Diverging Tasks in Listening Activities

  

Wakhid Nashruddin

wahid1n@yahoo.co.id

 

Teachers tend to repeat playing listening materials again and again in listening activities; assuming students will understand the whole content of a text after listening to it several times. They seem to forget that listening to the same text will be boring resulting to students feeling difficult to understand it. Anticipating that, teachers should provide more various tasks with the same text. In this way, teachers can make sure that students will listen to the same text several times—with different purposes and activities of listening—and make sure students will not get bored. In the end, students will get a complete comprehension of the text they are learning.

Key words: listening, text, tasks, purpose

 

 

“Listen again until you catch what the people in the dialog are saying!” From my experience, I—and probably other teachers—kept saying that sentence to the students. After six times repeating, the students, some of them were enthusiastic in continuing to listen and many of them gave up. “It is so difficult, sir!” Almost all of them said that. In fact, some students showed their bored (or even desperate) expressions.

Listening as a receptive skill that support speaking (and also writing in some cases) as a productive skill determine the successfulness of effective communication. The direction of teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) inIndonesiagoes towards the students’ mastery of communicative competence. The purpose of teaching and learning English is mainly to support learners to be able to communicate successfully using English. In relation to this, Richards,Hull, and Proctor (1999: iii) put an important stress to listening and speaking when the goal of learning is communicative competence mastery. Listening is given the first place in learning English because it is “the natural precursor to speaking” (Nation & Newton, 2009: 37).

Some research in the area of teaching listening has been conducted. They focus on both inside and outside of the English instruction. Knowing the previous studies will help in determining the position of the current study. Wagner (2007), Manzhen & Zhuoya (2008), Rühlemann (2008), and Cahyono & Widiati (2009) are some of many people studying the teaching and learning of listening in EFL setting.

As a part of English instruction, Wagner (2007) examined test-taker manners on an L2 video listening test. Thirty-six test-takers were recorded while doing “a listening test composed of six separate video texts, and the amount of time test-takers made eye contact with the video monitor was computed” (Wagner, 2007: 67). The analysis of the data “indicated that the group of participants oriented to the video monitor 69% of the time while the video text was played” (Wagner, 2007: 67).

A research conducted by Manzhen & Zhuoya (2008: 13) studying “the effects of two task conditions (Zero-task and Task) on cognitive listening strategies used by different levels of Chinese EFL learners.” The investigation was about whether the students listening strategies are affected by task. Cognitive strategy was the focus of the study. One of the conclusions shows that “taking cognitive listening strategy as a whole, there were no significant interactive effects between the two variables of tasks and listening proficiency” Manzhen & Zhuoya (2008: 13).

Cahyono & Widiyati (2009: 194) has reviewed some findings of studies about teaching and learning listening. Their study focuses on portraying the current practice of teaching listening inIndonesia. In the end, one of the conclusions of the study is that the position of English as a foreign language inIndonesiarequires native speakers of English as models and standards resulting to the importance of learners’ mastery on listening skill in language learning (Cahyono & Widiyati, 2009: 194). The importance of native speakers of English as the standard is essential in training learners’ listening skills.

However, from different prospective with Cahyono & Widiati, Rühlemann (2008) suggests that the use of Standard English in the teaching of speaking as the main model of speaking or conversation should be reduced. This will also produce the variety of input from listening activities. The issue of World Englishes influences Rühlemann’s framework of thinking.  According to Rühlemann (2008), native speakers of English are not the only source for listening activities; other speakers of English should be considered since English is spoken worldwide that not only native speakers speak English. As a result, the spoken English models may come not only from English speaking countries, but also from the countries where English is spoken as the second or foreign language.

The position of this paper is not to follow up those findings, but to put itself in another position. Wagner’s study seems only to talk about students’ attitudes towards listening materials. It does not directly discuss how to improve students’ ability in listening. Manzhen & Zhuoya, when they study the tasks in listening, do not want to show that there is no relationship between tasks and learning, but to show that listening tasks do not make students have a certain strategy in listening to a text. However, tasks can make students learn to understand a text. Cahyono & Widiati’s review on the practice of the teaching and learning of listening wants to show and picture the current applications of the teaching of listening in EFL context, especially inIndonesia. In contrast to Cahyono & Widiati’s study, Rühlemann’s proposal is to vary the materials or texts in listening activities to support students’ ability in speaking. The previous studies probably do not directly discuss how teachers can make use of listening materials effectively. In fact, this part seems to be something significant to help students understand a text. There is no doubt that the materials are something important, but it is more important for teachers to know how to use the materials in the teaching and learning process.

