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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2006

Автор: Леонова М.О.

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

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 as:

- 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 slang.

- 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?

Some solutions

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 lesson

Good classroom activities can be good listening problem solutions.

Here are some activities for a listening lesson, suggested by Fan Yagang, Fushun Teachers’ College.

stages activities explanation

Warm-up exercises

1. discussion about the topic (using visual aids)

To encourage students to exchange their ideas, opinions about the topic
  2. brainstorming Expressing hypotheses about the content based on some sentences given by the teacher
  3. games For training in basic listening skills
  4. guiding questions Teacher writes down questions that hint at the content of the text
While-listening 1. comparing To compare the information with prediction in pre-listening
  2. performing some actions Students, following teacher’s instructions, show comprehension by physical movements, facial expressions
  3. repetition Students are asked to repeat short phrases from the text
  4. detecting differences Students listen to a passage responding only when they come across some mistakes
  5. bingo Students listen to the list of words and tick off them as they hear them
  6. information transfer Maps, plans, pictures…
  7. paraphrase Students are asked to focus on one sentence and paraphrase it
  8. sequencing Students are asked to give the right order of the given facts, series of pictures
  9. information search Students listen to a passage and take notes on the segments that answer a particular question
  10. filling in blanks Students are given the transcript of a passage with some words missing and must fill in the blanks while listening
  11. matching Students are asked to match items that have the same meaning as those they hear
Post-listening 1.answering to show comprehension of the message True-false questions
  2. problem solving Student listen all the information relevant to a particular problem and then set themselves to solve it
  3. summarizing Students are given some possible summary-sentences and asked to say which of them fits a recorded text
  4. jigsaw listening Different groups 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 e.g., letters, telegrams, messages, related to passage
  6. speaking as follow –up to listening activities Debates, 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 purpose.

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!


1. Abbott, G. & P. Wingard. (1985). The Teaching of English as an International Language: A Practical Guide. Great Britain.

2. Austin S. (1970). Speaking & Listening: Contemporary Approach. Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. USA

3. Carroll E. R. (1969). The Learning of Language. National Council of Teachers of English. New York.

4. Celce Е\Murcia, M. & L. mcIntosh. (1979). Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language. Newbury House Publishers, Inc. Massachusetts.

5. Fox J. W. (1974). Teaching Listening Skills. English Teaching Forum. October

6. Internet TESL Journal, Vol. V, No. 12, December 1999

7. Martin, Robert. "Oral communication," English Language Arts Concept Paper Number 1. Portland, Oregon: State Department of Education, 1987

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2006

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