LISTENING SKILL 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 time WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE LISTENING PROCESS? 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 examples •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. examples 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 partner •Answers elicited and confirmed •Detailed listening task set •Ss listen (twice?) and compare answers with a partner •Answers elicited and confirmed •End of lesson DESIGNING LISTENING ACTIVITIES FOR THE CLASSROOM 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 language. STAGES OF THE LISTENING LESSON 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 topic. • 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 information. 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 points. A wide repertoire of activity types is possible: • 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 sentences -Recognize the function of word stress in sentences -Recognize the function of intonation in sentences Continue... [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 afterwards. •Top-down processing problems – e.g. Understanding the words but not the implications. •Bottom-up processing problems (i.e. Linguistic problems) e.g. Unknown words, structures, intonation, or phonological ‘blurring’. solutions •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.