Key Aspects in Listening User Rating: / 29

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Key Aspects in Listening

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A lot happens during a monologue or dialogue when it comes to listening. Much of it happens almost simultaneously and without any conscious effort. However, this doesn't imply that listening is a passive skill. People can't just kick back and absorb the information. They instead select, edit, and interpret auditory and visual clues to reach the message.

This can prove difficult for ESL EFL students, as there are a number of aspects that get in the way of the message. For example, students must deal with colloquialisms, reduced forms, fillers, and repetition. They must correctly interpret inflection, intonation, and word stress for added meaning and nuance. They must possess background knowledge and vocabulary on the topic, which proves especially true in situations where students listen to business presentations, seminars, and lectures.

Although any or all of the above points may appear in a monologue or dialogue, as a teacher you can add even more challenge. In fact, you should go far beyond playing a CD, getting the class to answer a comprehension question or two, and then moving on to the next step of the lesson. Some or all of the below aspects needed for successful listening may be easily incorporated into any lesson.

Determine the type of speech: This allows students to assess how they will go about the listening task. For example, a conversation is different from a presentation. What's more, both a conversation and a presentation are different from news broadcasts, podcasts, and TV programs. Let's look at these in somewhat more detail.

A speech generally moves to the main point, following the prescribed pattern of introduction, main body, and conclusion. There are few interjections or asides, unless they specifically highlight a key idea. Here a student needs to focus on the overwhelming amount and unidirectional flow of information.

On the other hand, conversation is impromptu. It contains a lot of redundancy, detours, lost threads, and fillers. Luckily, the student can ask for clarification (or listen to the scripted characters do so on the audio). Here the task is maintaining the thread of the conversation through all of the static.

A broadcast and other media also often follow a set pattern. For example, a news program may have a segment of two minutes with key information highlighted with visual aides. A TV program will follow a format where a scene lasts several minutes, with characters participating in a simplified version of a real conversation (generally minus fillers and any other static). Students may only have to deal with some specialized vocabulary and speaking speed here.

Thus, when students listen to a CD, podcast, etc., they activate different strategies and skills. The teacher can play a CD, with the students identifying the type of speech as an initial step to any listening activity.

Identify the purpose: A monologue or dialogue may be to inform, persuade, or apologize. It may simply be a conversation between two friends without much real purpose. Whatever the conversation or monologue, the purpose affects how the information will get presented (and how students will process the information). this is quite similar to the type of speech described above.

Students can listen for specific phrases, many of which signal the purpose of the conversation. The class can be assigned to determine the purpose of the speech. In some cases, there will be opportunities to listen for implied meaning and nuance here.

Process the information: Students need to break sentences into chunks that contain key information. These chunks must then be placed in the short-term memory. If students attempt to retain all the information as a whole, from start to finish, then they're more likely to lose the thread of the conversation. They simply won't be able to remember all the information. They will feel overwhelmed.

Students can thus be assigned comprehension questions for key ideas. They may also be asked to summarize paragraphs of themes in the monologue/dialogue. Both activities require the class to process, assess, and keep the store the relevant information.

Predict upcoming information: This allows students to more quickly fit information into an overall whole. They must understand what came before and anticipate what will come next. Let's look at the following example:

A: I went to a fantastic new restaurant not far from my house. It was...

In the above example, the following sentence will focus on the restaurant. It may comment on the food, the type of cuisine, the reason it was so great, etc. The listener automatically anticipates subsequent information, which then reduces the burden of processing new information.

In the classroom, you can stop the CD and ask students to complete a sentence, idea, or predict what will next be said. They can then compare their answer with the actual answer once you play the CD again, followed by brief discussion as to why the guesses were right or wrong.

Recall information already known about a topic: This activity should be done before the listening task starts. Students activate pre-existing knowledge on a topic, which allows them to call on key ideas and vocabulary later. Recall rates, especially for low-frequency terms, get reduced. Comprehension increases as a result.

Assign a meaning to the message: The meaning may be either literal or intended. For example, let's say one person from a scripted dialogue says about a piece of cake, "Doesn't that look good?" Students must interpret the message in order to understand the response. For example:

A: Doesn't that look good?

B: Yes, it does look delicious!

Here the simple exchange is quite literal. Perhaps the two speakers are commenting on the delicious appearance of a dessert. But compare the following less literal meaning.

A: Doesn't that look good?

B: Would you like a taste?

Here speaker A actually wants a bite of the dessert, and hence comments on how delicious it looks.

All of these aspects occur during listening in real life. They don't occur in any particular order, as one aspect isn't contingent on another. They may occur forwards, backwards, mixed, or even at the same time. However the listener proceeds, the succession must be very quick.

Let's place the steps in context. Imagine a large dinner party with ten friends. Simultaneous conversations are going on around the table. One person arrives late, and has to pick up the thread of one or more conversations to join in. He must determine the type and purpose of the conversations, process the information, match it with what he knows about the topic, and predict upcoming information. And if he misses any of these aspects, he just might have to ask, "What are you talking about?"

As such, it proves important for the teacher to incorporate activities around listening. These better prepare and improve the above skills needed in the real world outside of the classroom.
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