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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2012

Автор: Кузнецова Наталья Алексеевна

There are many reasons for focusing on listening and speaking when teaching English as a foreign language, not least of which is the fact that we as humans have been learning languages through our ears and mouth for thousands upon thousands of years, far longer than we as humans have been able to read. Our brains are well programmed to learn languages through sound and speech. This is not to say that reading and writing are not effective, only to highlight the value of listening and speaking and point out that many studies have suggested that language learned through sound and speech is more readily acquired. [2, page 1]

Courses in listening and speaking take an integral part in teaching activity. This is the most effective way to teach English. The teaching of listening has attracted a greater level of interest in recent years than it did in the past. Now, university entrance exams, exit exams, and other examinations often include a listening component, acknowledging that listening skills are a core component of language proficiency, and also reflecting the assumption that if listening isn’t tested, teachers won’t teach it. [1, page 1]

Earlier views of listening showed it as the mastery of discrete skills or

microskills, such as recognizing reduced forms of words, recognizing cohesive devices in texts, and identifying key words in a text, and that these skills should form the focus of teaching. Later views of listening drew on the field of cognitive psychology, which introduced the notions of bottom-up and top-down processing and brought attention to the role of prior knowledge and schema in comprehension. Listening came to be seen as an interpretive process. At the same time, the fields of discourse analysis and conversational analysis revealed a great deal about the nature and organization of spoken discourse and led to a realization that reading written texts aloud could not provide a suitable basis for developing the abilities needed to process real-time authentic discourse. Hence, current views of listening emphasize the role of the listener, who is seen as an active participant in listening, employing strategies to facilitate, monitor, and evaluate his or her listening. [1, p. 1]

Approaches to the teaching of speaking in ELT have been more strongly influenced by fads and fashions than the teaching of listening. “Speaking” in traditional methodologies usually meant repeating after the teacher, memorizing a dialog, or responding to drills, all of which reflect the sentence-based view of proficiency prevailing in the audiolingual and other drill-based or repetitionbased methodologies of the 1970s. The emergence of communicative language teaching in the 1980s led to changed views of syllabuses and methodology, which are continuing to shape approaches to teaching speaking skills today. Grammarbased syllabuses were replaced by communicative ones built around notions, functions, skills, tasks, and other non-grammatical units of organization. Fluency became a goal for speaking courses and this could be developed through the use of information-gap and other tasks that required learners to attempt real communication, despite limited proficiency in English. In so doing, learners would develop communication strategies and engage in negotiation of meaning, both of which were considered essential to the development of oral skills. [1, page 2]


Successful listening can also be looked at in terms of the strategies the listener uses when listening. Does the learner focus mainly on the content of a text, or does he or she also consider how to listen? A focus on how to listen raises the issues of listening strategies. Strategies can be thought of as the ways in which a learner approaches and manages a task, and listeners can be taught effective ways of approaching and managing their listening. These activities seek to involve listeners actively in the process of listening.

Buck identifies two kinds of strategies in listening: [3, page 104]

Cognitive strategies: Mental activities related to comprehending and storing input in working memory or long-term memory for later retrieval:

Comprehension processes: Associated with the processing of linguistic and nonlinguistic input;

Storing and memory processes: Associated with the storing of linguistic and nonlinguistic input in working memory or long-term memory;

Using and retrieval processes: Associated with accessing memory, to be readied for output.

Metacognitive strategies: Those conscious or unconscious mental

activities that perform an executive function in the management of cognitive strategies:

Assessing the situation: Taking stock of conditions surrounding a language task by assessing one’s own knowledge, one’s available internal and external resources, and the constraints of the situation before engaging in a task;

Monitoring: Determining the effectiveness of one’s own or another’s performance while engaged in a task;

Self-evaluating: Determining the effectiveness of one’s own or another’s performance after engaging in the activity;

Self-testing: Testing oneself to determine the effectiveness of one’s own language use or the lack thereof.

There are many listening activities to raise learners’ awareness and provide them with useful strategies: [4, p. 3]

- Awareness raising: Provide your student with a set of pictures that match a story, allow them time to look at the pictures to get an idea of what is happening in the pictures. Read the story aloud to your student and ask them to put the pictures in order as they hear the story (You would need to conduct pre-listening activities prior to doing this so that your student had accessed the correct vocabulary and was prepared).

- With recorded speech, many texts are not as authentic as natural conversations that happen between people. If you have a recorder, try recording yourself chatting to a friend or family member in as natural a way as possible.

- The register of the speech – the situation and context in which it occurs impacts greatly on the language used, the tenor or relationship between speakers, the degree of formality and the mode i.e. whether it is face-to-face, over the telephone, pre-recorded etc. These elements are important for your student to be able to identify so that they know what language choices are appropriate. You could do this in listening exercises when listening for gist – ask your student about the register of the text (who is speaking, what’s their relationship, how are they speaking and what are they speaking about). And ask your student to identify what this tells them about the kind of language that might be used. How formal/informal can they expect the text to be, how much jargon may be used [5, p. 19].

