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lule 8: Teaching listening In principle, the objective of listening comprehelsign practice in the classroom is that rtrrd.n6 should learn to function successfully in real-life listening sitüations. This being so, it makes sense to examine first of all what real-life listening is, and whai sorts of things the listener needs to be able to do in order to comprehend satisfactorily in a variety of situations. Task Real-lifelisteningsituations Stage I : Gathering samPles Make a üst of as many situations as lfou can think of where people are listening to other people in their o¡vn mother tongue. These include' of coor".,iitoations where they may be doing other things besides listening - speaking, usually - but the esséntial point is that they need to be a"ble to understánd what is said in order to function satisfactorily in the situation. One way of doing this task is to talk yoruself tluough a routine day and note aII the different listening experiences that occur' Now compare your list with that given in Box 8. t. Are there any items there which you ñad not thought off Are there any items you had which this list does not include? In any case, if ¡¡ou put the two lists together - yours and - you should have a fairly representative selection of listening situations. BOX 8.1: LISTENING SITUATIONS interview instructions loudspeaker announcements radio news committee meeting shopping @ Cambridge Univers¡tY Press 1996 theatre show telephone chat lesson, lecture conversation, gossiP watching television story-telling Stage 2: Finding typical characteristics Irooking at the list you have compiled, can you frnd some features that seem to be common to most of the situations? Such features might be associated with: the kind of language that is usually used; the kind of interaction; what the listener is doingt- For example, in most situatipns the speaker§ 105

Teaching Listening 1

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    8: Teaching listening

    In principle, the objective of listening comprehelsign practice in the classroomis that rtrrd.n6 should learn to function successfully in real-life listeningsitations. This being so, it makes sense to examine first of all what real-lifelistening is, and whai sorts of things the listener needs to be able to do in orderto comprehend satisfactorily in a variety of situations.Real-lifelisteningsituationsStage I : Gathering samPlesMake a st of as many situations as lfou can think of where people arelistening to other people in their ovn mother tongue. These include' ofcoor".,iitoations where they may be doing other things besides listening -speaking, usually - but the essntial point is that they need to be a"ble tounderstnd what is said in order to function satisfactorily in the situation.One way of doing this task is to talk yoruself tluough a routine day and noteaII the different listening experiences that occur'Now compare your list with that given in Box 8. t. Are there any itemsthere which you ad not thought off Are there any items you had which thislist does not include? In any case, if ou put the two lists together - yoursand mine - you should have a fairly representative selection of listeningsituations.

    BOX 8.1: LISTENING SITUATIONSinterviewinstructionsloudspeaker announcementsradio newscommittee [email protected] Cambridge UniverstY Press 1996

    theatre showtelephone chatlesson, lectureconversation, gossiPwatching televisionstory-telling

    Stage 2: Finding typical characteristicsIrooking at the list you have compiled, can you frnd some features that seemto be common to most of the situations? Such features might be associatedwith: the kind of language that is usually used; the kind of interaction; whatthe listener is doingt- For example, in most situatipns the speaker

