Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A Few General Suggestions for the Selection and Presentation of Listening Comprehension Exercises


You should select your teaching points for listening comprehension from various language components. While the presentation is made, you should help students focus their attention on the presentation. You may alert the students to what they are going to do. You may give them written material to complete the task before they listen to the passage.
This will help them understand what they are expected to do after listening to the passage. Are they going to answer comprehension questions? Are they going to draw pictures or other physical response activities, or are they going to do problem solving exercises? Are they going to involve others in doing physical tasks, or are they going to tell the answers (oral answers)?
Are they going to write the answers, or are they going to put together and narrate? It is also important that you give a model question and a model answer in the beginning of the exercise.
While asking students to listen and complete a set task, your presentation should be given in normal speed and intonation. Do not reduce the speed. However, read the exercise over again, if demanded. The length and difficulty of exercise will decide the number of repetitions. If you focus upon recalling facts, you may repeat the exercise several times.
Feedback on the performance of students in listening comprehension exercises is better done by giving an answer key so that students themselves will check their answers. You may discuss the progress with students so that they will know how well they are progressing in listening to native English.
Remember that listening is an important skill which facilitates the mastery of other language skills. Continued exposure to native English speakers both in face to face communication and audiovisual means will help foster the listening skill. The unstressed vowels and the process of vowel reduction make listening a difficult process to master. If students have a better listening skill they are more likely to have a better pronunciation.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Summary List of Listening Comprehension Exercises


1. We may have exercises at the phonological level of English. These will include the following: Aural discrimination exercises for segmental sounds, Aural discrimination exercises for suprasegmentals such as stress and intonation, Vowel reduction exercises which demonstrate the relationship between the spoken and written forms of English, and Stress placement exercises. All these may be used in dialogue form.
2. We may also have listening comprehension exercises which relate to listening in the process of reading a material. In these exercises, we may ask the students to number the words in the order in which they heard them, ask students to cross out what is not correct for the passage, ask students to identify the words with the sound specified, ask students to identify whether the words and phrases they heard in pairs are the same or different (same-different drills), and ask students to identify the grammatical categories of patterns they have just listened to. Note that not all these exercises would be interesting or relevant in your class.
3. Dictation is an excellent drill for developing listening comprehension, even as it helps in the development of rudimentary writing skill. You may begin with spot dictation in which a few simple words from the text are read/pronounced to the students and they are asked to write what they heard. In another type of spot dictation, students may be asked to fill in the blanks, when a passage is read. Yet another dictation method is to dictate a complete passage with normal speed. For this, it is always helpful if you read first the whole passage aloud in normal speed. Then, you may read the same passage again with pauses for students to write. These pauses should fall in natural breaks between phrases and sentences. After the dictation is done, you may reread the passage at normal speed for checking the responses given by the students. In order to keep the level of difficulty and complexity of the passage given for dictation appropriate to the level of students, it is better to select these passages only from the lessons already completed in class.
4. It is possible to use dictation for “grammatical” listening as well.
5. Recoding exercises in which you may ask the students to circle the sentence which has the same meaning as the one they hear may be given for listening comprehension practice.
6. Listen to the passage and check all the appropriate answers.
7. Listening for the message is focused upon when students listen to entire passages. Read from a well-graded book or play a message on tape and ask students to say or write the essential parts of the message they just heard. Let the students concentrate on the general theme or the central message, instead of on specific words or phrases.
8. In Problem Solving listening comprehension exercises, students listen to the description or presentation of a problem and solve it, by doing what is required of them.
9. Listening to an uncontrolled passage (a passage in which neither vocabulary nor sentence structure nor content is controlled or graded) and taking notes is an important listening comprehension skill that students must have if they wish to use English for purposes of higher education. They need to understand the lecture, go along with the lecture with ease when the content progresses in complexity, and be in a position to recall what was heard earlier for purposes of understanding what is being discussed by the lecturer at a later moment. Listening and Note Taking Competence is very much needed in college instruction. This skill may be developed in the second or foreign language learner of English through several graded steps:
i. Students are introduced to the mechanics of note-taking. They will be given a list of common symbols used as abbreviations for words and ideas. They should also be introduced to the processes and forms of outlining a content.
ii. Students may be given an outline with the basic points of the content of the lecture they are going to listen to. Along with these basic points, there will be blanks which they are required to fill in as they listen to the lecture. Then, at the end, they will answer some comprehension questions as well.
iii. In the next graded step, students may be given a bare outline and a set of comprehension questions. They are required to fill the outline, but take their own complete set of notes, and answer questions.
iv. The next advanced step will present only the major headings of the outline of the lecture, and the students are required to take their own complete set of notes, and then answer some comprehension questions.
v. In this step, students are given only comprehension questions. They are required to answer them after listening to the lecture. At this level, lectures may last for an entire class period.
11. It is important to include listening comprehension exercises to teach variations of style in English. English is greatly marked by such variations in usage. Such exercises help students understand the English spoken outside the classroom. For this it is important to use dialogues. Discuss the factors concerning the style of a particular passage given for listening comprehension. Focus on the speakers, situation, content, mood, channel, etc. You may focus upon the variations on a theme, on sound, grammar, and vocabulary, and ask students how the dialogues differ. Through such exercises students will become sensitive to style differences.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Listening Comprehension


