Foundations of Listening Instruction

Foundations in Listening
Diagnostic Approach,
Decoding, & Meaning Building
* Field, J. (2008). Listening in the language classroom.
Types of Listening
• Genres of Listening Events
– Face-to-face: conversation, giving and receiving
information, negotiation
– Distant, but two-way: phone, taking a message
– External to listener: announcements, instructions,
answering machines/voicemail
– Listening for Pleasure: tv/movie clips, jokes, stories, songs
– Informative: news headlines, news items, documentaries
– Instructional: lessons, lectures
– Persuasive: advertisements
Listener Response and Genre List
Conversation: listen and respond,
Negotiation: listen and
respond/challenge, retain detailed
Transmission of Information: locate and
retain main points
Announcement: listen for one item
(listen for specific information)
News Headlines: listen for items of
News Reports: listen for items of
interest, listen for main points
Sports/Outdoor Broadcast: Construct •
spatio-visual representation
Song: gist, words
Personal Narrative: plot essentials
Film/TV Drama: plot essentials
Instruction: listen and do, listen, retain
details and their order
Form-filling: Scan and locate relevant
Phone: listen and respond, allow for
minimal context
Take message: close listening for details
Lesson: listen for main points, show
Lecture: listen for main points and
relative importance, take notes
Tour Guide: listen for main points
Translation: listen for meaning,
Listening Types
• Low attention: (global) skimming, phatic communion
(understanding intentions such as in a greeting); (local)
• medium attention: (global) listening for plot/commentary,
conversational listening, information exchange; (local) focused
scanning, search listening, message listening
• deep attention: (global) close listening for main points and
connections; (local) close listening for main points and details
• very deep attention: (global) listening to check critical facts;
(local) listening for vital instructions, listening to the form of
words (exact words)
Diagnostic Approach
• Teaching should be a constant process of
assessment and instructional modification.
• Teachers should assess (or understand)
students’ listening problems and apply the
appropriate instructional interventions.
• Diagnosing listening difficulties isn’t easy, but
it is worthwhile.
• Diagnostics are concerned with two general
categories: decoding & meaning-building
• Decoding: translating the speech signal into
speech sounds, words and clauses, and finally
into a literal meaning
– "...acoustic cues which have to be translated first into
the sounds of the target language and then into words
and phrases in the listener's vocabulary and then into
an abstract idea."
• Making sense of the speech signal. Really about
recognition of symbols and constructions.
• Often generalizable, thus somewhat easier to
work into instruction.
Diagnostic Approach to Decoding
• Problems decoding can be related to: sounds, syllables,
words, grammatical patterns, or features of intonation
– These can be difficult to categorize sometime since it
might look like one category but is really another.
• Two types of problems:
– Text Problem of Decoding: relating to the knowledge of the
language and dealt with by providing information.
– Process Problem of Decoding: relating to a gap in the
learner's listening competence.
• Address with "micro-listening tasks." Short tasks working on a
particular problem.
• Dictation - good for diagnosing these problems.
• Operation of taking the raw information in the decoding phase and
filtering it through context, background knowledge, understandings of the
world, and relevance to the parties involves.
– You have to situate the text in the context in which it is said and
• Adding to the bare meaning provided by decoding and relating it to what
has been said before.
– expanding the meaning of what is said.
– collect and build on the incoming pieces of information. processing
and filtering language. Keep what's important, discard what isn't.
• "...problems of meaning building are often closely related to an individual
utterance or an individual context and might not occur elsewhere." Thus,
not as easy to work into instruction.
Diagnostic Approach to
• General meaning-building processes:
Text-so-far: what the listener has heard
Context: outside information the listener brings in to understand
Pragmatics: understandings, intentions of the speaker
Global Understanding: the overall direction of the text.
• What can teachers do to work on these areas? Ask students to:
– summarize what they have heard; predict what will come next.
– use background knowledge to more fully describe the context of the
– use speaker's opening sentences to identify the situation (prediction
of sorts)
– listen for pronouns and describe what they are related to.
– paraphrase ambiguous text
– identify main idea, attitude, role of speaker, etc.
Decoding – Sound Variation
Phoneme Variation
Difficult to match sound to phoneme, to distinguish where one phoneme begins and another ends
(co-articulation), compression of phonemes in different positions, and isolation and identification of
phonemes is important to distinguish between similar sounding words.
Word Variation
Redistribution: Cliticisation, Resyllabification, Function words
Transitions Between Words: Assimilation, Elision
Reduction: Importance within an intonation group, Formulaic chunks
Speaker Variation
Accent, regionalization, physiology, normalization
more diversity in listening text, the more difficult
allow time for normalization
some activities should focus specifically on normalizing different speakers
Teacher is a good baseline (normalization has taken place and there is likely even comfort in it).