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    8 Teaching listeningimprovising as he or she speaks, wficfr results in a rather informal'disorganized kind oti""d"g"; and in most situations the listener isresponding to what iJ;i";;tid as weII as listening' Can you think of=o"L "o**on characteristics?This is a rather difficult task, and' you may not be able to find many idet"Share your ideas witfr clfeagues, if possibie, and then compare themm&the suggestions given in the next section'Characteristics of reat-tife tistening situations1. lnformal sPoken discourseMost of the spoken d;;;;;;;. listen to is informal and spontaneous: thespeaker is making t, "r, ; or she.goes along rather than reading aloud or -reciting from memorvlg." *rghl l_i"k1to refei to the transcription of a samPr'of such language ,h.;; i;g;*i o.r, though this lacks, of course, illustradomof ourelv auditorv .h;;;.;;titt 'uth " ti'ngt' in vocal pitch or volume'- i,,iotrt ,p.".i', has various interesting features:Brevity of .chunks,. It is usually broken into short chunks. In a conversation' example, people ,rk. ;;; io 'ptak, usually in short turns of a few seconteach.Pronunciation. The pronunciation of words is often slurred, and noticeablrdifferent from the phonological representation given in a dictional:.]l7;;;;;;i.;t .*r*pt.t t". i"^"oni,in English for cannot' which have ma'E; ; ;;;;;." i",L rh; ;;il; l'"y." g'' iess. o bviou', :"'1ll:: include so;;;g.;;"'orright' fir all right orlSh*e go?' for Shall we goi (For ad.tr.d discussion of this see Brown, t977 ')Vocabulary. ttt. uo.rrrty it .,f'"" toloqt'ia; in English you might' forexample, lrse guy*ft".. in writing you would u" *a'' " !'!rt"-:.:,!:'^1:..1#X,: J:".ilt ;;;;i, ;;"i, r i , o-.*r,". unsr a mmat ic al : utte r ances'onot usually divide neatly into sentences; a grammatical structure may cha4rin mid-utterance; unfinished clauses are common'.Noise,. There *ill b., ..-rr, ,*o"", of 'noise': bits of the discourse that a*";;;.ili6t. ,o ,tr.-fr"t.i-rrrJifr.r.fot" as far as he or she is concerned ammeaningless 'rroir"i. itti, 'y bt because the words are not said clearly' ornot known to th. nlrr oi..r,rr. the hearer is not atrending - any "l-yof reasons. w. orriiv ltlpr"n"" somewhar less than 10.0 p:r cent of 1!5is said to us, making p i..ifr. deficit by guessing the missing items or sirn'ry

    ;;t-g them and [aterittg what we can fromthe rest'

    Redundancy. 1.n. rp.r't.t norally says a good deal more than is strictlynecessary for the .orru.yi"g of ti't 'nt"'ge' Redundancy includes such thingras repetition, prrrpt'lrr", iottl"g with ulterances in parenthesis' self-..tio", tr. ot. of 'fillels' toth 's I medn, well' er' This to some extent.o*p..tr"i"s for the gaps created by'noise''N.*rJp",i ion. th. ir?o'"rr" will not be repeated verbatim;.normally it is";;;;;iy ,r.", ,tto"g,t'it *'v-u" to*^p""t'ted for uv ih.t redundancl-of the discourse, and y the possibility of requesting repetition orr06


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    What does real-life listening involve?2. Listener expectaton and purposeThe listener almost always knows in advance something about what is going tobe said: who is speaking, for example, or the basic topic. Linked to this is his orher purpose: we normally have some objective in listening beyondunderstanding for its own sake - to find our something, for example. And weexpect to hear something relevant to our purpose.3. Looking as well as listeningOnly a very small proportion of listening is done 'blind' - to the radio ortelephone for example. Normall we have something to look atthatis linked towhat is being said: usually the speaker him- or herself, but often other visualstimuli as well - for example a map, scene or object, or the environment ingeneral.4. Ongoing, purposeful listener responseThe listener is usually responding at intervals as the discourse is going on. It isrelatively rarefor us to listen to extended speech and respond only at the end.The responses, moreover, are normally directly related to the listening purpose,and are only occasionally a simple demonstration of comprehension.5. Speaker attentonThe speaker usually directs his or her speech at the listener, takes the listener'scharacter, intentions etc. into account when speaking, and often respondsdirectly to his or her reactions, whether verbal or non-verbal, by changing oradapting the discourse.Think of a situation where you yourself have recently been listening. Hovrrmany of the abore features in fact apply?

