Chapter 10 Listening Comprehension
In this chapter we explore: • Listening as a psycholinguistic process that consists of various levels of activity • Listening as a communicative act • The extent to which classrooms provide for the development of listening as a skill • The development of listening activities for outside the classroom
Listening as a psycholinguistic process • Listening, like reading, has often been referred to as a “passive”or “receptive” skill. • Despite the persistence of the terms passive and receptive for listening skills, scholars agree that listeners are active participants during the communicative act and that listening is a dynamic process drawing on a variety of mental processes and knowledge sources.
Wolvin and Coakley • Wolvin and Coakley (1985) divide the act of listening into three very broad sets or processes: • Perceiving aural stimuli • Attending to aural stimuli • Assigning meaning to aural stimuli • At each step of the way, learners are actively engaged in processing what they hear.
Perception of aural stimuli • Perception of aural stimuli refers to the physiological aspects of listening. • Sound waves enter the ear canal, causing the ear drum to vibrate. • These vibrations are converted into electrical impulses that trigger the release of chemicals, which transmits a signal to the brain.
Attending to aural stimuli • Attending to aural stimuli involves active concentration by the listener. • The listener must be focused on the aural stimuli and must select what to pay attention to and what to disregard. • The ability to tune out background noises suggests that we all have some internal mechanisms responsible for filtering incoming stimuli.
Assigning meaning to perceived and attended stimuli • This is perhaps the most important set of processes in listening for comprehension. • Assigning meaning to perceived and attended stimuli is an interpretive act that involves personal, cultural, and linguistic matters interacting in complex ways.
For example… • The word run can mean one of the following (and perhaps more): • A fast, forward movement involving the legs • Nose dripping • The act of seeking a political office • Not turning something off • A snag in a pair of pantyhose • The likelihood of a listener misassigning meaning to the word run is greatly diminished if the word is used as a noun instead of a verb, etc.
Assigning meaning • Assigning meaning is not limited to the word level. • Whole sentences must be interpreted, and sometimes individual words can be assigned meaning only after the entire sentence has been heard. • Richards (1983) outlines the complex nature of assigning meaning to attended aural stimuli in six steps.
Richards’ steps • The speech event or interactional set is determined (lecture, debate). • Scripts relevant to the situation or context are recalled (the listener brings forth a master scheme of how the interaction or set is to play out). • The speaker’s goals are determined by way of the situation, the script, and the position of the utterance in the flow if discourse.
Richard’s steps continued… 4. The propositional or referential content of the speaker’s utterance is determined. 5. An illocutionary meaning is assigned to the speaker’s utterance (compliment, request, slur, etc). 6. The meaning is retained and acted upon, but the actual form in which it was encoded by the speaker may not be remembered (the listener may say 39 but not remember whether the question was “How old are you?” or “What is your age?”).
No guarantees • Although speakers might share a common culture and language that direct them to assign particular meanings to particular streams of speech, this is no guarantee that they will always assign the same illocutionary meanings to utterances they hear in conversations. • Meaning assignment during listening is not a purely linguistic act or even a social act; it can also be an individual act.
Inference • Assigning meaning to aural stimuli can also involve the construction of meaning, even though something specific was not said. • This is called inference. • Assigning illocutionary meaning to an utterance is a type of utterance, but one can also infer meaning when no utterance was uttered. • Note the following exchange.
An example… • A: Are you free this evening? B: What time? A: 8:00. B: Pick me up at 7:45. • Now compare it to an expanded version. • A: Are you free this evening? I’d like us to go out. B: It depends when. What time do you have in mind? A: 8:00. Is that okay? B: 8:00 is fine. Pick me up at 7:45.
Inference for second language learners • Inference for second language learners is as important as it is for first language speakers and can take on characteristics that do not normally occur during native-to-native interactions. • Inference can actually include deducing meanings of novel or unfamiliar words and phrases, that is, inferring the referential meaning of words during the act of listening.