- Prediction activity: Predicting, asking for clarification and using non-verbal cues are strategies that can increase chances for successful listening. For example, using video can help learners develop cognitive strategies. As they view a segment with the sound off, learners can be asked to make predictions about what is happening by answering questions about setting, action and interaction. Viewing the segment again with the sound on allows them to confirm or modify their hypothesis.

Broadly speaking, listening skills can be divided into two classifications:

• bottom up skills (or processing);

• top down skills (or processing).

Bottom up processing refers to the decoding process, the direct decoding of language into meaningful units, from sound waves to meaning. Top down processing refers to the attribution of meaning, drawn from one’s own world knowledge, to language input. In short bottom up is what the page brings to the learner and top down is what the learner brings to the page. To illustrate this, listed below are a few of the sub-skills divided into bottom up and top down roughly sequenced from beginning level skills to the more advanced skills. [2, page 2-3]

Bottom Up Skills:

• discriminating between intonation contours

• discriminating between phonemes

• hearing morphological endings

• selecting details

• recognizing fast speech forms

• finding stressed syllables

• recognizing reduced forms

• recognizing words as they link together in connected streams

• recognizing prominent details

• recognizing sentence level features in lecture text

• recognizing organization clues

Top Down Skills:

• discriminating between emotions

• getting the gist

• recognizing the topic

• using discourse structure to enhance listening strategies

• identifying the speaker

• evaluating themes

• finding the main idea

• finding supporting details

• making inferences

• understanding organizing principals of extended texts

By developing learners’ listening abilities, a teacher is enabling learners to participate at an early stage in the communication exchanges that are happening in their community [6, page 34].


Speech acts have communicative functions such as complementing, suggesting, requesting and offering that are part of a speaker’s pragmatic knowledge. That is, knowing how to do things with language taking into account the context of its use. For learners, this will require an understanding of how to perform and interpret specific acts of speech as well knowing how to adapt these speech act formulas for different situations. There are also set patterns within speech acts such as the adjacency pair which involves a question and a paired response. As these are paired utterances where the second is dependent on the first, they can be quite formulaic for teaching [5, p. 16-17].

Pronunciation, or the sound of speech, can refer to many features of speech such as pitch, volume, speed, pausing, stress and intonation. The sounds of people’s speech can be very meaningful as speakers use the above features to create a texture for their talk that supports and enhances what they are saying. When words are strung together in normal speech they are subject to phonological change where word boundaries become blurred, sounds can become modified by the sounds next to them, some sounds drop off and some sounds are added. These can also be combined with other dimensions particular to speech, such as facial expressions and gestures, which can add depth to a message and may even convey the exact opposite to what the actual words would suggest. Learners then need to be made aware of the above features of speech when teaching speaking and listening, as they will influence learners understanding of speech or the meaning they convey in speech [7, p. 10-11].

Fluency is an important part of speaking and includes the following:

• the ability to use language spontaneously;

• the ability to listen and comprehend spontaneously;

• the ability to respond spontaneously;

• the ability to compensate for any lack in any of the above.

As such fluency activities do not seek to enhance student understanding of the language system but rather seeks to improve the speed and efficiency with which students access their language system knowledge. It entails getting students to use language they already know. It entails getting students to use language that they are already well familiar with. Fluency work entails getting language to become “automatic” [2, p. 4].

For teaching speaking teacher can use different activities as: conversations, group discussions, and speeches. These methods provide students with skills that will help them to behave correctly in different situations whether it would be accidental talk or specially prepared speech.

Listening and speaking are complex cognitive processes and the teaching of listening and speaking is no less an involved endeavor. To help us clarify what this might entail, it is perhaps helpful to make a distinction between the language system itself and the associated language skills. A language system encompasses not only the words of a language and their associated order, lexis and syntax, but the phonology and the macro fields of genre and discourse; how the language is strung together in extended texts. Skills refer to how the language system is used, the degree to which this is automatic, and the degree to which it is appropriate to a given social situation and the strategies used which aid and enhance communication [2, p. 1].


1. Jack C. Richards, Teaching Listening and Speaking From Theory to Practice, Cambridge University Press, 2008

2. Alastair Graham-Marr, Teaching Skills for Listening and Speaking, Tokai University, 2010.

3. Buck G. Assessing Listening, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

4. Edwina Hart, Teaching Speaking and Listening, 2009.

5. Thornbury S. How to teach speaking, Pearson education Limited, 2008.

6. Field J., Looking outwards, not inwards, ELT Journal, Oxford University Press, 2007.

7. Luoma S., The nature of speaking. Assessing Speaking, Cambridge University press, 2004.

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2012

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