Listening Is the Same as Reading

Topics: English language, Language, Language education Pages: 20 (5411 words) Published: February 27, 2013
Listening Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teaching Steven Brown
Michigan ELT, 2011


Listening is the same
as reading.


In the Real World . . .
I took my first foreign language class, Spanish, in seventh grade. It was the 1960s in California and, though I certainly didn’t know it then, audiolingualism was the methodology of choice. I remember memorizing dialogues; for years, I could remember isolated snatches of them. I remember reading about culture and seeing Mexican textiles on the walls. What I don’t remember is any listening exercises beyond repeating sentences played on reel-to-reel tape. After exhausting all the Spanish classes at Sunset High, I went on to the University of California at Santa Cruz. My high school Spanish satisfied whatever language requirement was in place at the time, and Spanish classes were at 8 AM on top of a hill, so sloth won out over what really was a fondness for studying languages. Incidentally, despite its current bad reputation, audiolingualism was strong enough to last for years; I can get by in Spanish-speaking countries to this day, as long as I’m asking for the restroom and not trying to discuss philosophy. At the beginning of the 1980s, I found myself teaching English in Japan. This was the era of the Communicative Revolution—or so we 1

Listening Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teaching Steven Brown
Michigan ELT, 2011

2 ~ Listening Myths

thought. One of the things in the air at the time was the absolute necessity of teaching listening skills. Real skills, real teaching— meaning an exclusive focus in the lesson on how to listen. This may seem obvious now, but it was anything but then. The local TESOL affiliate JALT, the Japan Association for Language Teaching, sponsored numerous presentations on how to teach listening. A major factor generating interest in listening was the fact that so many of our Japanese students were so bad at it. The Japanese educational system was then very focused on teaching students to read English, by which was meant, translate English into Japanese. In order to read English, students were also taught to analyze English grammar. Little oral work was done and virtually no listening tasks; indeed, many classes were predominately in Japanese. As a result, students left high school or university without much knowledge of spoken English and thus had a difficult time understanding what was said to them in English. So, let’s teach them to listen, we thought. The research base, or even the teacher lore, that would tell us how to do this was still slim, but beginning to grow. The University of Michigan Press had published the first American textbook devoted to listening comprehension in 1972 (Morley, 1972). Jack Richards had written what came to be a seminal article on listening in TESOL Quarterly (Richards, 1983). By 1985, a survey in the TESOL Newsletter reported 76 different listening textbooks being used in North American English language intensive programs (Works, 1985), but that number includes test-preparation materials, course books with some listening, and songbooks, and it reflects a rapid growth of titles in the early 1980s. One of the first listening-oriented JALT presentations I attended was by Dale Griffee, who was working on incorporating listening with English through drama (Griffee, 1982).

There were still plenty of materials that basically had the teacher read a passage and then ask comprehension questions, but some practitioners began to adopt a format of pre-listening, listening, and postlistening. In either case, basically what we were doing was replicating reading lessons.

Listening Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teaching Steven Brown
Michigan ELT, 2011

Myth 1: Listening is the...
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