Listening as communication • It is clear that a communicative act involves both expression and interpretation of meaning. • There are two types of listening situations. • Collaborative situations are those in which both speaker and listener work together to negotiate meaning. • “Yeah, yeah.” or “Huh?!?” • Noncollaborative situations are those in which the listener does not participate in the construction of discourse and is merely an observant listener.
Modality • Listening situations also fall along another dimension: modality, aural versus visual perception. • In many, if not most cases, listeners see the other interlocutor and receive information on how to interpret messages via facial expressions, body posture, gestures, signs, slides, and other visual features.
In sum… • We can say that listening situations can be categorized according to two sets of features: • The presence or absence of collaborations • The presence or absence of accompanying visual stimuli. • Please see next slide for details.
Dimensions of a listening situation Modality Aural only Aural+ Visual Collaborative Noncollaborative
Listener performance • It seems intuitively obvious that strategies may change depending on the collaborative or noncollaborative nature of the situation. • For collaborative situations, Rost (1990) summarizes a number of what he calls “strategic responses that constitute effective listener performance in collaborative discourse.”
Skills • Recognizing indicators used by the other speaker to (a) introduce new ideas, (b) change topics, (c) provide emphasis and/or clarification, or (d) express contrary points of view • Maintaining continuity of context in order to assist the prediction and verification of propositions in the discourse • Identifying an interpersonal frame that suggests what the speaker’s intent is toward the listener
Skills continued… 4. Recognizing changes in prosody- pitch, speed, pauses- and identifying both patterns and inconsistencies in how the other speaker uses these 5. Identifying ambiguity and contradictions in what the other speaker says; identifying places where inadequate information is given
Skills continued… 6. Distinguishing between fact and opinion; also, identifying uses if irony, metaphor, and other “nonreferential” use of language 7. Identifying needed clarifications of topics and ideas 8. Providing appropriate feedback to the other speaker (Based on Rost, 1990, p. 115)
Strategic responses Skilled listeners will… • Try to identify points at which they can switch to the speaker role • Look for those places in the discourse where they are to participate in socially appropriate ways • Provide appropriate cues to the speaker that they are following the discourse • Provide prompts to the speaker to continue the discourse
Strategic responses continued… 5. Provide cues to indicate how they align with the speaker’s intent 6. Evaluate the speaker’s contributions and reformulate them when they conflict with listener goals 7. Be aware of power asymmetries in the discourse and recognize when a “superior” party is enforcing interpretive rules 8. Identify a plausible speaker’s intent when interpreting an utterance
Strategic responses continued… 9. Afford recognition to the speaker’s intent in participating in unequal encounters 10. Identify parts of discourse needing repair and query those points when appropriate 11. Utilize gambits (set phrases and other linguistic patterns that promote interaction) for checking understanding when appropriate (Based on Rost, 1990, p. 116)
Maintaining the discourse • What is clear from these skills and strategic responses is the role that the listener plays in maintaining the discourse. • The listener is not a bystander but a co-constructor of the discourse. • Another important job of the listener is to signal nonunderstanding through global, local, and transitional queries (Rost, 1990, p.112).
Queries • A global query functions at the broad level of the entire discourse. “I don’t understand. Could you start from the beginning?” • A local query identifies a particular point in the discourse that the listener has not understood and requests clarification of that point: “What do you mean by strategic response?” • Transitional queries indicate difficulty with a hypothesis or prediction made by the listener. “Why did she do that?”
In sum… • We see that listening acts can vary along two major dimensions: • Type of collaboration • Aural-visual modality • Skilled listeners develop abilities through communicative interaction itself and not through guided, manipulative practices.
Listening in the second language classroom • What kinds of listening tasks do classroom learners generally engage in? • Classrooms are limited in their ability to provide learners a full range of everyday listening tasks and situations. • Lee and VanPatten offer some typical classroom suggestions on the next slide; you should think of activities to complete the remaining boxes.
