Listening at Upper
by Sam Smith
the beginning of an extensive (3 hrs. A week) course with
my upper intermediate group I conducted a needs analysis,
I was pleasantly surprised by their very modern attitude to
listening and how important it is. This ties in with my own
beliefs and my observations of this class and of the problems
of my students in general in this area.
Before going on to describe the argument for listening and
how to carry out the listening lesson, I would like to spend
a few words on my students' goals and needs.
· 25% of the group use English with Americans and British
people on a regular basis at work.
· 50% of the group are learning English so as to use
it in an English speaking country and 25% to live and work
· 87.5% put as a specific goal 'to understand native
speakers and speak fluently'. (The other 12.5% put 'speak
like a native speaker'.)
This shows a great need and desire to practice and be taught
listening, particularly with authentic materials featuring
native speaker speech and a need to be presented with and
become aware of the features of this: stress, intonation,
weak forms, elision, assimilation, catonation, using fillers,
pauses, repetition, self correction, interruptions and all
the discourse features used to signal a speakers' intention.
Some of these features are of particular importance to my
students, being Spanish, as there is a noticeable difference
between Spanish and English in terms of word and sentence
stress, intonation and weak forms.
Importance of Listening
played down until the event of the popularity of the tape
player, the importance of 2nd language listening has been
growing recently and we are finally beginning to see how important
It was something that I had just accepted as another part
of ELT until at a teaching workshop in Kharkov, Ukraine, I
was asked to compare my feelings about being deaf, dumb or
illiterate. I chose being deaf as the worst. I have lived
in 3 foreign countries while learning the language and have
noticed what is important. Listening (and speaking) are the
mediums through which I conduct at least 90% of my interaction
(my guess) and I don't think I am unique in this.
My own observations are backed up by Michael Lewis.
all the world's natural language output is spoken rather than
(Lewis 1993, 32)
well as listening being a vital skill for almost all interaction,
it follows from this that it is therefore the most important
medium for input in learning a foreign language (Lewis 1993)
and by increasing our students' ability to perceive speech,
we are increasing the amount of input they will receive and
therefore aiding language acquisition.
established the importance of listening, I would like to answer
a few questions about the nature of listening before going
on to look at how we teach it and how we should teach it.
Rost breaks down listening into 2 things: The component skills
and what a listener does.
What a listener does, is take some conscious action, involving
cognitive processes to understand a message. The listener
must take decisions such as:
· What kind of situation is this?
· What is my plan for listening?
· What are the important words and units of meaning?
· Does the message make sense?
(Rost 1991, 4)
these kinds of decisions involves thinking about meaning at
the same time as listening, another way to say this is listening
give the skills (in terms of perception skills, analysis skills
and synthesis skills) necessary for understanding as:
· Discriminating between sounds. (perception)
· Recognising words. (perception)
· Identifying grammatical groupings of words. (analysis)
· Identifying 'pragmatic units' - expressions and sets
of utterances which function as whole units to create meaning.
· Connecting linguistic cues to paralinguistic cues
(intonation and stress) and to non-linguistic cues (gestures
and relevant objects in the situation) in order to construct
· Using background knowledge (what we already know
about the content and the form) and context (what has already
been said) to predict and then to confirm meaning. (synthesis)
· Recalling important words and ideas.
(Rost 1991, 3-4)
skills make up a person's listening ability.
helping learners improve their skills (listening ability)
and encouraging them to successfully use strategies we should
be making them better listeners. (Rost 1991)
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