Listening to Advanced Learners: Problems and Solutions
by Scott Shelton
Potential problem areas and examples
Hearing the sounds: not catching the phoneme at the
end of a word when this sound is important for understanding
meaning as in "She's read a lot" and "She read
a lot". Another example would be hearing the wrong word
for phonetic transfer reasons such as hearing "keys"
for "kiss" or "being" for "been".
Understanding intonation and stress: being aware of how pitch
can convey meaning and emotion and how tone groups can convey
different meanings regardless of syntax. A typical example
is: "Alfred, said the boss, is stupid." This is
contrasted with, "Alfred said the boss is stupid."
Coping with redundancy and 'noise' : noise may be outside
interference or inner-interference, meaning the unfamiliarity
of works or sounds rattling the perceived need to understand
everything. This may cause a psychological problem, as the
learner is thrown off balance and either 'shuts off' or panics
and loses the thread of the conversation.
Predicting: lack of knowledge and unfamiliarity of collocations,
intonation and stress patterns, which play a part in forming
expectations, as well as general lack of cultural knowledge,
can impede comprehension.
Understanding (colloquial) vocabulary: knowing but not recognizing
expressions and words because of modifications undergone in
the stream of speech such as assimilation, elision and weak
vowel sounds. Excessive use of slang, colloquialisms and phrasal
verbs can also make comprehension difficult to achieve.
Understanding different accents: inability to understand different
pronunciation such as so call 'standard' accents like North
American, British, Australian as well as so called 'non-standard'
versions like Jamaican, Trinidad, or the English spoken by
German, Italian or other non-native speakers is an often cited
(Not) using visual or environmental clues: problems perceiving
and interpreting paralinguistic clues because of decoding
and processing overload create a disadvantage for the listeners,
who would normally use these aids for comprehension in their
Fatigue: due to the demanding processes of listening, fatigue
can affect the ability to concentrate and encode long or continued
extracts of speech.
P. (1984) Teaching Listening Comprehension. Cambridge University
M. (1991) Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers. Cambridge
J.C. (1990) The Language Teaching Matrix. Cambridge University
A. & Lynch, T. (1988) Listening. Oxford University Press
G. (1989) Discourse. Oxford University Press
CAE Handbook (2000) Cambridge University Press
G., & G. Yule, (1983) Teaching the Spoken Language. Cambridge
University Press. In Richards, J.C., (1990) The language Teaching
Matrix. Cambridge University Press.
A. (1997) Bottom-up and Top-down processing. English Teaching
Professional No. 3 April, 1997
R. (1990) Grammar Dictation. Oxford University Press
A. (2002) Listening. International House Madrid seminar handout.
T., & J., Marks (1994) Inside Teaching. Macmillan Heinemann
Inside Teaching, pp.71
Shelton has been involved in EFL teaching since 1991 and
has taught adults from all over the world. Scott has taught
multilingual groups at St. Giles College in San Francisco,
California and monolingual groups at International house
in Madrid, Spain. He was awarded his CELTA teaching certificate
from St. Giles College and also holds the Cambridge Diploma
(DELTA) having followed the course at the British Language
Centre in Madrid. Scott currently teaches in New Zealand.
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