listening to songs where the purpose is enjoyment; (4) following instructions in order to carry out a task efficiently; (5) attending a lecture or following a lesson in order to understand concepts and information; and (6) listening to someone give a public address in order to infer views and attitudes. Elements of Galvin’s general reasons and Underwood’s authentic listening situations are set of possible purposes for classroom listening activities proposed by Harmer (1991) including: (1) listening to confirm expectations; (2) listening to extract specific information; (3) listening for communicative tasks; (4) listening for general understanding; (5) listening to recognize function; (6) listening to deduce meaning.
The reason for the importance of listening has been interest of many researchers and various book chapters or articles. For example, Hedge (2000) argues that listening plays an important role in everyday life and states that when a person is engaged in communication nine percent is devoted to writing, 16 percent to reading, 30 percent to speaking, and 45 percent to listening which illustrates the place of listening in everyday communication. Lundsteen (1979) discusses that “Why put listening first in the language arts? For one reason, listening is the first skill to appear. Chronologically, children listen before they speak” (p. xi).
The importance of listening can be seen more clearly when the lack of listening input is analyzed. To illustrate, the case of people who cannot speak because they cannot hear is a tangible proof of this. There are indispensable situations in which people need to comprehend the things around them aurally; that is, in which they need to activate their listening skills. If someone listens to another with full attention, conviction, commitment, and support, the speaker feels affirmed and important and has a sense of his/her value and the validity of his/her feelings, ideas, and experiences. These situations may be encountered both in first language (L1) and target language. These situations were summarized by Rixon (1986) and Ur (1984) as follows:
– Watching or listening to news, announcement, weather forecast, TV programs, movies, etc. on television or radio,
– listening to announcement in stations, airports, etc.,
– being involved in a conversation; face-to-face, or on the phone,
– attending a lesson, a lecture, a meeting, or a seminar,
– being given directions or instruction.
Modern society tends to shift from printed media towards sound and its members. Thus, the importance of listening cannot be disregarded. We cannot develop speaking skills unless we also develop listening skills. To have a successful conversation, students must understand what is said to them. To develop this ability, students need plenty of practice in listening to English spoken at normal speed. Listening to spoken English is an important way of acquiring the language – of ‘ picking up ‘ structures and vocabulary. In a situation where learners are living in a country where English is the first language, they have plenty of exposure to the language – they hear it all the time, and can acquire it more easily than learners who do not hear English spoken around them. So we need to give these learners as much opportunity to listen to spoken English as possible (Doff, 1990).
Rost (1994) summarizes the significance of listening in EFL/ESL classroom as follows:
1. Listening is vital in the language classroom because it provides input for the learner. Without understanding input at the right level, any learning simply cannot begin.
2. Spoken language provides a means of interaction for the learner. Because learners must interact to achieve understanding, Access to speakers of the language is essential. Moreover, learners‟ failure to understand the language they hear is an impetus, not an obstacle, to interaction and learning.
3. Authentic spoken language presents a challenge for the learner to understand language as native speakers actually use it.
4. Listening exercises provide teachers with a means for drawing learners‟ attention to new forms (vocabulary, grammar, new interaction patterns) in the language (pp. 141-142).
Not only in daily life, outside, but also in classrooms, does listening play an important role which deserves more attention by the stakeholders.
2.4. Why is Listening Difficult?
Listening comprehension refers to the understanding explicit meanings and o the implications of words and sentences of spoken language. It often co-exists with the auditory processing of oral information and difficulties of written language. Children with problems processing and interpreting spoken sentences frequently can experience difficulties in mastering syntactic structures both receptively as well as expressively. As have been noted by Rost (2002), listening is essential to language development. When learners of English are asked about the most difficult English language skill, most of them will reply as listening; likewise, if teachers‟ opinions are asked, they will respond the same way (Rixon, 1986). Yet, it has been very challenging for L2 learners to learn. To help learners to become skillful listeners, factors contributing to learners’ listening difficulties have been identified in many studies, for example, text types (e.g., Shohamy, & Inbar, 1991; Su, 2003), speech rate (e.g., Blau, 1990; Griffiths, 1992; Rixon, 1986), and task types (e.g., Cheng , 2004), syntactical complexity (e.g., Dunkel, 1986), topic familiarity (Carrell, 1983; Carrell & Eisterhold, 1983), and English proficiency (e.g., Vandergrift, 2007).
