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Listening Using Authentic Video for Overseas
Learners of English
By James Frith
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Task / Response Type

The previous section dealt with features involved in a bottom-up approach to listening. The section on visual clues looked at those of a top-down approach. I agree with Nunan (1991:25) when he says that: ‘successful listeners use both bottom-up and top-down strategies’. Our task as teachers is to provide training and practice in both types of strategy, encouraging the cautious listener to use more top-down strategies and the less reserved listener to use more bottom-up ones. It would seem to me from personal experience however, that our overseas students tend to belong to the former group. This is possibly due to the fact that they simply do not have such a wide experience of needing to extract meaning from messages at the first time of asking as learners based in an English-speaking environment do.

The tasks we set students therefore, should overtly provide opportunities for strategy training and practice and should not simply test their listening capabilities.

Cultural Issues

When we use authentic video in class, it can be all too easy to forget that the television or film extract we use may be completely alien to the students. Firstly, Parrott (1993) stresses that the material should be interesting to our students. It is also vital that necessary contextual information is provided prior to the listening stage. Is there important background information about characters, settings or co-textual events which is important to the understanding of the sequence? Does this genre of entertainment even exist in this culture? If so, how can we draw on the knowledge the students already have in order to anticipate proceedings? We shall discuss this question after we have chosen our authentic video.


Material Selection

The first question we have to address is ‘What is authentic?’. There is much debate surrounding this notion. Although ‘off-air’ material may be intended for a native speaker audience, the text is, after all, scripted. The uncontrolled language used on unscripted programmes on the other hand, may include such an abundance of the features of ‘natural speech’ mentioned above as to make it too difficult for the learner to understand and as such demoralising. Try recording an interchange between two teachers and the result will almost certainly look staged and less interesting. A well-written piece of ‘off-air’ material seems to be the most satisfactory solution. Soap operas and many films try to reflect the ‘real life’ situation we desire.

The material should also be challenging but manageable so as not to prove demotivating. It should provide comprehensible input containing linguistic features just beyond the learner’s current level of competence in order to facilitate acquisition, according to Krashen (1982).Cauldwell (2000) suggests that we are often counter-productively ‘over-charitable’ to our students, inhibiting their development and consequent confidence.

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