    The title above is, of course, a contradiction in terms: classroom listening is notreal-life listening. However, in order to provide students with training inlistening comprehension that will prepare them for effective functioning outsidethe classroom, activities should give learners practice in coping with at leastsome of the features of real-life situations. For example: it would seem not veryhelpful to base listening exercises mainly on passages that are read aloud andfollowed by comprehension questions, when we know that very little of thediscourse we hear in real life is read aloud, and we do not normally respond byanswering comprehension questions.It is worth noting also that listening actiyities based on simulated real-lifesituations are likely to be more motivating and interesting to do than contrivedtextbook comprehension exercises. If you did not do Unit One, look now at thesection Characteristics of real-life listening situations on pages 106-L07. Beloware some guidelines for the design of listening texts and tasks that are based on

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    8 Teaching tistedlnGuidelines1. Listening textsInformal tJk. Mort listening texts should be based on discourse that is eithergenuine improvised, ,por-trr.ors speech, or at least a fair imitation of it. A

    iypical wriiten rext th;t is read aloud as a basis for classroom listening"iri y is unlikely to incorporate the characteristics of informal speech asdescried above, and will thus provide the learners with no practice inunderstanding the most common form of spoken discourse' -Speaker visibility; direct speakerJistener interaction. The fact that in mostlistening situtions the speaker is visible and directly interacting with thelistener"should make ,. ihittk twice about the conventional use of audiorecordings for listening comprehension exercises. It is useful to the learneryou impiovise at leastiome of the listening texts yourself in their presenceior, if fasible, ger another comperent speaker of the language to do so)..o also makes a positive contribution to the effectiveness of listeningpractice, in that it supplies the aspect of speaker visibility and the generalvisual environment of the text.Single exposure. If real-life discourse is rarely 'replayed' then learners should.orrirged to develop the ability to extract the information they need frosingle hring. The discourse, therefore, must be redundant enough topr,id" this rformation more than once within the original text; and whepossible hearers should be able to stop the speaker to request a repeat orexplanation.

    2. Listening tasksExpectations. Learners should have in advance some idea about the kind ofih.y "r. going to hear. Thus the mere instruction 'Listen to the passage ...' iless ,sefil thn something like: 'You are going to hear a husband and wifediscussing their plans for the summer ...'. The latter instruction activateslearners'ielerr.rt schemata (their own previous knowledge and conceptsfacts, scenes, events, etc.) and enables them to use this previous knowledgbuild anticipatory 'scaffolding'that will help them understand.Purpose. Simirl5 fistening p*pose should be provided by_the definitionpi"-r.t task, which should involve some kind of clear visible or audibleiesponse. Thus, rather than say simply: 'Listen and understand ...' we tgivl a specific instruction such as: 'Listen and find out where the family agoing fr their summer holidays. Mark the places on your map-.' Theefin-ition of a purpose enables the listener to listen selectively for significainformation - asir, as well as more natural, than trying to understandeverything.Ongoing listiner response. Finall the task should usually involve intermitte."..po-rrr.. during ihe listening; learners should be encouraged to respondthe information-they are looking for as they hear it, not to wait to the end

    Practica I ct a ss room a pp I i catio nThe guidelines given above are, I believe, valid and useful as general bases fothe design of effective listening materials and tasks. They are not, however,


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    RealJife listening in the classroomrules: they do not, as we have seen, apply to every real-life situation; moreover,there may be very good pedagogical iesons for deviating from some of them inthe classroom.Putting aside, for the moment, the criterion'nearness to real-life listening', letus consiJer these guidelines from the point of view of practical classroomteaching. The lattr involves pedagogical considerations no less important thanauthenticity of the listening experience, such as classroom management, cost-effective use of time, student motivation, interest and learning preferences.For example: one pedagogical advantage of 'real-life' listening situations as abasis for compreheniion exercises is, as previously noted, that these aremotivating todo - far more than artificial texts-with-questions. On the otherhand, a diiadvantage of the guideline 'single exposure' is that it might conflictwith your desire to1.t yoor sludents listen more than once in order to give themmore practice, prevent frustration and give them another chance to succeed indoing the task.\Mhat practical advantages or problems can lrou foresee, or have youer.perl.oced, that might derive from applying any of the guidelines listedearlier?My own u:Lswers to this follor.lmplementing the guidelines: some specific practcalimplications1. Listening textsThe implicition of this guideline is that at least some of your stud-ents' listeningpractici should be base on a text which you yourself improvise for your class,and which is heard onlY once.Advantages. Less recorded material means less of the,expense, inconvenienceand oJcasional breakdown that the frequent use of tape-recorders entails.You can also adapt the level and speed of the text to your specific studentsand respond directly to their needs.problems -or reservations. Many teachers lack confidence in their own ability toimprovise fluently in the target language, or ?r9 -worried their spokenlrrgrag. is not a good enough ('nativel model for students to listen to; suchteaihe prefer to rel if not on recordings, then at least on a written text. they .r.ri.ad aloud.'florr.r.r, most foreign language teachers, even if not