This paper will talk about how teachers can diverge listening tasks in their listening comprehension class. It will be done without considering whether the speakers in the listening recordings are native speakers or non-native speakers of English (relating to Cahyono & Widiati & Rühlemann’s investigation), or the source of listening materials are from tape, CD, radio, or movie (responding to Wagner’s study). Tasks are the focus of this study.

Before starting the discussion, it is good to clarify what diverging means. The word diverge means “to separate and go in different directions” (Hornby, 2000: 367). Diverging tasks in listening activities suggests that teachers can design varied and different listening activities that will direct students to the mastery of listening comprehension skill.

Four Approaches in Teaching Listening

There are at least four approaches in the field of learning and teaching listening, they are (1) within an environmentalist approach, (2) an innatist approach, (3) an interactionist approach, and (4) a communicative competence framework (Martínez-Flor & Usó-Juan, 2006: 30-40). By understanding the four approaches, teachers can find the principles underlying speaking activities in language learning classrooms.

According to an environmentalist, the ability of listening is based on the environment, what happens in the environment, what kind of activities are in the environment, and what environment stimulates listening. In second or foreign language learning, “listeners’ stimulus consisted in hearing L2 spoken words and the response involved identifying and organizing those words into sentences” (Martínez-Flor & Usó-Juan, 2006: 30).

An innatist will see listening in a different way from an environmentalist. Rather than having repetition and making habits, this approach claims that learners also have their own ability in thinking. Everybody has their own innate ability, including in a language. This approach is under cognitivism (Brown, 2000: 9-10). Learning is not only to set up as stimulus-response activities, but also by to introduce structures of the sentences in order to make internalized system in the learners. “Comprehension was, therefore, a necessary step for language learning and listening was viewed as the primary channel by which access could be gained to L2 input, while in turn serving as the trigger for acquisition” (Peterson (2001) & Rost (2001) in Martínez-Flor & Usó-Juan (2006: 31)).

Another point of view, in listening, comes from interactionists. Brown (2000: 11-12) calls interactionists’ approach as constructivism. “It was claimed that listening should focus on a whole piece of discourse rather than listening to single words or short phrases spoken in isolation” (Martínez-Flor & Usó-Juan, 2006: 32). This may result to top-down approach in language learning.

The latest approach is a communicative competence framework. Under this framework, listeners should have communicative competence, they are: (1) discourse competence, (2) linguistic competence, (3) pragmatic competence, (4) intercultural competence, and (5) strategic competence (Martínez-Flor & Usó-Juan, 2006: 35-40). “In this communicative competence construct, and given the primacy of listening for language learning, it can be assumed that focusing on this skill within such an approach will contribute to the development of L2 communicative ability” (Martínez-Flor & Usó-Juan, 2006: 36). These competences are necessary in building students’ ability in having effective communication.

The first competence is discourse competence. It is  someone’s competence “which  enables  speakers  to  engage  in  continuous discourse, e.g., by linking ideas in longer written texts, maintaining longer spoken  turns,  participating  in  interaction,  opening  conversations  and closing them” (Littlewood, 2004: 503), while the second competence, linguistic competence is “the knowledge of language possessed by each normal speaker” (Chomsky, 2006: 55), the “knowledge of a language” (Chomsky, 2006: 62). Littlewood (2004: 503 specifies that “linguistic competence, which includes the knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, semantics, and phonology that have been the traditional focus of second language learning.” The third competence, Pragmatic competence, is competence “which  enables  second  language  speakers  to  use their linguistic resources in order to convey and interpret meanings in real situations, including those where they encounter problems due to gaps in their knowledge” (Littlewood, 2004: 503), whilst the fourth, intercultural competence, grips both cultural and non-verbal communicative aspects. Usó-Juan & Martínez-Flor (2006: 17) explain that cultural aspects are “concerned with sociocultural knowledge of the target language community, knowledge of dialects and cross-cultural awareness,” while non-verbal communicative aspects “refers to non-verbal signals such as body language, use of space, touching or silence.” The last but not least is strategic competence. It refers to the ability to know when and how to take the floor, how to keep a conversation going, how to terminate the conversation, and how to clear up communication breakdown as well as comprehension problem (Shumin, 2002: 208). Using these competencies, listener will be able to listen to the spoken language correctly and to communicate effectively.

Knowing the approaches in teaching listening will probably help teachers to understand what aspects should be considered when listening classes take place. As a result, the teaching and learning process will be more with principles, not in traditional sense as transferring knowledge only.