The listening skill is the most neglected one, both in first and second language teaching. Teachers tend to focus on the rudimentary elements of listening briefly, and pass over to other aspects of language teaching. Discrimination of sounds and intonations often form the major part of listening practice in the classroom. Listening for content is often assumed. In reality, the listening skill is fundamental to the entire process of mastering and using a language, whether first or second or foreign.
Listening is like painting, like color, in day to day environment. You don’t notice, but it is always there in every linguistic activity. Listening is important for casual chats, face to face encounters, telephone messages, for enjoyment of radio and television programs, formal lectures, and many other activities.
In the past, listening was labeled as a passive skill, along with reading. No doubt, it is a receptive skill like reading. Speaking and writing were considered to be productive skills, but also active skills. While this categorization is somewhat justifiable because the focus of listening is on reception of information, listening itself cannot be fully and correctly characterized only as a passive skill.
There is a need for an active involvement of the self for the efficient performance of listening. The listener is often forced into guessing an approximation to what the speaker is communicating. The listener expects and anticipates what may be the form and content of the immediate message being delivered. He actively avoids the redundancies in the process of listening, focuses himself on the relevant, interesting and/or crucial points, and engages himself in some critical analysis of content. Listening becomes the stepping stone for action. In view of all these and other activities that are involved in listening, we should consider listening as an active skill demanding active participation of the listener.
How do we organize teaching the listening skill for the TESOL audience? Remember that fluent listening results only from wide exposure to the target language. Listening, like other language skills, is acquired only by doing it.
Remember also that listening is an integral part of any type of language performance. For this reason it should be taught from the beginning classes of TESOL. It should not be postponed for special treatment at a later date or for special occasions. Fluent listening is important from the beginning, if a student is to succeed in his TESOL class and succeed using English outside his class. Teachers should enable the students to listen to native speakers’ speech from the beginning.
More often than not, English is taught through the eyes rather than through the ears in Third World countries. As a consequence, students would have mastered reading and writing with some relative competence, but their skill in listening to natural and native English will be poorly developed.
Where do we practice Listening Comprehension? In all places and in all classes. We must begin with the identification of natural listening situations both inside the classroom and outside.
The students are always required to listen to the teacher’s instructions and questions, and answer them. They may listen to conversations between a student and the teacher and understand what is going on. They may like to participate in a discussion between students and understand what is being discussed. They may like to listen and enjoy the story told by the teacher, and answer questions raised by the teacher. They may listen to simple questions eliciting information about them and their families and understand what the speaker wants to know from them. They may enjoy the jokes told both in the class and outside.
Outside the classroom, the students have many needs which they can meet only by listening to the speech around them and by expressing what they need. They need to understand the native speakers of English they come across in their day to day life, if they are studying and/or working in an English speaking country. Where there is no opportunity for them to come across native English speakers, they will need to listen and comprehend the native English used in the movies and TV programs.
We practice listening comprehension in all places and in all lessons and in all language skills (although at advanced levels of other language skills the role of listening could be minimal). There may be listening comprehension exercises on the phonological elements when pronunciation is taught. There may be exercises for listening comprehension when exercises on grammar are done, as well as in vocabulary teaching. When varieties of speech in various communicative contexts are introduced, there will be ample scope for listening comprehension exercises.
So, begin with the identification of listening situations appropriate to the need and age of the students and the level of English competence already achieved by them. Start with a focus on an ability to understand the formal code of classroom style English, because this is what is absolutely needed for the learner to benefit from classroom instruction. Focus on the goal of the TESOL learners and progress towards achieving the goal in small graded steps. Proceed to less formal varieties of spoken English to enable students to understand people outside the classroom.
Often a simple progression is suggested: classroom style, outside spoken English, how to listen to lectures and take notes, comprehend native speakers in all situations, including radio and TV, cultural language, etc.
Identify the listening medium: is it face to face interaction, or is it a movie or a TV program? Or is it a lecture situation? Or is it a telephonic conversation? Face to face interaction requires a different listening orientation than watching (and listening) to a movie.


Monday, February 06, 2006

Listening Skill


Listening in English is attending to and interpreting oral English. Listening is necessary to develop the speaking skill. The student listens to oral speech in English, then separates into segments the stretch of utterances he hears, groups them into words, phrases, and sentences, and, finally, he understands the message these carry. Listening prepares the students to understand the speech of the native speakers of English as they speak naturally in a normal speed and normal manner.
There are three approaches to listening: interactive (listening to a message and doing something as a consequence) and one-way communication or non-interactive (just listening and retaining the message, in activities such as conversations overheard, public address announcements, recorded messages, etc.) and self-talk. Listening to radio and watching TV and films, public performances, lectures, religious services, etc., generally reflect non-interactive listening. Responding to the commands given reflects interactive listening, which, in fact, is equally widespread in communicative situations. Self-talk is also an important process by which internal thinking and reasoning is carried out. All these three modes or approaches to listening may be included in our TESOL listening comprehension training.
In the classroom, students listen in order to repeat and to understand. In listening to repeat, students imitate and memorize linguistic items such as words, idioms, and sentence patterns. This is an important beginning task and focus of listening exercises. However, it is listening to understand that is real listening in its own right.
Students listen to understand as part of using English for communication purposes. In listening to understand, students may be involved in the question-oriented response model of learning or in the task-oriented model of learning. In the question-oriented response model, students may be asked to listen to a sentence, a dialogue, a conversation, a passage, or a lecture and asked to answer questions which may be presented in the form of true/false statements, multiple choice questions, fill in blank, or short answers. In the task-oriented response model, students may be asked to listen to a passage and accomplish the task described in the passage through interaction with others or by themselves.
Remember that research indicates that most students have difficulty with listening skills, even when listening to their native language. Among other factors, because of the phenomenon of stress (some syllables of a word may by stressed while others may not be), most learners of English have difficulty in mastering the correct placement of the primary and other stresses in English. (This could lead to misunderstanding the meaning of a word, phrase or sentence.) As a consequence, listening proficiency in English is to be cultivated with great care.





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