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Unit 9

Teaching Listening

Aims of the unit 1. Why is listening so difficult for students? 2. What do we listen to in everyday life? 3. What are the characteristics of the listening process? 4. What are the principles of teaching listening? 5. What are the common activities in teaching listening

9.1 Why does listening seem so difficult?

It is becoming more and more necessary to understand spoken English in many situations, e.g. face-to-face conversations, telephone calls, business meetings, lectures, speeches, television, etc. Among the four skills, foreign language learners often complain that listening is the most difficult to acquire.

Reasons why listening is often neglected in language teaching

Lack of teaching materials; Lack of equipment; Lack of training in how to use the equipment; Listening is not included on many important tests; Lack of real-life situations where language learners need to understand spoken English; Lessons tend to test rather than to train student listening skills.

Both listening and reading are receptive skills, but listening can be more difficult than reading because:

Different speakers produce the same sounds in different ways, e.g. dialects and accents, stress, rhythms, intonations, mispronunciations, etc.; The listener has little/no control over the speed of the input of the spoken material; The spoken material is often heard only once (unlike the reading material);

The listener cannot pause to work out the meaning; Speech is more likely to be distorted by background noise (e.g. round the classroom) or the media that transmit sounds; The listener sometimes has to deal simultaneously with another task while listening, e.g. note-taking, etc.

9.2 What do we listen to in everyday life?

Since we are teaching our students English not only to help them pass exams, but also to prepare them to use English in real life, it is important to think about the situations they will listen to English in real life and then think about the listening exercises we do in class.

Even at the beginning stage, we need to give our students a variety of listening exercises to prepare them for real life use of language. In most cases, the listening materials in the classroom are daily conversations or stories, but in reality we listen to far more things. e.g.

Telephone conversations about business;

Lessons or lectures given in English; Instructions in English; Watching movies in English; Dealing with tourists; Interviews with foreign-enterprises; Socializing with foreigners; Listening to English songs;

Radio news in English; Conversations with foreigners; Watching television programmes in English; Shop assistants who sell goods to foreigners; International trade fairs; Negotiations with foreign businessmen; Hotel and restaurant services.

9.3 Characteristics of the listening process

It is important to understand the characteristics or process behind these listening situations so that we as teachers can design appropriate activities to help our students to develop effective listening habits and strategies.

1. Formal or informal? 2. Rehearsed or non-rehearsed? 3. Can the listener interact with the speaker nor not?
Listening to English songs Socializing with foreigners Radio news in English Watching television programmes in English Negotiations with foreign businessmen Hotel and restaurant services

Characteristics of the listening: (Ur 1996:106-7)

Spontaneity. We listen to people speaking spontaneously and informally without rehearsing what whey are going to say ahead of time. Context. While listening, we know the relationship between the listener and the speaker. The situation helps to predict what we are going to hear. Visual clues. Facial expression, gestures, and other body language, and the surrounding environment, these visual clues help us predict and understand what we hear.

Listeners response. In a conversation, we can interrupt the speaker and ask for repetition or clarification. Speakers adjustment. The speaker can adjust the way of speaking according to the listeners reaction, e.g. he/she may rephrase or elaborate (to put it in more details).

9.4 Principles of teaching listening

Focus on process. Combine listening and speaking. Focus on comprehending meaning. Grade difficulty level appropriately.

Focus on process
Listening is not a passive activity. We must do many things to process information that we are receiving.
Paying attention. Constructing meaningful messages in the mind by relating what we hear to what we already know (previous knowledge). So it is very important to design tasks the performance of which show how well the students have comprehended the listening material.

Combine listening and speaking

Two problems with the traditional listening classroom: No opportunities to practise listening and speaking skills together; The questions only test the students, rather than train the students how to listen or how to develop listening strategies.

Focus on comprehending meaning

In the traditional textbooks, the listening exercises are to test the students memory, not their listening comprehension.

Psycholinguistic studies have shown that people do not remember the exact form of the message they hear, i.e., they dont remember what they hear word for word, rather, they remember the meaning.

Grade difficulty level appropriately

Three factors that may affect the difficulty level of listening tasks: Type of language used; Task or purpose in listening; Context in which the listening occurs.