    native speakers of the target language, can present a perfectly competentimprovised speech modefthough mrny find this difficult to believe and are"H::'#r'llff:trTl* rearners onry hear you, rhey wiu not have theopportunity to practise listening to different voices and accents.-Finall o" thl point of singlJexposure listening: even if learners.can do thetrsk "fti one listening, you ay wish to let them hear the text again,.for thesake of further .rporri. and practice and better chances of successfulperformance.Conclusion. In general, it is important for foreign language teachers to be ableto improvise"speechin the target language. Feq however, can do'qo without109

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    8 Teaching listening,[ prompts or notes of some kind; it helps to have before you a list of the m*r points you want to mention, or the picture or diagram you have to descror the answers you plan to elicit from the class.Having said this, there certainly is room for the occasional use ofrecordings, in order to give practice in situations where we listen 'blind',

    in order to expose learners to different voices and accents..W.e shall also often wish to let our students listen to the text more thanonce, for the reasons given above. Perhaps a good compromise might beask them to try to do as much as they can on the first listening, and checkresults; and then let them listen again for the sake of further practice andimproved answers.2. Listening tasks: expectations and purposeAdvantages. Providing the students wirh some idea of what they are going thear and what they are asked to do with it helps them ro succeed in the taas well as raising motivation and interest. A visual focus can often provid

    this: for example, if the task involves marking a picture, diagram, or mapor even a written text.Problems or reservations. occasionally we may wish to ask students to findwhat the passage is about without any previous hint: for the sake of the fand challenge, and to encourage them to use real-world knowledge to heinterpretation. Also, there are some excellent listening activities that needclear task at all beyond the comprehension itself: listening to stories forexample, or watching exciting films.conclusion. If there is no pre-set task we should be careful to ensure that thetext itself is stimulating enough, and of an appropriate level, to ensuremotivated and successful listening on the part of the learners.3. Ongoing listener responseAdvantages. The fact that learners are active during the listening rather thanwaiting to the end keeps them busy and helps to prevent boredom.Problems or reservations. The most naturally-occurring response - speech -usually impractical in the classroom: you cannot her an monitoi thespoken responses of all the class together! Thus most answers will have toin the form of physical movements, which can be monitored visuallS or bwritten responses which can be checked later.A more serious problem is that materials writers often overload the tasktoo many responses are demanded of the learners, information is coming

    too fast (not enough 'redundancy') and there is no time to respond duriglistening. The result is frustration and irritation: even if the lisiening textlrepeated the initial feeling of failure is something that should be avided.conclusion. check the activity by doing it yourselfor with colleagues beforeadministering it: make sure the task is do-able! If necessar reduce thedemands, at least the first time round.


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    Learner problems

    The topic of .listening practice as a preparation for real-life listeningcomprehension has been examined in Units One and Two. Here, we shall belooking at some problems from the point of view of the learner. '7hat aspects oflistening to a foreign language are particularly difficult for learners to copewith, and what can we as teachers do about them?LearnerproblenrsStage 1: Defining some problemsRead through the list given in Box 8.2 of some difficulties that learners havewith listening to a foreign langruage. Add more if you wish.Stage 2: InterviewInterview some learners to frnd out which of these they considerparticularly problematic, whether there are any others they can suggest,and what sort of practice they find helpful.Stage 3: SummaryOn yor:r own or with colleagues, try to summarize the main problems andmake some suggestions as to what the teacher can do to help solve them.Some comnents follovt.

