provide students with lists of questions
before listening so that they should be ready for the listening text.
5. Provide students with different kinds of
materials such as films, everyday conversations, English songs and so on.
6. Get students acquainted with colloquial
expressions so that they can understand rapid natural speech.
7. Make students aware of different
native-speaker accents. Of course, strong regional accents are not suitable for
training in listening but still it is necessary to let students deal with different
accents, especially in training high-level students.
8. Give and try to get as much feedback as
possible in order to keep activities purposeful. It is important for students
to get teacher’s feedback on their performance. It doesn’t only provide error
correction but also encourages students. It can help student to develop confidence
in their ability to deal with listening problems.
9. Provide varied tasks and exercises at
different levels with different focuses.
Typology of activities for a listening
Good classroom activities can be good
listening problem solutions.
Here are some activities for a listening
lesson, suggested by Fan Yagang, Fushun Teachers’ College.
about the topic (using visual aids)
students to exchange their ideas, opinions about the topic
hypotheses about the content based on some sentences given by the teacher
For training in basic listening skills
down questions that hint at the content of the text
To compare the
information with prediction in pre-listening
following teacher’s instructions, show comprehension by physical movements,
asked to repeat short phrases from the text
to a passage responding only when they come across some mistakes
to the list of words and tick off them as they hear them
Maps, plans, pictures…
asked to focus on one sentence and paraphrase it
asked to give the right order of the given facts, series of pictures
to a passage and take notes on the segments that answer a particular question
10. filling in
given the transcript of a passage with some words missing and must fill in
the blanks while listening
asked to match items that have the same meaning as those they hear
show comprehension of the message
all the information relevant to a particular problem and then set themselves to
given some possible summary-sentences and asked to say which of them fits a recorded
of students listen different but connected passages, each of which supplies
some part of what they need to know. Then they come together to exchange
information in order to complete the story.
5. writing as a
follow up to listening activities
telegrams, messages, related to passage
6. speaking as
follow –up to listening activities
interview, role play, dramatization associated with the passage heard
Besides, we should mention one more
obstacle that is not of less importance for students. It is a mental block, as
students do not have an innate understanding of what effective listeners do.
While listening, a student suddenly decides that he or she doesn't understand
what is being said. At this point, many students just tune out or get caught up
in an internal dialogue trying to translate a specific word. Some students
convince themselves that they are not able to understand spoken English well
and create problems for themselves. The key to helping students improve their
listening skills is to convince them that not understanding is OK. This is more
of an attitude adjustment than anything else. Another important point that we
should try to teach our students is that they need to listen to English as
often as possible, but for short periods of time. We may use this analogy:
Imagine you want to get in shape. You decide to begin jogging. The very first
day you go out and jog two kilometers. If you are lucky, you might even be able
to jog four kilometers. However, chances are good that you will not soon go out
jogging again. Fitness trainers have taught us that we must begin with little
steps. Begin jogging short distances and walk some as well, over time you can
build up the distance. Using this approach, you'll be much more likely to continue
jogging and get fit. Students need to apply the same approach to listening skills.
Encourage them to get a film, or listen to an English radio station, but not to
watch an entire film or listen for two hours. Students should often listen, but
they should listen for short periods - five to ten minutes. This should happen
four or five times a week. However, for this strategy to work, students must
not expect improved understanding too quickly. The brain is capable of amazing
things if given time; students must have the patience to wait for results. If a
student continues this exercise over two to three months his\her listening
comprehension skills will greatly improve. As for teachers, we can create such
an environment by positive interaction, actively listening to all students and
responding in an open and appropriate manner. Teachers should avoid responding
either condescendingly or sarcastically. As much as possible, they should minimize
distractions and interruptions. It is important for the teacher to provide
numerous opportunities for students to practice listening skills and to become
actively engaged in the listening process.
Listening as well requires attention,
thought, interpretation, and imagination. To improve our learners' listening
skills we should let them (Austin Shrope, 1970): adopt a positive attitude. be
responsive, shut out distractions, listen for the speaker's purpose, look for
the signals of what is to come, look for summaries of what has gone before, evaluate
the supporting materials and look for non-verbal clues. Out of this process
come pieces of information which can be stored in the long term memory for
recall later. There is an association between expectation, purpose, and
comprehension; therefore a purpose should be given to our learners. We should
give a clear lead in what they are going to hear; use some kind of visual back
up for them to understand; give questions and tasks in order to clarify the
things in their minds; and be sure that these tasks help in learning, not confusing.
Students should learn how to use the environmental clues; the speaker's facial
expression, posture, eye direction, gestures, tone of voice, and that general
surroundings contribute information. In listening activities, we listen for a
Because the listener constructs meaning by
making inferences based on knowledge, different people might make different
inferences, and get different understanding of the same passage. This happens
because listeners vary. Different people have different knowledge and different
ideas about the world. A person with more knowledge about something may
understand more than a person with less knowledge. Different people have
different purposes for listening. Some people may want all the details, and
others may only want to get the general idea. And so they will get a different
understanding. Different people have different interests. If something is
interesting, people pay more attention and will understand more. So different
listeners, who hear the same thing, may have different ideas about what he
speaker means. And that is ok, because these different ideas about the
speaker's meaning may all be reasonable. Now here's the important thing: there
is often no single correct understanding of a piece of language, but a number
of possible understandings. The purpose of listening is to get a reasonable understanding
of what the speaker said, not the 'correct' understanding. So what does all
this theory mean for how we study listening. I think it means that listening
ability can only be developed by practicing listening, to get all the necessary
skills. The listener needs a lot of practice, so the skills become over-learned
and completely automatic. The listener needs to listen to realistic spoken
language, with all the characteristics of natural language use. New listeners
need to pay special attention to the sound system. Listening to lots of easy passages
(even if they know a lot of English) is a good idea to help them learn the
sound system well. Intermediate listeners need to listen to a wide variety of
speakers and accents, to get familiar with the wide range of English pronunciations.
All listeners need to listen to a wide variety of different passages. When listening
the listener should concentrate on trying to understand what the speaker means,
and not think about the language too much. And most important of all, just
relax and enjoy listening. If you can do that, all the rest will just follow
naturally. Happy Listening!
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