Micro- and Macroskills of Listening Comprehension

Talking about a skill will lead to what people can do with that skill. This is also become important in measuring what students can do in their speaking classes. Brown (2007: 308) provides micro- and macro skills of listening comprehension. Microskills are relevant to what can be done at sentence level while macroskills refer to what can be done at discourse level (Brown, 2007: 307).

Microskills

  1. Retain chunks of language of different lengths in short-term memory.
  2. Discriminate among the distinctive sounds of English.
  3. Recognize English stress patterns, words in stressed and unstressed positions, rhythmic structure, intonational contours, and their role in signaling information.
  4. Recognize reduced forms of words.
  5. Use an adequate number of lexical units (words) in order to accomplish pragmatic purposes.
  6. Process speech at different rates of delivery.
  7. Process speech containing pauses, errors, corrections, and other performance variables.
  8. Recognize grammatical word classes (nouns, verbs, etc.), systems (tenses, agreement, pluralization, etc.), patterns, rules, and elliptical forms.
  9. Detect sentence constituents and distinguish between major and minor constituents.
  10. Recognize a particular meaning may be expressed in different grammatical forms.

Macroskills

  1. Recognize cohesive devises in spoken discourse.
  2. Recognize the communicative functions of utterances, according to situations, participants, and goals.
  3. Infer situations, participants, goals using real-world knowledge.
  4. From events, ideas, etc., described, predict outcomes, infer links and connections between events, deduce causes and effects, and detect such relations as main idea, supporting idea, new information, given information, generalization, and exemplification.
  5. Distinguish between literal and implied meanings.
  6. Use facial features, kinesics, body language, and other nonverbal cues to decipher meanings.
  7. Develop and use a battery of listening strategies, such as detecting key words, guessing the meaning of words from context, appealing for help, and signaling comprehension or lack thereof.

By knowing the micro- and macroskills, both teachers and students will understand the direction of the learning in the classroom. This will be guidance in designing the objective(s) of the study in speaking classes. In turn, it will help the class going to the right track of learning.

Diverging Tasks in Listening Activities

Cleary, Holden, & Cooney (2008b: 3) discriminate listening into extensive and intensive listening. Extensive listening refers to listening for general information and intensive listening is related to listening in detail. The distinction is then made in talking about activities in improving listening skills; they are listening for main points, for general understanding, for specific information, and inferencing (Cleary, Holden, & Cooney, 2008b: 3).

Furthermore, Nation & Newton (2009: 40) make a division of two types of listening: a) one-way listening—typically associated with the transfer of information (transactional listening), and b) two-way listening—typically associated with maintaining social relations (interactional listening). Furthermore, what is meant by one-way listening is conventional views of listening. “Traditionally, listening was associated with transmission of information, that is with one-way listening” (Nation & Newton, 2009: 40). Listening to lectures and announcements are probably two examples of one-way listening. However, communication is not always one-way interaction. Two-way listening, on the other hand, can portray “the richness and dynamics of listening” as it takes place in everyday interactions (Nation & Newton, 2009: 40). People communicate interactively, one speak while another listen to her/him. Two-way listening represents the actual things happen in real life.

Moreover, Craven (2004: 8) gives more information about the purposes of listening. It becomes important to know the purposes of listening as they can help students in determining what information is needed. The purposes of listening themselves can also function as the tasks in listening activities. The following are the purposes of listening or listening tasks, they are:

a.Listening for specific information: students identify certain key information at word level,

b.Listening for details: students listen for phrases and longer strings of information at sentence level,

c.Listening for the main idea: students listen to the complete recording in order to understand the core ideas,

d.Listening for opinions: students listen to understand the views expressed by a particular speaker,

e.Inferring meaning: students ‘listen between the lines’ to understand what the speaker is really saying,

f.Recognising context: students listen around the recording to identify where it takes place, who the people are, etc.,

g.Predicting: students anticipate what they will hear before the recording is played, and

h.Identifying emotion: students listen to identify the mood of a particular speaker.

(Craven, 2004: 8)

One of the most common and popular technique in EFL listening is perhaps by asking students translating the text they are listening. Guided and assisted by the teacher, students listen to the listening text; and at word level, phrase level, clause level, or sentence level, they translate what they hear. This is partly correct but might also be wrong because when people converse, they very seldom translate their sentences. They may understand the text after the translation process, but it is not clear whether they understand it because of the listening or because of the translation. Whether it is one-way listening or two-ways listening, teachers can vary the tasks to make students do not feel bored doing the same tasks repeatedly.