    BOX 8.2: LEARNER DFFICULTIES lN LISTENING1. I have trouble catching the actual sounds of the foreign language.2. I have to understand every word; if I miss something, I feel I am failing and getworried and stressed.3. I can understand people if they talk slowly and clearly; I can't understand fast,natural native-sounding speech.4. I need to hear things more than once in order to understand.5. I find it difficult to'keep up' with all the information I am getting, and cannot thinkahead or predict.6. lf the listening goes on a long time I get tired, and find it more and more difficultto [email protected] Cambridge University Press 1996

    Comments on the learner problems described in Box 8.2.1. Trouble with soundsSince most listeners rely mostly on context for comprehension, they are oftenthemselves unaware of inaccurate sound perception. See Module 4z Teachingpronunciation for some ideas on how to diagnose these kinds of problems.2. Have to understand every wordThis is a very common problim, often unconsciously fostered by tephers

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    8 Teaching listeningandlor listening cdmprehension materials which encourage the learner to belimt'hri .r.rythinfthat is said bears (equally) important information. The lffon o,"J.6iria evlrything often resuitsln ineffeciive comprehension, as well asi..frrrg. .f-iatigue ,.rf"ilor.. e may need to give learners practice in selectirci*".il"f.f t.r information - something they do naturally in their mother;il;;;."r. ;hould explain this point_to_ thi learners, and set them occasionaltasks that ask them a1.r" ,.Ltir.ly long text for one or two limited items o{information.3. Can't understand fast, natural native speechLearners will ofren ask you to slow down and speak clearll . by which they" pro"ounce each word the way it would sound in isolation; and thei"-p,,i." is to do as they ask. But if yoL_ do, you _aI: not helping them to leaa;;;;;;i h.*rydry infrmal rp.".. Thev should be exposed to as much,porrirrr"ors infoimal talk as they can successfully understand as soon asrriUf.; and it is worth taking the_timeto explain to them why. One of the;;;;;;;r of teacher-producd talk is that yu_can provide them with this smolir.or.. at the righi level for them, getting faster and more fluent as theirlistening skills develop.4. Need to hear things more than onceAs noted in Unit TwJabove there may be very good pedagogical reasons fore*posirrg learners to texts more than once. But ih. fa.t remains that in real lihthy arften going ro have to cope wirh 'one-off' listening; and we canc.rrirrly mak uJeful contributi,on to their learning if we can improve theirability do ro.'7e can for example, try to use texts that include 'redundanr"f"s"i.r and within which the esientiai information is presented more thantrr.. ,rd not too intensively; and give learners the opportunity to fequestclarification or repetition during the listening.5. Find it difficult to keeP uPAgain, the learner feels overioaded with incoming information. The solution forrt 1.o much) to slow down the discourse but rather to encourage them to . .,.1a", ,top trying to understand everything, learn to pick out what is essentialand allow themselves to ignore the rest.6. Get tiredThis is one reason for not making listening comprehension passages too longoverall, and for breaking them up into short'chunks' through pause, listenerresponse or change of speaker.

    This unit provides a fairly full - though not exhaustive - taxonomy of liscomprehsion activity types you may find in coursebooks or listening1.L2

