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Listening Using Authentic Video for Overseas
Learners of English
By James Frith
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Features of Authentic Video

Visual Clues

The most obvious feature of video is its visual aspect. As long as we are careful not to provide tasks which require the learner to watch and be focused on a worksheet at the same time, the visual aspect can be exploited to assist the listener. Richards (1985) proposed a tentative model of the processes involved in comprehension. The first three processes (determining the type of speech event, recalling ‘scripts’ or schemata and inferring goals) can often be carried out by relying solely on visual clues. For example, if you see two people arguing, you know that this is so and can use your knowledge of arguments to get a general idea of the interaction taking place and the attitudes of those involved, something my learners had listed as problematic. Depending on the co-textual knowledge you may have or further visual clues you may also be able to infer the goals of the speakers, the relationship between them and perhaps even the register being used.

Natural Speech

Richards (1985) offered an extensive list of medium factors involved in the comprehension of speech. Here, taking into account the feedback from the group mentioned earlier, we shall concern ourselves solely with phonological and lexical features of authentic oral texts which students should be made aware of.

Richards claims that spoken English contains reduced forms (both grammatical and phonological) and other features of connected speech. Therefore in a typical sample we will encounter examples of elision, assimilation, catenation, intrusion and weak forms. This last factor has particular importance as English is a stress-timed language and as such listeners ‘must be able to interpret words in stressed, mildly stressed, and unstressed forms’ (Richards 1985:195). For my Spanish students, whose L1 is not stress-timed and does not include weak forms, this is inevitably a serious challenge and something I feel should be worked on from the outset (i.e. when vocabulary is first introduced). Also, once a student can differentiate between stressed and unstressed forms, s/he can use the key stressed words as phonological clues as to what the speaker considers central to what they are saying. It should be stressed here, however, that this is not always the case, and work should also be done on recognising negative forms and ‘similar sounding’ tense components, which, although unstressed, carry key information (Richards 1990; Cauldwell 2000).

Regarding vocabulary, Richards points to phrases such as ‘kind of’ which we use to fill pauses, ungrammatical forms, cohesive devices such as ‘there was this guy’ and discourse markers. I would suggest that the frequency in particular of these discourse markers and phrases used to fill pauses combined with the relatively limited amount of such phrases make them well worth introducing to students. Harmer (unknown) also highlights the presence of colloquial vocabulary. Finally, Richards (1990) mentions redundancy, which in addition to hesitation, includes repetition and false starts.

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