Listening: Lesson One
Hello! My name is Mahmoud Al-Batal and I am an Associate professor of Arabic in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas, Austin. One of the areas in which I’ve been interested as a language teacher is listening, and I am happy to be here with you today to engage you in a discussion on listening.
As learners of languages, you all realize how important listening is for communication, especially in this modern age of technology in which tremendous amounts of language input come to us through listening. Yet, despite this importance, the listening skill has not received the attention it deserves for a variety of reasons which we will discuss later in this module. While students in many language programs listen to audio recordings of the dialogues included in their textbooks, listening-only activities continue to be absent from many programs and little is done to provide systematic training in developing effective listening strategies.
My goal in this listening module is trifold: First, I hope to raise awareness among all of you of the importance of listening. Second, I hope to encourage you to think about where listening is in your curriculum and how it can be made a more “active” component of this curriculum. And third, I would like to explore with you ways in which this heightened awareness of listening can be translated into classroom activities and practices. The following module consists of four lessons. In the first lesson, “Thinking of Listening,” we will discuss the importance of listening and the challenges that face teachers in dealing with listening. We will also present some principles that will help guide your thinking about teaching listening. In the second lesson, titled “Approaching a Listening Text,” we will suggest some steps that you can implement in class when teaching listening. In the third lesson, “Putting it into Practice,” we will visit an advanced Arabic class and look in on students engaged in a listening activity. And finally, in the fourth lesson, we will browse together Aswaat Arabiyya, an Arabic online listening materials project, to demonstrate how technology can help us integrate the listening skill within our curriculum.
I hope that, in working on this module and listening to the ideas presented, you will come up with questions related to the how, what, when and where of teaching listening and that that you will take these questions to your classroom and your program to seek answers that suit you and your students. The most important thing is to have confidence in the ability of your students to develop listening proficiency. Listening can be intimidating, but the students will take their cues from you, their teacher. You can help them build their listening skills and their confidence. Good luck and happy listening!
1 Thinking of Listening
Where listening fits within our vision of language teaching. Explore some of the challenges involved in teaching listening.
2 Approaching a Listening Text
The phases of listening and the types of activities that support learning at each phase.
3 Putting it into Practice
How the different phases of listening discussed in Lesson 2 can be applied in a real classroom setting.
4 Listening Online
Teaching listening using the online listening program Aswaat Arabiyya.
Challenges in Teaching Listening
Despite its obvious importance to language learning, the listening skill was for a long time relegated to a marginal place in foreign language curricula. With the advent of communicative language teaching and the focus on proficiency, the learning and teaching of listening started to receive more attention. However, listening is not yet fully integrated into the curriculum and needs to be given more “prime time” in class and homework.
Think of your own experience as a language learner. To what extent were you engaged in listening activities inside class? In homework assignments? To what extent were you asked to do extensive listening the same way you were asked to do extensive reading?
Language teachers talk about their lack of experience with the listening skill in the classroom.
For learners, listening presents a challenge for a variety of reasons, among which are the following:
• Listening involves multiple modes: Listening involves the interpersonal and interpretive modes of communication. It requires the listener to assume either a participative role in face-to-face conversations, or a non-participative role in listening to other people speak or present.
• Listening involves all varieties of language: In addition to listening to lectures and presentations in academic and formal settings, learners have also to partake or listen to exchanges that involve various levels of colloquialism.
• Listening involves “altered” and “reduced” language forms: In addition to dealing with the vocabulary and structures of the language, listeners have to learn to comprehend reduced forms of the language (e.g., I wanna go, Just a sec).
• Listening involves variable rates of delivery: Unlike a reading text that is at the learner’s control, a listening text is constantly moving and at variable speeds that often cannot be controlled by the listener.
Because of all these factors, listening activities often create high levels of anxiety and stress among learners that can interfere with comprehension.
For teachers as well, addressing listening in the language classroom poses some challenges.
Language teachers discuss challenges of teaching listening in the classroom.
As a language teacher, one of your tasks will be to develop a vision of where listening fits within your teaching. As you progress through this module, continue to think of how you might plan to approach listening activities and what goals and expectations to set for your students.
Approaches to teaching listening.
As you start thinking of listening and how to integrate it within your curriculum, consider some general questions related to the listening skill:
Question: Is listening a passive skill, as it is referred to sometimes? In speaking, we actively produce language; what do we do when we listen?
Language teachers discuss the view of listening as a passive skill.
Question: To what extent is listening comprehension dependent on the listener’s schema, or sociocultural perspective and prior knowledge? How does our schema help us form expectations when listening to something and thereby support comprehension?
On schema-based understanding and top-down processing.
Question: What other type of processing do learners employ to comprehend a listening text?
On bottom-up processing in listening.
Question: What kind of listening input is needed to develop listening proficiency in students? How can this input be provided? How can we deal with students at the elementary or low intermediate levels?
On the importance of providing large input in listening in the form of authentic materials.
Question: To what extent should input in listening be based on authentic texts?
Discussion of why authentic texts are used in listening.
Based on your own answers to these questions and the comments you’ve heard in the videos can you suggest five guiding principles that teachers should bear in mind when thinking of the listening skill?
Questions for the Listening Classroom
In this section, consider some practical questions that pertain to conducting listening activities in the classroom. Read each question and think of what your answer would be before watching the video.
Question: Should we use simplified texts or authentic texts with simplified tasks for the lower levels of proficiency? What are the advantages and disadvantages of both?
Using simplified tasks vs. simplified texts for listening activities.
Question: To what extent do you think we can utilize group work in doing listening activities? How do you envision this? Isn’t listening an individual activity?
How group work can be utilized in listening activities.
Question: How important is it to engage students in a discussion of the strategies they or their classmates utilize while listening? Why?
How to engage students in thinking about the strategies they use in listening.
Question: What can we do with students who still don’t get anything from a listening passage after listening multiple times?
How to cope with students who seem to comprehend very little after multiple listenings.
Now that we have considered these questions, can you suggest three principles that you would like to apply in your classroom when doing listening activities?
[Module Instructor Mahmoud Al-Batal]. 2010. [Listening]. In Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin. http://coerll.utexas.edu
The material is provided free of charge for those that wish to study it.
How ever a no obligation exam is available at the end of this module.