Man’s inability to communicate is a result of his failure to listen effectively. Carl Rogers
Would you like to improve your speaking skills? First, give special attention to developing your listening skills, especially as listening is so ubiquitous in the language acquisition process.
Easier said than done; listening can be quite a complex activity. Various factors can affect listening and comprehension, such as : the different approaches that depend on the purpose of the listening activity, how oral information is processed, features indicating the purpose of utterances that convey meaning, the importance of phonology, and potential barriers to comprehension.
Let’s examine the implications for Spanish students who want to improve their listening skills..
Different approaches to improve listening skills
Teachers should design a variety of listening activities for students wanting to improve their English language skills, such as :-
1. Listen to sports highlights to get a general overview of the news situation.
2. Listen to the same broadcast for specific information, such as the batting scores of the English cricket team.
3. Listen to directions.
4. Listen to a recorded message over the phone.
Also, teachers must encourage students to get out of their “comfort zones” and experience authentic English environments.
How? There are numerous options: scout around for native English speakers conducting activities other than teaching English. Don’t just make a beeline for a “conversation class”. You are bound to find English natives conducting various activities such as singing lessons, music classes or even birding excursions! And if they speak Spanish with that terrible English accent, you might just be honest enough to ask them to level with you in English! (I conduct yoga classes when I am not teaching English!)
As all these activities require different listening skills and strategies and cater to both extensive and intensive listening needs, students soon develop a flexible range of listening processes.
Importance of phonology
It is generally accepted that of the four linguistic skills, a student’s level of listening comprehension is far lower than any other linguistic skill they possess. This is because though they have practised listening and might have even been tested on it, they have never been given advice about how to listen to English.
Moran (2005) affirms that by dividing listening into sub-skills and taking advantage of some of the more common phonological features of naturally spoken English such as liason, the central vowel, assimilation, elision, intrusion, ellipsis and prominence, students can improve their comprehension of local dialects and teachers can gradually reduce their use of their ‘teacher-voice’.
As the needs of students vary, it may be necessary to emphasise different sub-skills. Lower level students may find it useful to listen for plosives such as /t/ /k/ and /p/ and distinguish simple lexis phonologically. Advanced learners can engage each other in a discussion, allow turn taking, concentrate on the shwa sound, and generally participate in the process of extensive listening. They can also experiment with stress and intonation in role plays.
Listening is considered the Cinderella of linguistic skills; in reality it is used much more widely than we care to think. Students come to classes saying they want to improve their speaking skills, little realising that to improve speaking one must simultaneously learn how to listen.
My classes usually have a lot of listening activities-both extensive and intensive-which I feel have helped improve the language skills of the learners. Still, further study is necessary to examine the number of phonological features that occur in certain discourse types and how to grade these features appropriately in texts for ESOL learners.
Rost, M. (2001). Teaching and researching listening. http://jalt-publications.org/tlt/files/97/sep/nunan.html(Accessed 16 February,2007)
Moran D (2005). Teaching Listening to Lower Level Learners. EA Education Conference http://www.englishaustralia.com.au/ea_conference05/proceedings/pdf/Moran.pdf (Accessed 16 February,2007)