Teaching Listening

Listening is the language modality that is used most frequently. It has been estimated that adults spend almost half their communication time listening, and students may receive as much as 90% of their in-school information through listening to instructors and to one another. Often, however, language learners do not recognize the level of effort that goes into developing listening ability.
Far from passively receiving and recording aural input, listeners actively involve themselves in the interpretation of what they hear, bringing their own background knowledge and linguistic knowledge to bear on the information contained in the aural text. Not all listening is the same; casual greetings, for example, require a different sort of listening capability than do academic lectures. Language learning requires intentional listening that employs strategies for identifying sounds and making meaning from them.
Listening involves a sender (a person, radio, television), a message, and a receiver (the listener). Listeners often must process messages as they come, even if they are still processing what they have just heard, without backtracking or looking ahead. In addition, listeners must cope with the sender’s choice of vocabulary, structure, and rate of delivery. The complexity of the listening process is magnified in second language contexts, where the receiver also has incomplete control of the language.
Given the importance of listening in language learning and teaching, it is essential for language teachers to help their students become effective listeners. In the communicative approach to language teaching, this means modeling listening strategies and providing listening practice in authentic situations: those that learners are likely to encounter when they use the language outside the classroom.
Goals and Techniques for Teaching Listening
Instructors want to produce students who, even if they do not have complete control of the grammar or an extensive lexicon, can fend for themselves in communication situations. In the case of listening, this means producing students who can use listening strategies to maximize their comprehension of aural input, identify relevant and non-relevant information, and tolerate less than word-by-word comprehension.
Focus: The Listening Process
To accomplish this goal, instructors focus on the process of listening rather than on its product.
  • They develop students’ awareness of the listening process and listening strategies by asking students to think and talk about how they listen in their native language.
  • They allow students to practice the full repertoire of listening strategies by using authentic listening tasks.
  • They behave as authentic listeners by responding to student communication as a listener rather than as a teacher.
  • When working with listening tasks in class, they show students the strategies that will work best for the listening purpose and the type of text. They explain how and why students should use the strategies.
  • They have students practice listening strategies in class and ask them to practice outside of class in their listening assignments. They encourage students to be conscious of what they’re doing while they complete listening tape assignments.
  • They encourage students to evaluate their comprehension and their strategy use immediately after
    completing an assignment. They build comprehension checks into in-class and out-of-class listening assignments, and periodically review how and when to use particular strategies.
  • They encourage the development of listening skills and the use of listening strategies by using the target language to conduct classroom business: making announcements, assigning homework, describing the content and format of tests.
  • They do not assume that students will transfer strategy use from one task to another. They explicitly mention how a particular strategy can be used in a different type of listening task or with another skill.
By raising students’ awareness of listening as a skill that requires active engagement, and by explicitly teaching listening strategies, instructors help their students develop both the ability and the   confidence to handle communication situations they may encounter beyond the classroom. In this way they give their students the foundation for communicative competence in the new language.
Integrating Metacognitive Strategies
Before listening: Plan for the listening task
  • Set a purpose or decide in advance what to listen for
  • Decide if more linguistic or background knowledge is needed
  • Determine whether to enter the text from the top down (attend to the overall meaning) or from the bottom up (focus on the words and phrases)
During and after listening: Monitor comprehension
  • Verify predictions and check for inaccurate guesses
  • Decide what is and is not important to understand
  • Listen/view again to check comprehension
  • Ask for help
After listening: Evaluate comprehension and strategy use
  • Evaluate comprehension in a particular task or area
  • Evaluate overall progress in listening and in particular types of listening tasks
  • Decide if the strategies used were appropriate for the purpose and for the task
  • Modify strategies if necessary

