the News in class
by Katie Riley
does listening to the news differ from other types of real
life listening activity?
Ur (1986) looks at a number of factors which are important
to consider when analysing our real life listening activity.
1. The response.
2. The visibility of the speaker.
3. Environmental clues.
4. Length of chunks of heard discourse
6. Our purpose and expectations.
will now look at how listening to the news differs from other
types of listening activity in terms of the above features;
1.We get an immediate response.
In most cases, when we listen, the listener is required to
give an overt, immediate response. This may be verbal (the
answer to a question) or non verbal (an action in accordance
with instructions or the nod of a head). Even a university
lecturer will normally get a response from his audience in
terms of facial expression, eye contact, interruption and
note taking. In the case of listening to the news the response
is not immediately apparent, although later we might summarise
what we've heard and report it to a friend.
We can't see the speaker.
In the majority of cases we can see or are in the physical
presence of the person we are listening to. Usually the visibility
of the speaker is related to listener response. If we listen
to the news on the radio, we are unable to see the speaker
and therefore not expected to react to him personally. The
link between visibility and reaction isn't however so clearly
defined. In telephone conversations, for example, we can't
see the speaker but must almost certainly respond and when
watching TV programmes we can see the people but are not expected
to react to them personally
3. Lack of environmental clues.
Environmental clues refer to things such as maps, diagrams,
smells etc. These clues generally don't tell us about the
type of discourse, but they may provide us with useful background
information about the situation and speakers involved in order
to facilitate understanding. E.g. when a teacher clarifies
her exposition with diagrams/pictures or less formally when
someone gives us directions according to a map. In radio recordings,
telephone conversations etc, these clues are not explicit.
4. Longer chunks of heard discourse.
The most common pattern of discourse is as follows.
PERIOD OF LISTENING
RESPONSE (non verbal/ verbal)
SHORT PERIOD OF LISTENING
In news broadcasts and other more formal discourse patterns,
however, stretches of speech are generally longer and less
In news bulletins the language is formal and planned and therefore
lacks many of the features inherent in spontaneous, informal
Informal speech is full of utterances which are not necessary
to convey our message e.g. false starts, hesitations, re-phrasing
self corrections. They are meaningless additions which give
the listener time to think.
Noise is the opposite of redundancy. It refers to situations
where information is not received because of interference.
This interference is not only caused by outside disturbances
but also due to lack of attention, mispronounced or misused
words or the listener not being familiar with a word. Although
the concept of noise still exists to a lesser extent in formal
planned speech, the opportunities to interrupt and ask for
clarification do not
The language used in news broadcasts is formal and therefore
more similar to the written form. Therefore many of the problems
caused by the changes of lexis, ellisions, contractions and
assimilations of speech do not occur in this type of listening
In contrast to formal planned speech, which occurs at an even
pace, volume and pitch, informal conversation is jerky, varies
in pace and pitch and occurs with frequent pauses and overlaps.
We listen for a purpose and with expectations.
Formal planned speech is similar to informal conversation,
however, in that we normally have some preconceived idea of
the content, level of formality and discourse of what we're
going to hear. J.C. Richards calls these ideas SCRIPT COMPETENCE;
i.e the knowledge we possess in advance. These expectations
may be linked to our purpose for listening. For instance,
if we want to know the answer to a question, then we will
ask and expect to hear a relevant response, which means that
in many cases we listen out for certain key phrases or words.
Ur(1986) goes on to say that
"heard discourse which corresponds closely to what the
listener expects and needs to hear is far more likely to be
accurately perceived and understood than that which is unexpected,
irrelevant or unhelpful."
Unfortunately there is often a huge difference between the
characteristics of the discourse we normally listen to and
those of which the student normally hears in the EFL classroom,
leading to the classic situation of students doing well in
the classroom but being unable to transfer their skills outside.
Here we need to distinguish between reception and production.
While students are understood producing neatly formed sentences
with limited vocabulary, they understand little or nothing
when their interlocutors respond with colloquial, regional
We therefore need to make sure that students are exposed to
authentic listening situations.