It is important to recognize that listening is a complex process in as much as it requires the listeners to take the input, blend it with what is already known, and produce new information/meaning out of it. In listening comprehension, essentially the opportunity to regress or mediate is not possible. Once the information is lost, it can be difficult to understand the rest of the passage (Buck, 2001). The stream of speech continues without waiting for the listener to catch up. Furthermore, although the spoken modality contains redundancy, the listener needs to be more attentive because he may not know all the elements of what he/she hears. Control over the speed of delivery for listeners varies much more widely (Osada, 2004).
While listening to a radio program provides no opportunity for control over the speed of delivery, and attending a professional lecture does so only with certain restrictions and considerable effort, in a conversation, listeners may be able to exert some control over the speech rate of their interlocutor, Brown (2006) suggests that, listeners must hear words (bottom-up processing), hold them in their short term memory to link them to each other, and then interpret what has been heard before hearing a new input. Meanwhile, they need to use their background knowledge (top-down processing) to make sense of the input: derive meaning concerning prior knowledge and schemata. In a similar vein, Rubin (1994) suggests that listening is the skill that makes the heaviest processing demands because learners must store information in short-term memory at the same time as they are working to understand the information” (p.8).
It is essential to note that spoken language has specific features. Nord (1980) stated that English oral speech contains ungrammatical, reduced to incomplete form. It also has hesitations, false starts, repetition, fillers (e.g. uh, oh, um, ah, well, kind of, yeh, i mean, i think, i guess) and pauses. These characteristics make up 30-50% of informal conversation. Moreover, spoken English is characterized by pace, volume, pitch and intonation. Even rhythm and stress contain distinctive features that could make comprehension difficult for non-native speakers. Listeners need to be able to interpret words in both stressed and unstressed forms or they may not understand the messa
ge (Richards, 2008). These common features of spoken language can cause difficulty for listeners in their attempt to understand the meaning of the heard strings. Foreign language learners such as Iranian students whose first language is based on different phonological system, rhythm may experience an even higher degree of difficulty. They often have difficulties in listening. Additionally, spoken English usually contains a wide range of idioms and colloquialisms. These are all common features of spoken English that make it difficult for listeners to understand the meaning.
Another reason, why listening is a difficult skill to achieve relates to cross-cultural encounters which potentially lead to misunderstandings between people and can be traced to problems in listening. Lack of sociocultural, factual, and contextual knowledge of the target language tends to hinder comprehension because language is used to depict the culture of the speakers (Brown, 2001). Thus, foreign language learners who are not familiar with English culture have an obstacle to understanding the message. Last but not least, the difficulty of listening may stem from phonological differentiation deficiency (Brown, 1985; Rixon, 1986; Ur, 1984). If listeners cannot differentiate between sounds, they may not be able to convert meaning. The anecdote shared by Mc Neill (1996) is a good example for this assumption. He mentioned that, after a fire scandal, head of the fire department uttered the sentence “one of my officers lost his life”; however, this was reported as “one of my officers lost his wife.” This confusion was faced because the phonological characteristics of Chinese and English are different from each other, and the sounds /l/ and /w/ are problematic for most of the Chinese people.
There have been various research studies focusing on the difficulties in listening. The foci of these studies can be listed
place of articulation. Figure8. Errors and problems by EFL learnersAs demonstrated in the table, there are different reasons behind making such errors ranging from the absence in first language to different manner of articulation. The Read more…