DEVELOPING LISTENING COMPREHENSION SKILLS
Without being taught to listen, people may be able to express themselves orally. However, they will never be able to communicate successfully if they are unable to understand what is said to them. We cannot develop speaking skills unless we develop listening skills. For many years, listening skills did not receive priority in language teaching. Teaching methods emphasized productive skills, and the relationship between receptive and productive skills was poorly understood. A recent change of emphasis in the way listening is viewed has come from a realisation that speaking is not a separate skill in itself; but part of a broader skill that of participating in oral/aural interaction - that is, in speaking and listening. Even extended speaking activities like joke telling, recounting an incident, or giving a lecture, usually require the active participation of listeners. Some applied linguists go so far as to arguw that listening comprehension is at the core of language acquisition and therefore demands a much greater prominence in language teaching. Your pupils are likely to need a higher degree of aural (i.e. receptive) ability than of oral (i.e. productive) ability. In other words, they will need to listen to and understand a much wider range of language spoken to them (in terms of function, topic, grammar, vocabulary, accent, style, etc.) than they will need to be able to speak. This means that you must ensure at least as much listening practice as speaking practice, if not more. The amount of emphasis will depend ultimately on what level of accuracy and what level of communicative sophistication your pupils are aiming at. Moreover, listening to spoken language is also an important way of acquiring the language – structures and vocabulary. Unit objectives: By the end of this unit you should be able to: • identify the various sub-skills involved in the listening process • select and apply appropriate classroom activities to develop these sub-skills • set up, apply and monitor a variety of interactive classroom listening activities • offer a theoretical justification for each of these activities • integrate listening activities with the development of one or more of other skills • assess the learning outcomes of the listening activities.
Key concepts: oral and aural skills, listening styles, redundancy, intensive and extensive listening in the classroom, pupil response to listening, methodological model for listening activities, background information, alienation
1. The nature of the listening process and the listening subskills In order to develop listening comprehension, it is first necessary to understand the nature of listening. Two models of listening can be identified: the bottom-up and the top-down processing models. The bottom-up processing holds that listening is a linear, data-driven process. Comprehension occurs to the extent that the listener is successful in decoding the spoken text. The top-down model of listening, by contrast, involves the listener in actively constructing meaning based on expectations, inferences, intentions, and other relevant prior knowledge. The language data serve as cues to activate this top-down process. Both processing skills are important as they both play important, but different roles in listening.
Listening is vital in the language classroom because it provides input for the learner. Without understanding input at the right level, any learning simply cannot begin. Listening is thus fundamental to speaking. What sort of skills do your pupils need to develop, and how can you help them to do this? We need to look first at what the listening process consists of. • • • • • • • Sound discrimination and recognition Identifying different intonation patterns Recognising words and understanding their information content...