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    The role of listening in the ELT Curriculum

It has been popular in ELT literature to describe listening as the
‘neglected’ skill. Certainly some ELT methods have assumed that
listening ability will develop automatically through exposure to
the language and through practice of grammar, vocabulary, and
pronunciation. The audiolingual method, for example while
perceiving listening as the ‘primary' skill in the sequence
listening, speaking, reading, and writing at the same time
provided only restricted practice of scripted dialogues, which had
the main aim of presenting and practising language forms. From
the 1970 onwards, the status of listening began to change form
one of neglect to one of increasing importance.
Passive skill?

Listening, along with reading, has been
labelled a ‘passive’ skill. Today,
listeners and readers no longer are
regarded as passive. They are seen as
active participants in the negotiation
of meaning.
 What makes listening difficult?

Speaking – you can choose what you say: you can
             often plan in advance
 Reading –no time constraints – read and reread,
              use a dictionary etc.

Writing –no time constraints, you can choose what
          you say, use a dictionary etc.
Listening – the other person chooses the language
and the speed (problems of accent and connected
 speech); need to understand and respond in real
Psychological Processes: Bottom-Up and
Top-Down Listening Schemata
                In accounting for the complex
                      nature of listening to
                understand spoken language,
                  it is hypothesized that two
                      different modes work
                   together in a cooperative
                process. One is the externally
                based bottom-up mode while
                   the other is the internally
                     based top-down mode.
 Bottom-up processing

We use our knowledge of language and our ability
  to process acoustic signals to make sense of the
sounds that speech presents to us. In other words,
  we use information in the speech itself to try to
comprehend the meaning. We segment speech into
   identifiable sounds and impose a structure on
     these in terms of words, phrases, clauses,
  sentences, and intonation patterns. At the same
 time, we use whatever clues are available to infer
       meaning from the developing speech

•He’s thirty next week.

•He’s thirteen next week.

•So he doesn’t want me to tell her.
•So he doesn’t want me to tell her?
 Top-down processing

Top-down comprehension strategies involve
knowledge that a listener brings to the text,
      sometimes called ‘inside the head’
 information, as opposed to the information
    that is available within the text itself.

David’s 18. He lives with his family near Bramley.

Paul’s 46. He lives with his family near Oulu.

Margaret        and what other subjects did you take?
John            I got Maths and Physics. And English too. But I
only just passed that. I took French but failed it. I’m not much
good at languages. But you can take the National certificate if
you’ve got four O levels so I was all right.
Margaret        and where are you working?
John            in a local firm. They make parts for the motor
industry, you know, ... Crankshafts, crankrods, connecting rods
and so on ... Reynolds Supply Company. They’re very good.
They started me off in the model shop ...
  Typical lesson format
•Warm up activity – to activate knowledge of the
topic (schema)
•Gist listening task set; meant to focus students on
main ideas
•Ss listen (twice?) and compare answers with a
•Answers elicited and confirmed
•Detailed listening task set
•Ss listen (twice?) and compare answers with a
•Answers elicited and confirmed
•End of lesson
Planning a typical listening lesson

 Move from top-down processing towards
  bottom-up processing.
 Move form general understanding to
  detailed understanding.
 Move from focus on ideas to focus on
  The pre-listening stage
   At the pre-listening stage, the teacher will
need to decide what kind of listening purpose
  is appropriate to the text. The learners will
need to ‘tune in’ to the context and the topic,
   certainly bring to the front of their minds
  anything that they already know about the
 topic, and most probably hear and use some
of the less familiar language in the text which
  would otherwise distract to create anxiety
                 during listening.
 Activity types which exists for the
 pre-listening phase

• predicting content from the title of a talk.
• Talking about a picture which relates to
the text.
• Discussing the topic.
• Answering a set of questions about the
• Agreeing or disagreeing with opinions
about       the topic.
Material extract 7.A

