First of all, it is evident that students’ listening to texts for a long time causes tiredness among them. This feeling of tiredness when listening to foreign texts can turn into a cause of stress. But there is also another cause of stress: some teachers do not perform enough listening activities in the classroom and therefore students do not listen enough and do not develop their listening skills enough; that is why they are stressed.
Our duty as exams teachers is to perform enough listening activities, to make these activities pleasant and attractive and to help our students to overcome stress and fear related to listening. Another cause of stress is what we generally call “noise”. If “noise” interferes into an act of communication, the whole information which is to be conveyed does not arrive at the listener.
There are two types of noise: physical noise and mental noise. An example of physical noise may be an alarm which goes off and prevents the listener from understanding the message of what is being communicated. Another example of physical noise which may affect understanding can be represented by the hisses of a recording of low quality.
An example of mental noise can be a temporary listener’s loss of concentration or a momentary lack of ability to recognize and understand a certain phrase. These are examples of distractions caused by the mental noise. When the mental noise mentioned above takes place, the ones who listen have to take into consideration the whole context so that they can rebuild what was skipped.
It is difficult for students to take into consideration the context because in these cases they cannot count on visual clues and they cannot benefit of the speakers’ repeating what they have said; in normal conversations, speakers repeat their words and sentences.
Both types of noise affect to a great extent the students who learn English as a foreign language; the noise affects less the learners who study English as their native tongue. The ones who study English as a foreign language have to fill more missed information with the help of the context. Thus, teachers have to take some measures, otherwise the stress among students will be greater when they prepare in the classroom or at home for the listening exam.
There are some measures which can be taken by teachers to help their students overcome the stress caused by the physical and mental noise. The best measure to be taken is to persuade learners into accepting that physical and mental noise cannot be avoided and this noise cannot prevent them from understanding the main idea or ideas of what is being spoken.
Surprisingly, the highly recommended technique to be adopted by teachers is to introduce a higher amount of noise in their listening subject matter. Teachers can give their students tasks for listening such as taking notes, gap fills, multiple answers and then teachers can skip those text parts which have nothing to do with the task by turning off the recorder or creating noise such as talking over certain sections of the text.
There are other techniques such as making use of material which is a little above the learners’ level. In this way, students need to fill in more gap and to deal with more distractions; more distractions imply rebuilding missed parts of the listening text.
If teachers choose to put into practice the above technique, they had better encourage students to be attentive at visual support under the form of video recordings. Here the usual listening tasks can be avoided and learners might be asked to create a summary of what the speakers said. This summary can be done first in the native tongue of the listeners and then in the foreign language (in English).
Another technique is that of using songs as listening materials; by doing this, teachers prove to their students that they do not have to understand each word of the song. Students will see that they can listen to high quality English music, even if they do not understand certain phrases or words; this cannot prevent them from enjoying the songs and even the lyrics.
Students need to know that the English lyrics are difficult to transcribe even for the native speakers of English; this aspect will surely encourage them. Moreover, teachers can find out from students about their favorite English songs. Then the same teacher should try to have access to the lyrics and the copies of those songs. Students may be asked for example to create multiple choice exercises which can sound like this: “The message of this song is …” or “My favorite melody is about …”. If students cannot create these exercises, they should be helped by their teachers.
More alternatives of certain songs can be listened to in the classroom and students will decide which alternative is the best. It is very stimulating for students to have the opportunity to listen to their favorite popular songs especially if these songs are not known to teachers.
Besides the factors causing stress, a lot of learners have already failed when listening to texts; they may have failed in the final listening tests themselves or in listening texts inside the classroom. The fear felt by these students is so intense that they give in once they see a CD player. This feeling of fear causes great tension and this tension increases the problems caused by the concept of noise; thus, students are so scared that they cannot focus on what they listen to and they fail to comprehend what the speakers on the recording say.
Every failure students experience boosts fear and success seems to be far away from them. There are some techniques which allow students to make great progress. One of the techniques is called easy listening. This type of listening implies the fact that students are aware of their making progress. According to easy listening, it is advisable that teachers should ask students to use and listen to material below or slightly below their level; this material is recommended at the beginning stages of a listening exam course.
The idea of easy listening is that students and teachers should take it easy and should feel satisfaction when they come back to the material they listened to at the previous stages; they will notice how easy these materials are; students deal with the simple notions and concepts of the listening course.
Another technique is called casual listening. The idea of this technique is to encourage learners to make the difference between the activity of learning and the stress caused by the importance of a listening test or exam. By focusing exclusively on the activity of listening, students will release some of the tension caused by an exam. For example, when students are performing some writing work, the teachers can play background songs or they can play English radio broadcasts at a later phase of the course.
There is also a technique called empowering listening. The purpose of this technique is to boost students’ confidence and to increase their motivation. It is the students who decide what to understand and what response to give to the listening material which can be a challenging text such as a song, a poem or a monologue. Learners are allowed to give any response they want; they can write two or three words, they can make a drawing or they can create their own text.
In the end, students have to be aware of the fact that the above techniques represent important steps which are necessary for reaching the true standard of the listening exam; this implies in fact a gradual progress up to the exam standard.
Rodgers, T. 2001. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University.
Jones, L. 2007. The Student-Centered Classroom. New York: Cambridge University Press.