Table 1

Possible Listening Tasks for the Micro and Macroskills of

Listening Comprehension

Microskills

Possible Listening Task(s)

1.Retain chunks of language of different lengths in short-term memory. Listening for specific information
2.Discriminate among the distinctive sounds of English. Listening for specific information
3.Recognize English stress patterns, words in stressed and unstressed positions, rhythmic structure, intonational contours, and thir role in signaling information. Listening for specific information
4.Recognize reduced forms of words. Listening for specific information
5.Use an adequate number of lexical units (words) in order to accomplish pragmatic purposes. Listening for specific information, Listening for details
6.Process speech at different rates of delivery. Listening for specific information
7.Process speech containing pauses, errors, corrections, and other performance variables. Listening for specific information
8.Recognize grammatical word classes (nouns, verbs, etc.), systems (tenses, agreement, pluralization, etc.), patterns, rules, and elliptical forms. Listening for specific information
9.Detect sentence constituents and distinguish between major and minor constituents. Listening for specific information
10.Recognize a particular meaning may be expressed in different grammatical forms. Listening for specific information

Macroskills

Possible Listening Task(s)

1.Recognize cohesive devises in spoken discourse. Listening for details
2.Recognize the communicative functions of utterances, according to situations, participants, and goals. Listening for specific information
3.Infer situations, participants, goals using real-world knowledge. Listening for opinions, Inferring meaning, Recognising context
4.From events, ideas, etc., described, predict outcomes, infer links and connections between events, deduce causes and effects, and detect such relations as main idea, supporting idea, new information, given information, generalization, and exemplification. Listening for the main idea, Inferring meaning
5.Distinguish between literal and implied meanings. Listening for the main idea, Inferring meaning
6.Use facial features, kinesics, body language, and other nonverbal cues to decipher meanings. Predicting
7.Develop and use a battery of listening strategies, such as detecting key words, guessing the meaning of words from context, appealing for help, and signaling comprehension or lack thereof. Identifying emotion


In addition, the relation between task and information needed are interrelated. What more important is “students can listen to different information each time” (Craven, 2004: 8). This is to make sure that they are trained well by listening with purpose(s). So, the aim of the varied activity is to make sure that students can have knowledge on skills they need in listening. Craven (2004: 7) states that “the varied activities are intended to reflect the diverse of nature real-world listening students today face.”

The decision of what kinds of tasks are given to the students is by deciding the micro- and macro-skills as the target of language learning in a particular listening lesson. After knowing the purpose of the study, the tasks may be chosen whether the activity will have listening for specific information, listening for details, listening for the main idea, listening for opinions, inferring meaning, recognizing context, predicting, or identifying emotion. Table 1 shows the possible listening tasks that will need certain micro or macroskills of listening comprehension.

Here, diverging tasks are in relation to the micro or macroskills that students are expected to master. Because microskills are at sentence comprehension level, so the tasks are probably simpler, such as listening for specific information (e.g. identifying the speakers’ names). On the other hand, for macroskills, the tasks are probably harder (e.g. inferring meaning of words from speakers’ utterances).

 

An Illustration

To make how diverging tasks can be done in the listening classes, the following is an example how teachers can vary their students’ listening tasks. This is taken from Top Up-Listening 1, by Cleary, Holden, & Cooney (2008a), published by ABAX ELT Publishers,Singapore. The topic is Meeting and Greeting People (p. 8-11). The discussion of this illustration will be about the variation of the tasks to help students mastering micro and macroskills of listening comprehension.

The first task has its purpose to recognize the context, and than continued with to identify the speakers. The instruction is:

Listen to three conversations. Circle the number to show how many people speak in each conversation.

Conversation 1                  2       3       4

Conversation 2                  2       3       4

Conversation 3                  2       3       4

The second task is inferencing. The instruction is:

Listen to the conversations again. Draw lines from the people on the left to the extra information about them on the right. One is done for you.

The third task is listening for specific information. The instruction is:

Listen to the conversation again. In which conversations do the speakers introduce themselves? In which conversations do they introduce other people? Circle the correct word.

Conversation 1      Themselves           Other People

Conversation 2      Themselves           Other People

Conversation 3      Themselves           Other People

Before talking about the tasks, let us take a look at table 2 about conversation scripts for the three tasks above. There are three conversations in one task, and the conversations are played in order. The three has the same topic, that is introduction. Listening to the three conversations, students listen to not only one input, but three. The more input students get, the more they learn.

 

 Table 2

Conversation scripts of Unit 1 of Top Up Listening 1 (p. 79)

Ed Walker               :  I don’t think we’ve met before.

