Listening In this part we investigate listening skill

Listening Sskills from
past to present


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Listening as a skill is essential for
the human being and it has always been a crucial part of interaction. It is
different from hearing. Listening is, understanding the speakers’ accent or
pronunciation, his grammar and his vocabulary, and grasping his meaning. A good
listener is capable of doing these 4 elements simultaneously. So Listening
comprehension is an important skill to develop and it lies at the heart of
language learning, but unfortunately, it is the least understood and least
researched skill. Most activities involve more than just one language skill,
but there are moments in which learners are engaged in a one language skill,
such as when they are watching a film or writing a report, for instance. This
paper brings together past approaches to recent researches and developments in the
field of second language (L2) listening and the last approaches about improving
and teaching listening skills.



Martínez-Flor and Esther Usó-Juan in their researches
briefly outlines advances in the understanding of listening over the past
decades. They present the theoretical foundations for a communicative approach
to the teaching of listening. We overview a set of research areas that have a
direct impact on L2 listening instruction: accessibility of input, top-down
processing, bottom-up processing, and listener status. After that we represent
different approaches which are propsed about listening skill. In this article,
the role of the teacher is to teach learners how to listen by using a strategy-based
approach. Then, we point out the ways in which the listening skill is
currently taught and all aspects of the listening skill. This paper, also
presents critical overview of the methods employed to investigate listening
that includes an overview of recent research dealing with: Past approaches to learning
and teaching  L2 listening; recent
approaches to learning and teaching L2 listening; the use of technology in
listening instruction.


approaches to learning and teaching L2 listening (1960-1990)

In this part we investigate listening
skill from point of view environmentalist, the innatist and the interactionist
language learning approaches.

Listening within
an environmentalist approach

Up to the end of the 1960s listening was viewed as a passive
process without any role in language learning. In this approach, repeating,
imitating and memorizing had the most important role in listening comprehension.
Consequently, it was audiolingual teaching methodology which helped learners to
improve their hearing habits (Rost 2001; Flowerdew and Miller 2005).

Listening within
an innatist approach

By the late 1960s Chomsky (1957, 1965) as an innatist
researcher, emphasised to the mental and cognitive processes involved in the
comprehension act. So it was assumed that for listening comprehension to take
place, understanding language rather than simply repeating, imitating and
memorizing was the primary condition (Rost 1990). This approach highlighted the
explicit role of listening as a critical element for language learning and
claimed that reception should precede production (Peterson 2001). But relevant
aspects such as the interactive nature of listening, the role that contextual
factors play while listening, as well as the fact that we listen for meaning
and have a purpose when listening, were not taken into account.


 Listening within an interactionist approach

By the late 1970s, the interactionist approach claimed that listening
should focus on all piece of discourse instead of listening to single words or
short phrases spoken in isolation. So, listeners’ role changed from being just
hearer toward listening for content and meaning (Rost 2001). In fact, whatever
had been previously neglected such as meaningful intent and communicative
function, were now paramount aspects of the listening act. This new conception
of listening was termed purposeful listening, since, as claimed by Brown
(1990: 147).

 The schema theory

Task-Based or Interactive approach
to listening

In such an approach, the process listeners have to employ in
order to solve the task is more important than understanding the whole spoken
piece of discourse presented to them (Morley 2001; Flowerdew and Miller 2005).
In the Interactive approach to listening, learners follow a decoding,
critical-thinking, speaking model. Here, listeners have to interact
with speakers and respond to what they hear in order to establish

Teaching listening within a
communicative competence framework

In the 1970s, Hymes (1971, 1972) propounded the term communicative

The construct of communicative competence
has been proposed into different models which have evolved over the last two
decades in an attempt to increase the efficiency of the L2 teaching process
(Canale and Swain 1980; Canale 1983; Savignon 1983; Bachman 1987, 1990; Celce-
Murcia, Dörnyei, and Thurrell 1995; Alcón 2000; Usó-Juan and Martínez- Flor
this volume). All those models had some defects, but in this model that has
been proposed by Martínez-Flor and Usó-Juan, they have tried to resolve them.

Four key areas in which research
has provided insights into the teaching of second language listening

Accessibility of
input: Access to relevant and appropriately challenging input is an
essential factor in listening development.

Factors that
affect quality of input

Relevance: The more
relevant the listening opportunities, the more motivated the learner is to be
to seek comprehensible input.

Difficulty: Text
difficulty is a reflection of the cognitive processes required for an adequate
understanding of a text and is known to consist of several variables involving
length, speed, familiarity, information density, and text organization.

It refers to the way the language is actually used.

Top down processing: Activating background knowledge and
expectations by lexical access– guides the listening process and provides
connection with higher level reasoning.

3. Bottom up processing: Training in bottom
up processing is a critical element in listening comprehension. Although effect
of the first language may prevent efficient bottom up processing (metrical
segmentation and word recognition), particular training will promote better

 Components of bottom up processing

In continuous speech, there isn’t
auditory equivalence to the white spaces in reading continuous text, so the listeners
don’t have reliable cues for marking word boundaries. The
recognizing of these boundaries is possible by word recognition.

Word recognition is achieved only
by phonological competence. There are 2 complementary phonological
processes that help the listener:

detection: Speech processing research has shown that all of us have a
wide range of phonetic feature detectors in our auditory cortex which enable us
to decode speech into linguistic units.

segmentation refers to the use of stress and timing rules to segment
incoming speech into words, which are used for lexical processing and meaning

 4. Listener status: The listener’s status
influences comprehension, participation, and value of input for language
acquisition. Engagement by the L2 user –assumption of an “active listening”
role –promotes acquisition of listening skills and strategies.

Cues Used by Listeners

(1981, 1985) investigated the types of cues to which learners and native speakers
devote their attention when listening. Results show that native speakers of
English use primarily semantic cues to process aural texts, whereas both
intermediate and advanced learners tend to direct their attention to syntactic

to Harley, nonnative speakers of English, regardless of grade level
or L1 (Chinese or Polish), tended to rely on prosodic cues to interpret
ambiguous sentences or they adjusted the syntax to suit the prosodic cues. Also
this was true of native English speakers in the primary and middle grades. Just
with native speakers at the secondary level did Harley observe a switch from
relying on prosodic cues to relying on syntactic cues. As a result of these
findings, Harley argues that it was essential to familiarize learners with the
prosodic patterns of the second language because these prosodic cues provided a
very important linguistic foundation for successful inferencing. The findings
of these researchers suggest that learners should be encouraged to improve
listening strategies that focus more on prosodic and semantic cues and less on
syntactic cues.

A main part of the
teacher’s role in developing L2 listening skills is to sensitize students to
useful signals, cues and other sources of help available to them in the spoken
forms of the language. Teachers should make some practices in which language
learners make conscious use of both top and bottom as they try to understand
what a speaker is saying


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