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Teaching Listening Comprehension

Listening comprehension is concerned with decoding of a speech, which involves continual mental processing, concentrated attention, and memory. In other words it represents a perceptive and mental mnemonic activity.

In current methodology listening comprehension plays a dual function: as a means and as an aim of instruction. In real school practice these two functions are closely interrelated. Listening comprehension as a means of instruction enables the learners to acquaint themselves with a new language and speech material, and serves to inculcate habits and skills in all types of communication

Listening comprehension is closely related to speaking, reading and writing. Reading and listening seem to involve essentially the same mental processes. Both are means of receiving communications from others, i.e. receptive types of activities. Both require the receiver to identify symbols and to obtain meaning from them. The process of identification is different in each case, but the processes of obtaining meaning are believed to be very similar. The general pattern of organisation is the same for the speaker and for the writer. Both the listener and the reader must be adept at such skills as grasping the main idea of communication, recognising relationships within it, sensing its implications, and evaluating the ideas expressed.

Listening as a process has seven levels:

1. Isolation of sounds;

2. Identification of meaning;

3. Integration of meaning with past experience;

4. Noting of relationships;

5. Interpretation to discover implications;

6. Interpretation of responses;

7. Introspection concerning the effect of what is heard upon the listener.

Developing Listening Activities

As you design listening tasks, keep in mind that complete recall of all the information in an aural text is an unrealistic expectation to which even native speakers are not usually held. Listening exercises that are meant to train should be success-oriented and build up students' confidence in their listening ability.

Construct the listening activity around a contextualized task.

Contextualized listening activities approximate real-life tasks and give the listener an idea of the type of information to expect and what to do with it in advance of the actual listening. A beginning level task would be locating places on a map (one way) or exchanging name and address information (two way). At an intermediate level students could follow directions for assembling something (one way) or work in pairs to create a story to tell to the rest of the class (two way).

Define the activity's instructional goal and type of response.

Each activity should have as its goal the improvement of one or more specific listening skills. A listening activity may have more than one goal or outcome, but be careful not to overburden the attention of beginning or intermediate listeners.

Recognizing the goal(s) of listening comprehension in each listening situation will help students select appropriate listening strategies.

  • Identification: Recognizing or discriminating specific aspects of the message, such as sounds, categories of words, morphological distinctions
  • Orientation: Determining the major facts about a message, such as topic, text type, setting
  • Main idea comprehension: Identifying the higher-order ideas
  • Detail comprehension: Identifying supporting details
  • Replication: Reproducing the message orally or in writing

Check the level of difficulty of the listening text.

The factors listed below can help you judge the relative ease or difficulty of a listening text for a particular purpose and a particular group of students.

- Texts in which the events are presented in natural chronological order, which have an informative title, and which present the information following an obvious organization (main ideas first, details and -----

- Remember that misapplication of background knowledge due to cultural differences can create major comprehension difficulties.

-At the lower levels of proficiency, listeners may find short, simple messages easier to process, but students with higher proficiency benefit from the natural redundancy of the language.

- Visual aids such as maps, diagrams, pictures, or the images in a video help contextualize the listening input and provide clues to meaning.

Use pre-listening activities to prepare students for what they are going to hear or view.

The activities chosen during pre-listening may serve as preparation for listening in several ways. During pre-listening the teacher may

  • assess students' background knowledge of the topic and linguistic content of the text
  • provide students with the background knowledge necessary for their comprehension of the listening passage or activate the existing knowledge that the students possess
  • clarify any cultural information which may be necessary to comprehend the passage
  • make students aware of the type of text they will be listening to, the role they will play, and the purpose(s) for which they will be listening
  • provide opportunities for group or collaborative work and for background reading or class discussion activities

Sample pre-listening activities:

  • looking at pictures, maps, diagrams, or graphs
  • reviewing vocabulary or grammatical structures
  • reading something relevant
  • constructing semantic webs (a graphic arrangement of concepts or words showing how they are related)
  • predicting the content of the listening text
  • going over the directions or instructions for the activity
  • doing guided practice

Match while-listening activities to the instructional goal, the listening purpose, and students' proficiency level.

Keep these points in mind when planning while-listening activities:

If students are to complete a written task during or immediately after listening, allow them to read through it before listening. Students need to devote all their attention to the listening task. Be sure they understand the instructions for the written task before listening begins so that they are not distracted by the need to figure out what to do.

Keep writing to a minimum during listening. Remember that the primary goal is comprehension, not production. Having to write while listening may distract students from this primary goal. If a written response is to be given after listening, the task can be more demanding.

Organize activities so that they guide listeners through the text. Combine global activities such as getting the main idea, topic, and setting with selective listening activities that focus on details of content and form.

Use questions to focus students' attention on the elements of the text crucial to comprehension of the whole. Before the listening activity begins, have students review questions they will answer orally or in writing after listening. Listening for the answers will help students recognize the crucial parts of the message.

Use predicting to encourage students to monitor their comprehension as they listen. Do a predicting activity before listening, and remind students to review what they are hearing to see if it makes sense in the context of their prior knowledge and what they already know of the topic or events of the passage.

Give immediate feedback whenever possible. Encourage students to examine how or why their responses were incorrect.

Sample while-listening activities

  • listening with visuals
  • filling in graphs and charts
  • following a route on a map
  • checking off items in a list
  • listening for the gist
  • searching for specific clues to meaning
  • completing cloze (fill-in) exercises
  • distinguishing between formal and informal registers

Before Listening

1. Simplify passages to three sentences with a civil question for each of them.

2. Explain difficult vocabulary and cultural allusions in the passage before listening.

3. Give simple clear explanation of what to listen to by asking pre-listening questions.

4. Divide a passage into manageable pieces.

5. Have learners make notes about what they expect to hear (based on the title).

6. Make learners aware of redundancy clues (the multiple signals in sentences for plurality, possession, gender, verb aspect, etc.).

While Listening

1. Give learners a list of facts and items they can check as they are listening (people, dates, plans, forms, pictures, etc.).

2. Give them maps on which they can chart a route being discussed.

3. Tell them to jot down only the key-words as they listen.

4. Have them draw something simple that the passage suggests

After Listening

Depending on their ability the learners may be asked to:

1. Think of suitable title of a passage.

2. Make up a plan of the story.

3. Take a dictation of the passage.

4. Fill in a cloze-test.

5. Answer multiple choice questions.

6. Answer open-ended question.

7. Write a two- or three-line summary.

8. Tell who the speakers are (when listening to a tape), what their attitudes are, what their roles are, where they are, what they are speaking about.

9. Tell what can be inferred from the passage heard.

10. Listen to the story and think of a suitable end.

11. Describe the characters.

12. Heuristics (problem solving) students hear all the information relevant to a particular problem and then set themselves to solve it.

13. Debate, interview, discussion, role-play, dramatisation, etc. associated with the passage heard.

Thus listening comprehension is the ability to identify and understand a verbal message. This involves understanding of speakers pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary, and grasping the meaning. It plays a key role in language learning alongside with teaching speaking, reading and writing.

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