real-life speech (Lam, 2002). They also need to be aware of time-creating devices (e.g., “um,” “uh,” and “eh”), facilitation devices (e.g., “you know,” “I mean,” and “well”), and compensation devices (e.g., redundant or repeated words, discourse markers, and other visual clues) inherent in spoken language. To this end, teachers need to devise awareness-raising exercises, such as comparing extracts of written and spoken texts, converting written texts to spoken texts or vice versa. After these consciousness-raising exercises, teachers can also provide students with skills-enabling exercises. These exercises may include having students identify this time-creating, facilitation, and compensation devices while listening to authentic listening texts, producing their own texts, and integrating listening with other skills, especially with speaking.
Informing learners about the various goals for listening is another important key. In real-life listening situations, people usually have an aim for listening beyond understanding what is being heard, such as finding out something; so, they expect to hear something relevant to their aims. Therefore, learners should be informed about what they are going to listen to. Such information, which is provided before instructional listening activities, helps learners activate relevant schemata and enhance anticipation (Ur, 1996). Setting a task before listening may also create a purpose that is similar to real-life aims.
2.7. Designing listening activities for the classroom
The general outline of an effective listening lesson is said to include three stages: pre listening, listening, and post-listening. Field (2002) describes the standard format of a listening lesson as follows. The most suitable stage in which to provide students with background information is the pre-listening stage. This stage consists of teaching critical words and engaging students in pre-listening activities. Field suggests that teachers encourage guessing the meanings of unknown words from context instead of teaching the critical words before listening, which was not a common practice in traditional classrooms. He does not mean that none of the key words should be taught; rather he urges teachers to be careful about finding a balance between teaching all of the critical words and not teaching any of them. He suggests not teaching more than three to four critical words.
An important objective for the pre-listening phase is to contextualize the text, providing any information needed to help learners appreciate the setting and the role relationships between participants. The pre-listening stage is critical for activating personal schemata and engaging the students in the flow of the lesson. Teachers should be conscious about the length of time that they devote to the pre-listening stage, since there is a danger of shortening the time for actual listening practice if the pre-listening stage is too long. Tasks might also be employed before listening in order to provide a purpose for listening and a context for comprehension (Buck, 1995). The provision of a purpose for listening enables learners to listen selectively as in real life. The principal function of these activities is to establish a framework for listening so that the learners do not approach the listening practice with no points of reference. McDonough and Shaw include the following activities:
– A short reading passage on a similar topic
– Predicting content from the title
– Commenting on a picture or photograph
– Reading through comprehension questions in advance
– Working out your own opinion on a topic
For the during-listening stage, Field (2002) distinguishes between extensive and intensive listening. Extensive listening can be defined as listening to a text without focusing on details and listening for pleasure, with the aim of understanding something worth hearing. In intensive listening, on the other hand, the listener aims to pick up detailed pieces of information (Rixon, 1986). Rost (1991) further divides listening into the types, which can take place in the during-listening stage:
– Attentive listening has students listen and supply short responses to the speaker.
– Intensive listening focuses students’ attention on language forms. These activities require students to focus on specific contrasts of grammatical, lexical, or phonological forms in contexts.
– Selective listening helps learners to identify a purpose and to learn to attend to specific information provided in the text.
– Interactive listening provides learners with activities, which help them to assume active roles in the listening process, even when they are in the listener’s role.
To be able to prepare students for these activities, teachers should make sure that the input of the activity matches the proficiency level of the students (Rost, 1991). To this end, teachers can make use of the ‘cognitive load’ principle (Brown, 1995). Briefly, the cognitive load principle asserts that the more complex the number and distinguishability of (a) referents, (b) spatial, temporal and informational relations, and (c) causal and intentional inferences become, the more difficult the text becomes for learners to comprehend. The third stage of a listening lesson, post-listening, can take students into a more intensive phase of study in which aspects of bottom-up listening are practiced. In the post-listening stage, the teacher can ask students to infer the meanings of new words from the context. Teachers may have students infer the meanings of the unknown words by writing the target words on the board, replaying or reading the sentences containing them, and asking the learners to work out their meanings. This stage should also include checking answers to listening comprehension activities (Field, 2002). In addition, post-listening may be a good stage in which to integrate listening with other language skills. Here are just a few examples of such activities:
– Using notes made while listening to write a summary
– Reading a related text
– Doing a role-play
– Writing on the same theme
– Studying new grammatical structures
– Practicing pronunciation (McDonough and Shaw, 1993)
2.8. Some obvious and latent problems in L2 listening comprehension
Because of many aspects of speech which are more or less obvious, it is usually supposed that listening comprehension is difficult for L2 learners. Some of these aspects are explicit enough and their difficulty is clear and therefore teachable while others are less. Undoubtedly, they complicate the situation and make L2 listeners’ task arduous. Whereas L1 listeners are constantly exposed to their native language, L2 listeners are not so privileged. In L2 situations, attending becomes part of the active learning process. To make this more explicit, we turn now to some of the obstacles that render L2 listening difficult.
2.8.1. Fast Speech (Speed of Delivery)
Listening comprehension develops with pronunciation training. So these two skills are integrated in the same communicative system in English. Bowen has discussed this issue focusing on important learners’ effort to understand native pronunciation as it hinders comprehension:
“Of course the student must be capable of understanding native pronunciation under normal circumstances of production and not require of his interlocutors a special style for his personal use.” (1972: 85)
As L2 listeners, they should be trained to get familiarized with rapid speech containing all the features of connected speech. Morley asserts that Specialized speech oriented listening tasks can help learners develop… their discriminative listening skills….Attention needs to be given to prosodic features and vocal features including the fast speech phenomena found in authentic speech patterns…” (1999: 505)
2.8.2. Distortion of word boundaries
Word and syllable boundaries are often different in rapid speech form th
ose in writing. These boundaries often cause recognition problems to L2 listeners. For example, in the expression ‘fish and chips’, the preposition ‘and’ is often weakened to the extent that the [d] sound is not audible giving the impression that it is rather ‘fishing ships’ especially that most L2 learners can hardly distinguish [ ] from [ ]. So, here the meaning is going to be different and misleads L2 listeners.
2.8.3 .Weak forms
Another serious difficulty refers to weak forms. They basically involve the weakening of some vowels in unstressed syllables to move to the center of the mouth to be pronounced as schwa [ ]. For example, in connected speech, the following string of words is pronounced like this: ‘Tell them it’s not at all ready’. First, the vowel [e] in the word ‘them’ is pronounced schwa. Second, in the word ‘at’ the short [ ] is turned to schwa again. A high frequency of such weak forms in rapid speech makes L2 comprehension rather arduous.
Brown defines elision as “The missing out of a consonant or a vowel”. (1990: 66)
So, elision represents the disappearance of a vowel or a consonant, certainly for the sake of ease of pronunciation of rapid speech. For example, ‘the needs of the people’ becomes ‘the nees of the people’. So, the [d] sound has totally disappeared. Unfortunately, L2 listeners who are not yet very proficient with L2 listening, do face big difficulties to recognize such alterations and fail to grasp the meaning of the message. Brown (ibid: 66-77) provides a list of examples of elision out of which some examples have been selected:
Elided sound Full form Elided form
a. first three /t/ / / [ ]
b. suspended from /d/ / / [ ]