What actually goes through a listeners head as he listens
to the news?
isn't enough, however, to simply look at the linguistic features
of authenticity. In order to make an activity truly authentic,
it is also necessary to consider the process that is going
on in the listeners head as he/she listens and how this is
shown in external behaviour. Porter and Jones (1981) describe
the process for listening to the news to be as follows.
Process: " In one ear and out the other." This is
very superficial listening with little awareness of the context
of what is said.
Evaluative listening and scanning for topics of interest to
self or companion(s). This involves matching topics against
ones own or companions interests and making mental notes.
Output: Summarise and tell companion"
listening to the weather, on the other hand, they describe
the process as
listening for specific information e.g. about the days weather.
Output: Selection of appropriate activities for the day, or
of appropriate clothes to wear etc.
8. What problems do listeners face?
have many problems when listening, but many of them (e.g.
their difficulty in hearing sounds which don't appear in their
language) are not a major problem in extensive listening activities
such as these, as students can normally work them out from
context. We've also seen that listening to the news is made
more difficult due to our inability to see the speaker and
lack of visual clues, but possibly easier due to the lack
of colloquialism in language.
However, another major problem that students have is that
they try to understand every word. I have found that this
is especially a problem for Japanese students, since perfection
is part of their culture and they are therefore not satisfied
unless they understand everything. They therefore need to
be made aware that in real life listeners don't do that. When
listening to the news, they tune into one item and exclude
What are the implications for language classes?
class we therefore need to try and replicate the roles that
the native speaker plays in authentic situations.
Porter and Jones say
the learner is to achieve any degree of real proficiency in
language use -as opposed to rather abstract proficiency, which
operates only under the strictly controlled laboratory-like
conditions of the classroom - he or she must be given the
chance to listen in authentic ways`
although features of authentic speech are gradually making
their way into ELT materials, to look at speech in authentic
ways, a great number of activities are involved and these
are rarely exploited in EFL materials. However there are a
whole range of activities which enable us to do this. (See
appendix 1 for some ideas)
Which news bulletin should be used?
and Yule (1983) say that one of the main factors that affects
listening is related to the speaker (how many there are, what
types of accent they have etc)
It is therefore important to choose a broadcast that can be
easily heard and for the early stages which has only one voice,
since even quite advances students find it quite hard to follow
a news broadcast where there are several different voices
and several different acoustics. In Europe I have found that
the BBC World Service is usually the clearest to follow. On
the other hand, when teaching in the UK, I found the BBC radio
3 news much easier to follow than, for example, radio 4.
have seen, therefore, that authentic listening certainly has
its place in language classroom, although at lower levels
it is a good idea to supplement it with non authentic materials.
There are lots of different situations where authentic listening
takes place and as teachers our role is to focus on those
activities which most suit our learners needs and learning
In order to provide authentic listening activities for our
students we need to consider what native speakers do when
they listen and try and represent this in the language
Listening to the news, being a planned monologue, is different
to many other types of listening activity and this is something
we need to bear in mind when planning activities. However,
it is a motivating type of material to use in class and is
something I will be using more often in the future.
A and Lynch,T (1988) Listening: OUP
Brown, B and Yule, B (1983) Teaching the spoken Language:
Nunan, D Communicative Approaches to Listening Comprehension,
Language Teaching Methodology, 2:17-38 : Phoenix
Porter, D and Roberts, J (1981) Authentic Listening Activities,
ELT Journal, Volume 36/1 pp 37-47, October 1981
Revell, J and Beary, B (1988) Advanced Listening: OUP
Richards, J.C. (1983) Listening Comprehension, TESOL Quarterly,
Rixon S (1986, 1989) Developing Listening Skills: Macmillan
Rost, M (1991) Listening in Action: Prentice Hall
Tomalin, B (1986) Video, TV and Radio in the English Class:
Underwood, Mary (1989) Teaching Listening: Longman
Ur, P (1984,1986) Teaching Listening Comprehension: CUP
the lesson plan
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