Common listening situations in the classroom Modality Aural only Aural+ Visual Collaborative Noncollaborative
Where is the learner? • The classroom second language learner tends to be engaged in only two kinds of listening situations: • Collaborative aural+visual situations • Classroom discussion • Noncollaborative aural-only situations • Lab practice
Classroom discussions and conversations • A comparison of classroom and nonclassroom discussions suggests that maximal active participation of the learner as listener is limited in a number of ways. • Learners “share” the instructor with everyone else during the discussion and might be unwilling to show nonunderstanding. • Because instructors tend to control the topic of discussion and also make great use of question asking, learner-listeners may not be given the opportunity to function as co-creators in the discourse and to develop appropriate listener responses.
More factors… • In the classroom, learners are in an unequal power relationship with their instructors. • Whereas the purpose of listening in the nonclassroom situation is either informational or social, the purpose of listening in the classroom is often evaluative.
In sum… • The classroom, then, may not be an ideal place for the development of all listening skills and strategic responses. • Nonetheless, it is the place where such skills and responses can begin to develop. • Instructors can take steps toward maximizing class time for the development of listening.
Suggestions for maximizing class time • Use the second language to conduct business- making announcements, assigning homework. • Allow learners to nominate topics and structure the discourse. • Be a participatory listener yourself. • Set aside telephone time. Instructors can increase the scope of listening opportunities by encouraging biweekly phone calls. • Provide good listening gambits to learners.
Academic listening in the classroom • The classroom can also provide opportunities for the learner to listen in noncollaborative aural+visual-stimuli situations. • Language instructors sometimes forget that academic listening is a very common type of communicative listening. • The instructor can thus include an occasional listening situation that functions like academic listening: delivering a lecture and having learners take notes.
Listening in the language laboratory • Lee and VanPatten examine the use of the laboratory for developing listening abilities. • The exercises in these practices contain sentence-level, dialogue-level, or monologue-level discourse, but they are noncollaborative in nature. • Typical examples are described here.
Activity A: Sentence level listening practice • Listen to each sentence and determine whether it is true or false according to the visual clue.
Activity B: Dialogue-level listening practice • Listen to Alphonse and Christine make plans for this evening. The indicate who said what. • This person wants to go out. • This person wants to get home early. • This person offers to drive.
Activity C: Monologue-type practice • Listen to the speaker as he talks about Holy Week in Spain. Then answer the questions that follow. • What city in Spain is most famous for its celebration of Holy Week? • How many tourists visit that city every year for this religious event?
Comparison • How do these noncollaborative situations in the laboratory compare with other nonclassroom, noncollaborative listening (listening to the radio)? • On the next slide, the characteristics of out-of-laboratory noncollaborative listening are contrasted with those of the laboratory.
Informational purpose • We can increase the communicative purpose of listening, that is, listening for information. • Laboratory activities A, B, and C presented earlier all lack informational purpose: the learner listens in order to answer questions. • But in real life, we often listen in order to report to someone or to summarize information.
A question… • How often do learners get the opportunity to do this in the second language? • Here are some possibilities for noncollaborative purposeful listening: • Listen to a radio broadcast or some other oral text and prepare a written summary, an oral summary, or an outline • Listen to a conversation or dialogue and then report it as a narrative. • Listen to a set of directions and then perform a task
Activity D: Synthesis • The speaker mentioned four principal factors that have contributed to the increase in multiple births. Complete a chart, identifying the factors and how each contributes to this increase. • In a short composition, use the information from your chart to explain why there has been an increase in multiple births.
Listening is a means to an end • These kinds of activities encourage learners to synthesize information that they have listened to and report on it in their own words. • Listening is not an activity in and of itself but, rather, part of a more complex communicative activity that goes beyond listening. • Listening is a means to an end; it is not the end itself.
Following oral instructions • The third task type (listening to a set of directions and then performing a task) is rarely found in language teaching materials. • It is usually limited to the lesson on giving and receiving directions. • Actions that might require following oral instructions: • Following a recipe • Entering a contest • Filling out forms • Building something
Getting ready to listen • Prelistening activities are designed to help orient learners before they actually begin listening to something. • This orientation helps maximize learners’ comprehension. • In second language situations, consciously orienting learners before a listening task has been shown to increase comprehension.
Prelistening activities • Prelistening activities fall into three general groups that are not necessarily mutually exclusive: • Vocabulary preparation • Review of existing knowledge • Anticipation of content