    .o*preh"rrrion books. Thire are various ways of classifying such a taxonom-lr

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    Types of activitiesby listening skill, by level of difficulty and so on. I have chosen ro do so by theamount and complexity of response demanded of the learner.study the list, and add any further rypes you can think of that I have omitted.Then perhaps try the task suggested at the end of the unit.Types of listening activities1. No overt responseThe learners do not have to do anything in response to the listening; however,facial expression and body language often show if they are followilg or nor.Stories. Tell a joke or real-life anecdote, retell a well-known stor read a storyfrom a book; or play a recording of a story. If the story is well-chosen,learners are likely to be motivated to attend and understand in order to enjoyit.Songs. Sing a song yourself, or play a recording of one. Note, however, that ifno response is required learners may simply enjoy the music withoutunderstanding the words.Entertainment: films, theatre, deo. As with stories, if the content is reallyentertaining (interesting, stimulating, humorous, dramatic) learners will bemotivated to make the effort to understand without the need for any furthertask.2. Short responsesobeying instructions. Learners perform actions, or draw shapes or pictures, inresponse to instructions.Ticking off items. A list, text or picture is provided: listeners mark or tick offwords/components as they hear them within a spoken description, story orsimple list of items.Thue/false. The listening passage consists of a number of statements, some ofwhich are true and some false (possibly based on material the class has justlearnt). Learners write ticks or crosses to indicate whether the statements areright or wrong; or make brief responses ('True!' or 'False!' for example); orthey may stay silent if the statements are right, say 'No!' if they are wrong.Detecting mistakes. The teacher tells a story or describes something the classknows, but with a number of deliberate mistakes or inconsistencies. Listenersraise their hands or call out when they hear something wrong.Cloze. The listening text has occasional brief gaps, represented by silence orsome kind of buzz. Learners write down what they think might be themissing word. Note that if the text is recorded, the gaps have to be muchmore widely spaced than in a reading one; otherwise rhere is not enough timeto listen, understand, think of the answer, and write. If you are speaking thetext yourself, then you can more easily adapt the pace of your speech to thespeed of learner responses.Guessing definitions. The teacher provides brief oral definitions of a person,place, thing, action or whatever; learners write down what they think it is.Skimming and scanning. A not-tooJong listening text is given, improvised or

    recorded; learners are asked to identify some general topic or inforhation(skimming), or certain limited informarion (scanning) and note thetinswer(s).

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    8 Teaching tsten|:'Tritten questions inviting brief answers may be provided in advance; or agrid, with certain entries missing; or a picture or diagram to be altered orcompleted.

    3. Longer responsesAnswering questions. One or more questions demanding fairly full responsesare given in advance, to which the listening text provides the answer(s).Because of the relative length of the answers demanded, they are mostconveniently given in writing.Note-taking. Learners take brief notes from a short lecture or talk.Paraphrasing and translating. Learners rewrite the listening text in differentwords: either in the same language (paraphrase) or in another (translation)Summarizing. Learners write a brief summary of the content of the listeningpassage.Long gap-filling. A long gap is left, at the beginning, middle or end of a text;learners guess and write down, or say, what they think might be missing.4. Extended responsesHere, the listening is only a 'jump-off point' for extended reading, writing orspeaking: in other words, these are 'combined skills' activities.Problem-solng. A problem is described orally; learners discuss how to dealwith it, and/or write down a suggested solution.Interpretation. An extract from a piece of dialogue or monologue is providedwith no previous information; the listeners try to guess from the words, kiof voices, tone and any other evidence what is going on. At a moresophisticated level, a piece of literature that is suitable for reading aloud(some poetry, for example)can be discussed and analysed.

    Follow-uptask tistening activities in coursebooksAny one specific set of materials is unlikely, of course, to prwideof all the types sted here, though if you look through the books listedunder Frrfh er readingbelow, you should find most of them. But certairyteachers and learners have a right to e:q)ect a fair range and variety in thspecific materials usedin their corse.Go tluough the list of,T'tpes of listening activities again, marking activitt>es that seem to rou particularly usefi:I, or even essential. Then look atcoursebook or listening comprehension book that you are familiar with,and see how many of these rre represented. Are there many that areneglected? Are there others that are over-used?If the range and variety in a book liou re using is very limited, ]rou mabe able to remedy this by improvising llour own activities or usingrsupplementary materials: English teachers will find some suggestions fosuch materials under Fu rther re ading belovrr.