From Listening Tasks to Listening Abilities

It is known that listening tasks guide students when they want to prepare themselves for listening exams; teachers’ duty is to choose those tasks which help students form and consolidate their listening abilities gradually and thoroughly. If students trust their listening abilities, listening exams seem easy for them.

The listening tasks set in an exam can be classified into productive and objective. The tasks which are productive need a response under the form of written information and corrected information. The tasks which are objective need a response under the form of marked or circled answers. Let us give some examples of productive and objective tasks.

One can give examples of productive tasks such as: notes which are taken, sentences which are completed, tables which are completed, answers that are short. Other types of productive tasks can be mentioned: answers under the form of short phrases or under the form of one word, mistakes which are identified and information which is corrected.

One can also give examples of objective tasks such as: answers with Yes or No, information which is ordered, multiple choice exercises, answers with True or False, multiple matching exercises. In case of an exam, students need to be attentive to all the instructions; in this case, they will know what kind of responses they should provide.

The exam listening material is tightly connected to the actual social life of the candidates. This means that the material takes into view all the interests and needs of the learners. The listening text must have a rich content and must offer equal chances for all students in the sense that all students need to be objectively evaluated in so far as regards their ability to listen. This assessment must be done irrespective of the students’ culture, religion or social and knowledge background.

Moreover, all the listening texts for exams should include themes of great interest for learners such as: human experiences; international and national news about weather and events; travelling and holidays; free time; the household, sports information. The listening texts may also include topics such as: technological and scientific development, the protection of the environment, the skills and strategies of learning a language or of learning in general, art, music or customs, social and psychological themes, health care, telephones and computers or prices and economic issues.

In the case of a listening text, the context is usually established by a narrator, the topic is introduced and the setting is described by the same narrator. The narrator gives the listener the chance to predict what he is about to hear to a certain extent. It is important for the listeners to be attentive to the instructions before listening to the text because they need to know what they have to do.

It is important for both teachers and students to know what the listening tasks assess. The listening tasks are created to evaluate the students’ capacity to understand different aspects and types of the spoken language. Students prove that they understood the listening input by providing answers to a wide range of tasks. The tasks are very much like the tasks in the real-life communication process and the accomplishment of these tasks are conditioned by the grasping of the ideas and details that are heard.

If students want to solve a task, they need to possess some abilities or to form those abilities through studying and listening. It is these abilities that are in fact tested. Students should be able to: find and grasp certain bits of information, grasp details, grasp the general message and the main idea or ideas of the listening text, identify and assume the attitudes and feelings of the persons who are speaking.

Learners also need to recognize the genre of the text. In other words, they should know if they have to deal with an informal meeting, an advertisement or a formal conversation. Students should also identify the topic of the listening text, pursue the line of a narrative or argument, associate spoken details with written details and carry out instructions and even certain directions.

The texts may be short or long, they may be dialogues or monologues. For instance, the students may listen to a dialogue between certain interlocutors and they have to recognize the location of the speakers, the topic of the dialogue and the relationship existing between the interlocutors. Students may hear a monologue as part of a lecture for example and they have to find the main bits of information transmitted by the one who speaks. Students can also associate each bit of information with pictures.

The learners may hear a discussion about politics between three persons on the radio. The listeners’ task is to detect feelings and attitudes of the protagonists while discussing about the political issue. It is worth mentioning that the answers provided by the students may take the appearance of ticks and crosses of numbered items, completed notes and completed sentences. In most cases, notes and sentences have to be completed with few words.

Students consider listening exams rather difficult. The listening practice which is done in the classroom is meant to prove students that they can be successful in solving tasks and to make them feel confident from the very beginning. There must be an equilibrium between students’ identifying ideas, notions or concepts and their identifying feelings and attitudes throughout listening texts; if this equilibrium is achieved, students are more interested in the listening texts and more willing to listen.

Rodgers, T. 2001. Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University.
Jones, L. 2007. The Student-Centered Classroom. New York: Cambridge University Press.


prof. Bogdan-Mihai Măimăscu

Liceul Tehnologic Grigore Antipa, Bacău (Bacău) , România
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