Using Authentic Materials and Situations
Authentic materials and situations prepare students for the types of listening they will need to do when using the language outside the classroom.
One-Way Communication
Materials:
  • Radio and television programs
  • Public address announcements (airports, train/bus stations, stores)
  • Speeches and lectures
  • Telephone customer service recordings
Procedure:
  • Help students identify the listening goal: to obtain specific information; to decide whether to continue listening; to understand most or all of the message
  • Help students outline predictable sequences in which information may be presented: who-what-when-where (news stories); who-flight number-arriving/departing-gate number (airport announcements); “for [function], press [number]” (telephone recordings)
  • Help students identify key words/phrases to listen for
Two-Way Communication
In authentic two-way communication, the listener focuses on the speaker’s meaning rather than the speaker’s language. The focus shifts to language only when meaning is not clear. Note the difference between the teacher as teacher and the teacher as authentic listener in the dialogues in the popup screens.
Strategies for Developing Listening Skills
Language learning depends on listening. Listening provides the aural input that serves as the basis for language acquisition and enables learners to interact in spoken communication.
Effective language instructors 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 each listening situation.
Listening Strategies
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.
Top-down 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. Top-down strategies include
  • listening for the main idea
  • predicting
  • drawing inferences
  • summarizing
Bottom-up 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 specific details
  • recognizing cognates
  • recognizing word-order patterns
Strategic listeners also use metacognitive strategies to plan, monitor, and evaluate their listening.
  • 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.
Listening for Meaning
To extract meaning from a listening text, 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 meaning.
  • Check 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.
Developing Listening Activities
As you design listening tasks, keep in mind that complete recall of all the information in an aural text is an unrealistic expectation to which even native speakers are not usually held. Listening exercises that are meant to train should be success-oriented and build up students’ confidence in their listening ability.
Define the activity’s instructional goal and type of response.
Each activity should have as its goal the improvement of one or more specific listening skills. A listening activity may have more than one goal or outcome, but be careful not to overburden the attention of beginning or intermediate listeners.
Recognizing the goal(s) of listening comprehension   in each listening situation will help students select appropriate listening strategies.
  • Identification: Recognizing or discriminating specific aspects of the message, such as sounds, categories of words, morphological distinctions
  • Orientation: Determining the major facts about a message, such as topic, text type, setting
  • Main idea comprehension: Identifying the higher-order ideas
  • Detail comprehension: Identifying supporting details
  • Replication: Reproducing the message orally or in writing
Check the level of difficulty of the listening text.
The factors listed below can help you judge the relative ease or difficulty of a listening text for a particular purpose and a particular group of students.
How is the information organized? Does the story line, narrative, or instruction conform to familiar expectations? Texts in which the events are presented in natural chronological order, which have an informative title, and which present the information following an obvious   organization (main ideas first, details and e
xamples second) are easier to follow.
How familiar are the students with the topic? Remember that misapplication of background knowledge due to cultural differences can create major comprehension difficulties.
Does the text contain redundancy? At the lower levels of proficiency, listeners may find short, simple messages easier to process, but students with higher proficiency benefit from the natural redundancy of the language.
Does the text involve multiple individuals and objects? Are they clearly differentiated? It is easier to understand a text with a doctor and a patient than one with two doctors, and it is even easier if they are of the opposite sex. In other words, the more marked the differences, the easier the comprehension.
Does the text offer visual support to aid in the interpretation of what the listeners hear? Visual aids such as maps, diagrams, pictures, or the images in a video help contextualize the listening input and provide clues to meaning.
Use pre-listening activities to prepare students for what they are going to hear or view.
The activities chosen during pre-listening may serve as preparation for listening in several ways. During pre-listening the teacher may
  • assess students’ background knowledge of the topic and linguistic content of the text
  • provide students with the background knowledge necessary for their comprehension of the listening passage or activate the existing knowledge that the students possess
  • clarify any cultural information which may be necessary to comprehend the passage
  • make students aware of the type of text they will be listening to, the role they will play, and the purpose(s) for which they will be listening
  • provide opportunities for group or collaborative work and for background reading or class discussion activities
Sample pre-listening activities:
  • looking at pictures, maps, diagrams, or graphs
  • reviewing vocabulary or grammatical structures
  • reading something relevant
  • constructing semantic webs (a graphic arrangement of concepts or words showing how they are related)
  • predicting the content of the listening text
  • going over the directions or instructions for the activity
  • doing guided practice
Match while-listening activities to the instructional goal, the listening purpose, and students’ proficiency level.
While-listening activities relate directly to the text, and students do them do during or immediately after the time they are listening. Keep these points in mind when planning while-listening activities:
Keep writing to a minimum during listening. Remember that the primary goal is comprehension, not production. Having to write while listening may distract students from this primary goal. If a written response is to be given after listening, the task can be more demanding.
Organize activities so that they guide listeners through the text. Combine global activities such as getting the main idea, topic, and setting with selective listening activities that focus on details of content and form.
Use questions to focus students’ attention on the elements of the text crucial to comprehension of the whole. Before the listening activity begins, have students review questions they will answer orally or in writing after listening.   Listening for the answers will help students recognize the crucial parts of the message.
Use predicting to encourage students to monitor their comprehension as they listen. Do a predicting activity before listening, and remind students to review what they are hearing to see if it makes sense in the context of their prior knowledge and what they already know of the topic or events of the passage.
Give immediate feedback whenever possible. Encourage students to examine how or why their responses were incorrect.
Sample while-listening activities
  • listening with visuals
  • filling in graphs and charts
  • following a route on a map
  • checking off items in a list
  • listening for the gist
  • searching for specific clues to meaning
  • completing cloze (fill-in) exercises
  • distinguishing between formal and informal registers
STAGES ON TEACHING LISTENING
Stage 1: Pre-Listening Activities
o   Pre-listening activity is involving brainstorming vocabulary, reviewing areas of grammar, or discussing the topic of the listening text. Revising language points in advance encourages learners to focus on examples of these particular items when listening – sometimes at the expense of global meaning.
o   Aims for the pre-listening period:
§  To provide sufficient context to match what would be available in real life
§  To create motivation (to speculate on what they will hear)
o   Pre-listening activities can be divided into two main categories according to their functions:
§  Language oriented activities, aim to prepare learners for the type of language and even specific words that they may hear.
§  Knowledge-oriented activities, prepare your students to activate or acquire relevant types of world knowledge.
Types of pre-listening activities

Activity
What students do
L.O
K.O
Brainstorming
Call out words or phrases to be put on the board (C)
Ö
Ö
Mind-mapping
Write down words or draw simple picture in a web (1)
Ö

Ö
Discussion
Discuss similar or related issues based on prompt questions or picture (G/P)
Ö
Ö
Games
Simple word or information-gap games (P/C)
Ö
Ö
Guiding questions

Guess answers to questions on the text (I/P)
Ö
Pictures/diagrams
Complete illustrations with simple drawings or words
Ö
Ö
Questions
Draw up some questions to ask about the topic (I/P)
Ö

Prediction
Predict contents, characters, setting (I/P)
Ö
Ö
Note:   I – Individual  P – Pair            G – Group       C – Whole Class
            L.O – Language-Oriented       K.O – Knowledge-Oriented.
Stage 2: Listening Activities
§  Extensive Listening (followed by general questions establishing context)
§  Intensive Listening (followed by detailed comprehension questions)
Stage 3: Post Listening
§  Examining functional language.
§  Inferring vocabulary meaning

o   A post listening activity can be carried out in the last part of a lesson or conducted as another lesson or even a series lesson.

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