•Activity 1:
        personalized the topic, and the teacher can
elicit some of the key vocabulary items in the text.
• Activity 2:
        moves more specifically into discussion of the
text and encourages prediction of some of the points
the broadcaster will raise. This provides a purpose
for listening as learners create expectations which
they can confirm while listening.
• Activity 3:
        prepares students for the overall organization
of the text, and this will facilitate note-making. It
also includes more specific points for prediction.
    An Important objective of the
    pre-listening phase
Is to contextualize the text, providing any
information needed to help learners appreciate
the setting and the role relationships between
participants. This becomes particularly
important with authentic recordings. In the task in
Materials extract 7.E, the setting can be partly predicted from the
picture and other contextual information from the written text.
This ensures that learners are not overwhelmed by the random
organization and performance features evident in the script.
Again, a purpose is provided in the ‘guessing’ task.
In the absence of video, visuals can contextualize some types
of listening text and activate relevant schemata.
Some topics lend themselves to pre-listening
activities which require learners to form an
opinion. In this case a useful task is to invite
students to make explicit their opinions to
each other in class discussion and then listen
in order to see whether or not these are
similar to those in the listening material. This
kind of activity reflects the natural ways in
which we react to what we hear and also
inevitably introduces or rehearses relevant
vocabulary and structures.
While-listening activities

The work at the while-listening stage
needs to link in relevant ways to the pre-
listening work. While they listen, learners
will need to be involved in an authentic
purpose for listening and encouraged to
attend to the text more extensively or more
intensively, for gist or for specific
What is the difference between extensive
and Intensive listening activities?

 In Material extract 7.E the aim of the while-
listening task is to confirm learners’
expectations and to help them to get the gist
of the content as it relates to the written
text. Learner activity can involve: following
the information, responding to attitudes
expressed, reflecting on what is said, taking
general notes, or writing down specific
 A wide repertoire of activity types is

• ticking multiple-choice items (as in
Materials extract 7.E).
• filling in a chart.
• matching pictures with the text.
• drawing a picture or making notes (as in
Materials extract 7.A).
   What will the choice of activity depend on?

The level of response which is appropriate, not only
to the type of text but also to the level of the learners.
For learners in the early stages of developing
listening ability, simple activity such as ticking a list of
numbering pictures in the correct order will prevent
the anxiety and demotivation arising from trying to
write while listening. More advanced learners will be
able to cope with more complex tasks. It is always a
good idea , however, for teachers to try a while-
listening task for themselves before introducing it in
class in order to check just how manageable it is.
  Post-listening activities
Post-listening activities can take students into a
more intensive phase of study in which aspects of
bottom-up listening are practised. For example,
Materials extract 7.E includes intensive listening
for note-taking, helping students to summarize the
content of the tutorial. If we look at attempts to list
the component skills involved in top-down and
bottom-up listening, for example Richards (1990),
we can see that post-listening activities help
students to construct a plan from the elements of
the discourse.
Post-listening work can also usefully involve
integration with other skills through
development of the topic into reading,
speaking, or writing activities. If materials
follow this route, it becomes important to
ensure that new sources of motivation arise
for students other than the interest of the
original text. For instance, Materials extract
7.A invites students to talk about other
animals and brings the topic full circle to
revisit the personal preferences and
experiences with which it began.
Richards (1990) offers a list of what learners need to
be able to do in order to listen effectively:

[Bottom-up processes]
-Retain input while it is being processed
-Recognize word divisions
-Recognize key words in utterances
-Recognize key transitions in a discourse
-Use knowledge of word-order patterns to identify constituents
in utterances
-Recognize grammatical relations between key elements in
-Recognize the function of word stress in sentences
-Recognize the function of intonation in sentences

[Top-down processes]
-Use key words to construct the schema of a discourse
-Construct plans and schema from elements of a discourse
-Infer the role of the participants in a situation
-Infer the topic of a discourse
-Infer the outcome of an event
-Infer the cause of effect of an event
-Infer unstated details of a situation
-Infer the sequence of a series of events
-Infer comparisons
-Distinguish between literal and figurative meanings
-Distinguish between facts and opinions
  Some possible reasons for not
  understanding the listening passage
• Retention – i.e. They understood it when
they heard it but didn’t remember it
•Top-down processing problems – e.g.
Understanding the words but not the
•Bottom-up processing problems (i.e.
Linguistic problems) e.g. Unknown words,
structures, intonation, or phonological
     •Retention – pre-set task with focus
  questions – allow students to take notes.
      •Top-down processing problems –
elicitation questions (prepared or ad hoc),
    and more, focused, work on this area.
 •Bottom -up processing problems – if you
 know students won’t understand a word,
   pre-teach it or don’t set a question that
necessitates its comprehension. Otherwise,
      you’re just setting them for failure.