Which of the following would you use for intermediate middle school students? In what order? (PP.140-141)
A videotape of a talk by a native speaker about the school life of middle school students in the United States; A live talk by a competent English-speaking Chinese psychologist about effective study habits; An audiotape of an interview with a native English speaker talking about her experiences living in China; An audiotape of the news from CRI (China Radio International)

The teacher need to evaluate the tasks provided in textbooks, adapt and design tasks to provide more variety. Variety does not only help students remain interested and motivated to learn, but also provide practise in the many types of listening situations which learners will encounter in real life.

Principles for selecting & using listening activities

For principles, please refer to pp.141142

Bottom-up model
(Hedge, 2000:230)
1) : 2) : 3) : 4) :

Top-down model
( )

Three teaching stages

Pre-listening activities While-listening activities Post-listening activities

Pre-listening activities
Predicting Setting the scene Listening for the gist Listening for specific information

Good listeners are good predictors. There are many different activities that can be used to encourage students to predict the content of what they are about to hear. Visual aids are immensely helpful in aiding students comprehension. They attract students attention and help and encourage them to focus on the subject in hand (Ur, 1984:30).

Using pictures for prediction

In the beginning the students may have difficulty in predicting. In this case the teacher can help them by asking leading questions. e.g.

e.g. 1

T: Where are they? What are they doing? What is the relationship between them?

e.g. 2

T: What do you see in the picture? What is behind the trees? What is in the tree? What is in the river?

Another type of predicting task is to let students read the listening comprehension questions before they listen.

Setting the scene

The teacher can help provide the background information to activate learners schema, so they will be better prepared to understand what they hear. e.g. A passage about Michael Jackson

Listening for the gist

Listening for the gist is similar to skimming a passage in reading. The key is to ask students one or two questions that focus on the main idea or the tone or mood of the whole passage. Notice that students can answer the gist questions even though they do not understand every word or phrase in the passage.

Listening for specific information

There are situations in real life where we listen only for some specific details and ignore the rest of the entire message. e.g. weather forecast, announcements in train stations/airports It is important to expose our students to a variety of types of listening texts for a variety of purposes so that they will develop a variety of listening strategies to use for different situations.

Summary on pre-listening activities

We may use more than one kind of pre-listening activity; Pre-listening tasks should not take much time; The purpose of pre-listening activities is to activate the students schema, i.e. to provide context.

9.6 While-listening activities

The while-listening stage is the most difficult for the teacher to control, because this is where the students need to pay attention and process the information actively. Some tasks for while-listening activities:

No specific responses
For stories, or anything that is interesting, humourous, or dramatic, we just have the students listen and enjoy it.

Listen and tick

Listen and sequence

Listen and act

Total Physical Response: for beginners Stand up, Point to the ; for intermediate learners Pretend youre (doing something)

Listen and draw (pp. 149-150)

Listen and fill

It is important NOT to overdo this type of tasks, since it gives students the impression that they need to understand every word. We may ask the students to fill in the blanks with function words, say, prepositions.

Listen and guess

e.g. For height, appearance, and personalities Four clues about an animal

Advantages of the above listening activities

They personalize the lesson and make the listening interesting. They integrate listening with the other skills, especially speaking.

Summary on while-listening activities

Most of the time, it is helpful to provide a task for the students to do something while they are listening. By providing a variety of types of tasks, students learn to listen for a variety of purposes, which better prepares them for listening in the real world outside the classroom.

9.7 Post-listening activities

The post-listening stage is where the teacher can determine how well the students have understood what they listened to. One important point to keep in mind is whether we are testing the students listening comprehension or their memory. It is more common for people to understand more than they can remember.

Some types of post-listening activities

Multiple choice questions Answering questions Note-taking and gap-filling Dictogloss

Multiple choice questions

e.g. Compare Exercise A and Exercise B:

Answering questions
Open-ended questions and inference questions can be asked.

Note-taking and gap-filling

for a summary of the text

Preparation: briefly talking about the topic and key words Dictation: for two times, first time focusing on the meaning, and second time taking extensive notes Reconstruction: working in pairs/groups, reconstructing the text Analysing and correction: comparing their own version with the original

Summary on post-listening activities

Dont demand students to remember more details than a native-speaker would in a real-life situation; Dont spend too much time giving students practise with traditional testtaking questions; Integrate listening tasks with speaking and writing.

9.8 Conclusion
We must know the nature of listening, both in real language use and in language classrooms Focus on the process of listening rather than on the result of listening. Dont merely test the memory.

What are the characteristics of the listening process? What are the models of teaching listening? What are the common activities in teaching listening?