The receptive skills: Listening

Listening is the language skill which students usually find the most difficult. This often is because they feel under unnecessary pressure to understand every word.

“Listening is an active process, which means the ability to identify and understand what other people are saying; it also means recognizing speech sounds, dialects and speech rhythm. It is different from hearing. When we hear someone/something, it is only perception of the sound; when we listen to someone/something, we usually pay attention to the sound or message. The main aim is that of making students understand the foreign language spoken at normal speed and in normal conditions.”

To achieve the aims related to this skill, the teacher plays an important role that is defined in the following steps:
It is important to help students prepare for the listening task well before they hear the text itself. First of all the teacher must make sure that the students understand the language they need to complete the task and are fully aware of exactly what is exposed of them. He/ she has to reassure the students that they do not need to understand every word they hear.

The next important step is to encourage students to anticipate what they are going to hear. In everyday life, the situation, the speaker, and visual clues all help us to decode oral messages. A way to make things a bit easier to the students is to present  the listening activity within the context of the topic of a teaching unit. This in itself will help students to predict what the answers might be. The teacher can help them further by asking questions and using the illustrations to encourage to guess the answers even before they hear the text.

During the listening the pupils should be able to concentrate on understanding the message so, the teacher must make sure they are not trying to read and write at the same time. He/she has to give a second chance to listen to the text to provide a new opportunity to those who were not able to do the task.

Finally, when students have completed the activity, the teacher asks answers from the whole class. He/she should not put individual students under  undue pressure. Rather than confirming whether an answer is correct or not, he/she should play the cassette again and allow students to listen again for confirmation.

Concerning literature, some types of listening exercises are proposed – listening to an audiocassette, listening to teacher as a storyteller, listening to a role-play etc.

One of the problems experienced by students of English is that when they don’t understand clearly what they hear, they worry about it and cannot focus on what comes next. They need training sometimes, for example when listening to a story. Before reading the story loud, a few questions should be asked that concentrate on the main ideas of the story. “Listening to stories develops the child’s listening and concentrating skills via visual clues, their prior knowledge of how language works and their general knowledge.” (Brewster, Ellis, 1991)

To stimulate students that have problems with listening comprehension it is advisable to choose a cassette below their usual level. Cassettes make the story real, often adding interesting and atmospheric sound effects as well as correct pronunciation. Cassettes may be used to accompany the text. It is more interesting if cassettes are used without giving them the text and pupils guess what will follow.

Listening skills need to have a “real- life” meaning, students need purposes and intentions which they can recognize and respond to in others. This implies that the teacher needs to carefully select materials and purposes for practicing listening skills and that they need to have an authentic meaning to students.

Keeping in mind that listening is an active process, must make the teacher cautious when asking students to listen and remember because this can make them anxious and prevent them from developing listening skills. When we try to develop our students’ listening, we must give them confidence, we should not expect them to always understand every word and they should know this.

The teacher must think of listening in three stages: pre-listening, while-listening, post-listening and have activities for each stage. Listening does not have to rely on availability of a cassette or pre-recorded material. Most listening is teacher talk.

“This skill is not acquired automatically. It involves students being able to concentrate upon the whole meaning of the message, without paying attention to the component element which can deduce out of the conversational context.”

The process of listening involves recognition/identification (of sounds, elements of meaning conveyed by stress, intonation and pitch, identification of words and phrases in their structural relationship), selection (drawing out from communication those elements which seem to express the purpose of the speaker), and the use of correct punctuation, register and style. So, although the main focus is on listening, the skill frequently integrated with oral or written activities.

A listening activity class has three stages:

a) Pre-listening – “ meant to provide a context for listening, to activate the learner’s background knowledge about the topic and activate vocabulary set associated with the topic. During this stage, the new vocabulary is introduced to students and they are also offered a reason for listening.”

b) While-listening – the students need to listen for the first time for general comprehension, afterwards, the students listen the second time. The main ideas of the literary text are checked through activities like: multiple-choice questions, matching words, sentence completion, multiple matching, answering questions, taking information from a short lecture, comparing, true/false exercises, discussing about the themes and the motives, sequencing, analyzing structure, paraphrasing, summarizing, circling in a list the word they hear; recognizing pertinent details; repetition of short phrases or complete utterances recorded;

c) Post-listening – at this stage, activities like answering to show comprehension (students answer to multiple-choice or true/false questionnaires, summarizing ) involve checking the students’ understanding of the literary text.

Clearly, when reading aloud, literary texts provide an important context for developing general listening skills. One real advantage of stimulating students to listen to literature on audiotape is that such pieces of literature offer students a diversity of dialects and voice qualities.

In conclusion, listening skills can be used in different ways during the literature classes – listening to short stories, listening to cassettes – and it is based on a positive attitude even if students do not understanding everything.

Bibliography:
1. Bonta, Elena, (2001), English Teaching Methodology, Universitatea Bacau, Centrul pentru Invatamant la Distanta, p. 19
2.  Dilamar, Araujo,Antonia, “Improving Oral Language Skills of Beginning Students” in English Teaching
3. Forum, volume XXIX, Number 2, April 1991, page 2-3
4.   Bonta, Elena, (2001), English Teaching Methodology, Universitatea Bacau, Centrul pentru Invatamant la Distanta, p. 21.

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