Decoding – Sounds, Syllables,
Words, & Intonation
• Recognizing Phonemes
– Building phoneme awareness is important.
– Focus on the syllable rather than the phoneme is best because there is less
variation in the syllable.
– Extrapolating Written Forms from Spoken Ones
• Phonemic-grapheme correspondences - Essentially, suggesting that building an
awareness of common spellings of words/syllables/phonemes is helpful.
• Processing Syllables
– Syllable Structure
• The most common syllable forms across languages are CV (consonant-vowel) and CVC
• Teach common structures/patterns
• Syllable Stress
– Stress can act as a signal for the beginning of a word (not always the case)
– Stress signals importance (content)
– Unstressed can also provide assistance in determining function words
(relationships, count, descriptors, etc.)
Decoding – Sounds, Syllables, Words,
& Intonation (2)
• Processing Words
– Lexical Segmentation
• It's important to be able to distinguish where one word ends and another
• Use of stress to mark new words (works with most content words, but not all)
• Value of prefixes and suffixes.
– Activation and Automatic Processes
• Many language processes for the competent listener have been internalized,
made automatic. These do not require a conscious focus. Some of the skills
– Frequency - knowing the relative frequency (and thus likelihood) of particular words or
– Current Activation - a word that has been recently heard is maintained briefly to assist in
processing if it is heard again.
– Spreading Activation - Using connections to other words/phrases/concepts that a word
has to predict and interpret what will be heard next.
• Learners should practice prediction of both ideas and vocabulary.
Decoding – Sounds, Syllables, Words,
& Intonation (3)
• Recognizing Syntactic Units
– Parsing - listener has to trace grammatical structure that binds groups of
words together.
– After structure has come to an end the group of words is turned into an
abstract idea.
– L1 listeners recognize the point where a syntactic unit ends by drawing on
their knowledge of the grammar of the language and of the most frequent
syntactic patterns.
– Cues in the speech signal.
Pause - short pause indicates beginning of new grammar structure.
Filler - "I mean" "as I was saying" "what I mean is"
Hesitation Pauses - pause indicating loss of place, forgetting, thinking.
Intonation Group - phrase, clause, sentence - sometimes also referred to as chunks, but this
word is used by Field in another way).
• Pitch - rise or fall in voice (at the end of the group).
• Focal point (stress) - stress is usually at the end of the unit, thus marking the end.
Decoding – Sounds, Syllables, Words,
& Intonation (4)
Online Parsing
– First language processing happens at about the speed of a syllable
– Listeners have to trace grammatical patterns in running speech while the patterns are still
– Some strategies/skills for this sort of processing:
Probability - experience breeds expectations. The co-occurrence of forms are relatively predictable.
Chunks - Common chunks of language reduce effort needed to process.
The verb - the verb chosen for a sentence often determines the structure.
Some activities to develop these skills:
Gating - provide a word or group of words from the beginning of a sentence and have students predict
what comes next.
Recall - After listening comprehension, go back to audio, stop mid-sentence, and ask students to fill in
the rest of the sentence.
Pausing to anticipate - similar to gating, but give students more of a lead in
Compete the sentence - dictate the first part of a sentence, stop before a highly predictable word,
students say or write an ending.
Recognizing common groups of words - similar to gating, but with a focus on pausing before common
groups of words.
Verb patterns - dictation (or listening) that includes verbs with predictable or common patterns. Have
students fill in the patterns.
Decoding – Sounds, Syllables, Words,
& Intonation (5)
The Intonation Group
– Stress forms the focus of a group. Important words are stressed and, thus, are central to
A group tends to consist of one syllable that is clearly articulated, surrounded by others
that are squeezed in duration or reduced in form.
Decoding and the Intonation Group
– Many syllables of lesser importance are reduced and can be difficult to identify
– Listeners first process the input in terms of what they think they hear (best guess based
on reception), but they don't finalize that idea until the end of the intonation group.
– For L2 listeners, the focal stress can mark the most important information. It is more
reliable and precisely articulated.
– It is important to use chunks based on intonation groups for demonstration purposes
and for small-scale listening tasks.
– Some tasks:
• Identifying focal syllables, Key word gap-filling, Key word recognition, Key word hypothesis predict what will be said from list of key words, Key word prediction - mark key words on
transcripts before listening, Key word cues - isolated practice of intonation groups, Dealing with
reduced sequences - guessing reduced words from stress ones.
Meaning-Building – Processing &
Handling Information
• Listeners don't just recognize signals, they receive and
remake the message.
