Improving Learner’s Ability with Listening to News Reports
Word count - 2470
News reports are:
Where top-down and bottom-up meet
Problems and Solutions
For years now I have taught context/gist/specific info/post activity type listening lessons, but my reading on authentic materials and helping students with compensatory strategies alerted me to the fact that I have been testing rather than teaching listening in the classroom. My learners, who are living and studying in Australia, often view understanding the news as a major achievement in their listening development. It is an authentic text that they have free, repeated access to on a daily basis. However, lower level learners often view news reports as something that is above their level and totally incomprehensible. My aim is to develop my teaching of strategies to help learners become more successful in understanding news reports. Analysis
News reports are:
* Transactional - “the primary focus is on communicating information….(they are) primarily message –focused” (Richards & Schmidt, 2010, pg290). * Instrumental – the listener has a clear aim, in this case to obtain information about what is happening in the world. * Non-interactive – the listener does not have the ability to speak or interact. It is impossible for the listener to ask for clarification. * Authentic – texts which are not graded for language learners, “where no concessions are made to foreign speakers” (Harmer, 2001, pg205). Or, as White states, “the kinds of things which native speakers listen to” (White, 2008, pg11).
News reports also follow a common format of an opening section summarising the news item, followed by a more detailed account of the story. In the main body, information given by the reporter is often immediately followed by a direct quote from an involved party. These features can be seen in the transcript in Appendix 1. Processes
Processes are the “ways humans analyse and process language as part of comprehension and learning” (Richards & Schmidt, 2010, pg603), and can be described as either top-down or bottom up. Top-down
Top-down processes refer to non-linguistic knowledge that the listener brings to the text in order to aid understanding. This may be contextual knowledge (such as who and where the speakers are, and what has been said or will be said next) or schematic knowledge (previous knowledge of the topic which can be factual or sociocultural, or knowledge of how language is used in a particular type of discourse). (Anderson and Lynch, 2003). For the news report about a tornado in Perth (Appendix 1), a skilled listener would employ the following subskills: (compiled from White (2008), Richards (1985) and Bowen & Marks (1994)).
* Using pre-existing knowledge of a topic to guess what the speaker may say – knowledge of tornados (they can destroy houses and uproot trees, that they are visible swirls of wind, and that people can get injured or die).
* Comparing initial predictions with what was heard and revising if necessary – an initial prediction may be that there were deaths or injuries, based on knowledge of the dangers of tornados. However, after listening, a skilled listener would recognise that their prediction was incorrect (“Luckily no-one was injured”).
* Inferring meaning from non-linguistic clues (such as visuals in televised news reports) – the video footage (link provided in Appendix 1) provides visuals that directly relate to the commentary. For example, the comment “tiles torn from rooves” is voiced over footage of extensive damage to a roof. A skilled listener would be able to infer the meaning even if the words were not understood.
Bottom-up processes deal with comprehension...
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