– Amplify - add information that the speaker takes for granted (is
– Organize Information - What is important, what are the
connections? etc.
• A difficulty in "meaning building is that the listener has to
operate at two different levels. She has to keep track of the
current topic in case a word such as they or that occurs
which needs to be matched to something that has recently
been mentioned. But at the same time, she has to carry
forward a discourse representation of what has occurred in
the whole of the listening so far." (Field, 2008, p. 212)
Meaning-Building – Processing &
Handling Information (2)
• Types of outside knowledge
– World Knowledge - provides background information
to make an utterance meaningful.
– Topic Knowledge - part of world knowledge, but
focused on a particular topic.
– Speaker Knowledge - knowing about the speaker:
background, opinions, location, etc.
– Knowledge of the Situation - As often seen in
functional syllabi - Ordering a coffee at Starbucks.
– Knowledge of the setting - Visual (or other sense) cues
regarding the environment in which the listening is
being produced/heard.
Meaning-Building – Processing &
Handling Information (3)
• Schema Activation
– Schema - "a complex knowledge structure in the mind which groups all
that an individual knows about, or associates with, a particular
concept" (Field, 2008, p. 216)
– Used for prediction and for filling in information that the speaker
doesn't provide.
– Script - "sequence of activities associated with a stereotypical
situation." (p.217)
– Activate external knowledge before listening to:
• draw on schema, raise questions that the listening may answer, identify
possible scripts, activating words associated with situation, areas that may
differ between cultures.
– Activate external knowledge during listening to:
• enrich the bare meaning of the audio and supply information that the speaker
assumes we know.
Meaning-Building – Processing &
Handling Information (4)
Selecting Information
– Not all information is of importance and not all is of equal importance.
– Listeners have 3 options for dealing with information:
Abandon - forget it, Store - retain it, Generalize - general meaning, but reduced/no details
– Reasons for omitting information
Local Level - importance of information based on what has been said
Global Level - importance of information based on the overall context
Conflict with the discourse representation built so far (possibly problematic for L2 listeners)
– Criteria for omitting information
Matching with the intentions of the speaker, Matching with the listener's own goals, Is the information
– Considerations for L2 listeners
Telling learners what to listen for prior to listening can be useful for focused listening, but it takes away
the need (and their ability) to judge for themselves whether information is important or not.
Use note-taking, not to check for accuracy, but rather what they are giving importance to.
Make listeners aware of redundancy. Points are often repeated, particularly in lectures and
presentations. The listeners have to notice that there is redundancy and not treat repetition as new
Meaning-Building – Processing &
Handling Information (5)
• Connecting
– Listeners have to group information much like the building of
paragraphs in reading/writing.
– Have to decide if new information:
• Extends a current point - the same "paragraph".
• Marks a new departure - a new "paragraph"
– For L2 listeners it is important to:
• Make them aware of "linkers," connecting words ,and phrases.
• Noticing in-sentence coordinators (and, but, or) and (if, so, though) can be
• Linking devices in informal conversation can be different than those used in
more formal contexts: mind you, the problem is, that's all very well but....
• Field suggests:
explicit teaching
noticing linkers
Identifying linkers online
Macro (overall understanding) and Micro (linkage within/between sentences)
Meaning-Building – Processing &
Handling Information (6)
• Comparing
– Listeners must compare incoming information against the discourse
representation in order to check for possible inconsistencies.
– Listener has to identify problems of understanding at or shortly after
the point when they occur so that they can repair the breakdown by
asking for repetition or clarification.
– L2 listeners often fail to monitor their understanding adequately.
• Their attention is diverted into decoding the text and away from checking
• They have a problem with inconsistencies because they have to decide
whether the new piece of information is unreliable or their discourse
representation is wrong.
• Therefore, they tend to report the first version, ignoring later inconsistencies.
Meaning-Building – Processing &
Handling Information (7)
• Constructing
– Listeners impose patterns on the discourse representation: through navigating directions
or recognizing argument structures (lectures/broadcasts).
– Structure building - each time a new piece of information comes in, a listener or reader
has to decide whether to persist with a current meaning structure or to shift to a new
phase. Less skilled comprehenders shift too often. They thus fail to build a complex
network of interrelated ideas buy rely instead upon a string of small units of meaning
– Formal Schemas - assist listening through analogy: the listener thinks back to a prior
experience that resembles that one in progress.
– L2 listeners
• Demands of attention and partial understanding impede identification of speaker's argument
• Cultural differences in schemas is problematic (structure in L1 is different from structure in L2)
• Need help recognizing organizational patterns.
Discourse patterns (general to specific)
General understanding of main topics
Overall understanding and understanding of specific connections.

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