Patrick Cheung     :  No, I don’t think we have.

Ed Walker               :  My name’sWalker. Ed Walker.

Patrick Cheung     :  Nice to meet you Ed. I’m Patrick Cheung.

Ed Walker               :  Nice to meet you Patrick. Are you a student here?

Patrick Cheung     :  Yes, I’m going toVenezuela so I’m studying Spanish.

Ed Walker               :  Oh really?

Patrick Cheung     :  Yes, I leave in two months. How about you?

Ed Walker               :  Well, actually I’m not a student. I’m waiting for my wife. She’s a teacher here.

Patrick Cheung     :  Leslie Walker?

Ed Walker               :  That’s right. Do you know her?

Patrick Cheung     :  Yes, she’s my teacher.

Conversation 2

Mr. Bell                  :  Professor Stevens, this is Lisa Harris.

Prof. Stevens       :  How do you do, Miss Harris?

Lisa Harris            :  How do you do, Professor? I … I’ve read some of your books.

Prof. Stevens       :  Really? Thanks very much.

Mr. Bell                  :  Actually David, Lisa is one of my best students.

Prof. Stevens       :  Ah, so you enjoy astronomy?

Lisa Harris            :  Oh yes, it’s really interesting.

Conversation 3

Andrew                :  Hi Crag, how are you?

Craig                      :  I’m fine, thanks. How are you?

Andrew                :  Great thanks.

Craig                      :  Ah, excuse me, Andrew. Er, this is Pedro. Pedro, this is Andrew.

Andrew                :  Nice to meet you, Pedro.

Pedro                    :  Nice to meet you too. Andrew                   :  Oh look, isn’t that, er, Juan Martinez over there?

Craig                      :  Oh yes.

Pedro                    :  Do you know Juan?

Andrew                :  Er, yeah. We went to school together.

Pedro                    :  Really?

Andrew                :  Er, yeah, why?

Pedro                    :  He’s my cousin.

Andrew                :  You’re kidding! Juan?

Craig                      :  It’s a small world.


Talking about input in language learning, the mastery of second or foreign language relies upon the input received by a learner. The quantity of input plays important role in whether or not a learner will master a second or foreign language (Gass & Salinker, 2007: 24). Learners learn from input (Dodigovic, 2005: 5) and without input, language learning will never take place (Ellis, 2003: 5). Input affects the way learners acquire a second language (Savova, 2005: 6). Looking at the varied inputs, students can probably learn more from more texts than just from one text.

Regarding the tasks, as mentioned earlier, there are three tasks. The first task is recognizing context (that is identifying the speakers), the second task is inferencing, and the third task is listening for specific information. The purposes of the tasks direct students to the mastery of micro and macroskills.

The first task shows that the purpose of the listening is macroskill no.13 (infer situations, participants, goals using real-world knowledge). This can be seen since the purpose of the task is to identify the speakers (participants) involved in the conversation. It asks students to find out how many people are involved in each conversation.

The second task is related to macroskill no.13 and 14 (from events, ideas, etc., described, predict outcomes, infer links and connections between events, deduce causes and effects, and detect such relations as main idea, supporting idea, new information, given information, generalization, and exemplification). Inferring to the situation is needed in this task. It is the job of macroskill no.13. This task also demands students to use macroskill no.14. From the events in the conversations, students are asked to infer links and connections between events.

The third task shows that the listening for conveying students’ ability in having macroskills no.12 (recognize the communicative functions of utterances, according to situations, participants, and goals) and 14. By recognizing the communicative functions of utterances, students can know whether the persons involved in each conversation (in the tasks) introducing themselves or other people.

In the end, by doing the three tasks, students are expected to be able to get a more complete comprehension to what they learn. They can understand how many people are speaking, what the relationships between each speaker are, and whether each people talk about her/himself or other people by doing different tasks.

From this example, the picture how the diversity of listening tasks hopefully can be clearly seen. Repeating listening is not bad—especially when the students need that—but when teachers do it again and again using the same task (e.g. a teacher asks students to repeat every words from the speakers in a dialog), the concern is at least students’ boredom. By diverging tasks, teachers not only can avoid their students’ boredom, but also can help them to master different micro or macroskills that students need to have for the successfulness of listening comprehension.

Conclusion

The paper has touched some aspects in teaching listening comprehension to EFL learners. The approaches of teaching listening have contributions of those perspectives to the nature of teaching listening. The micro and macroskills of listening comprehension are also have been highlighted. This is intended to provide a guidance to lead students to master listening skill. The purposes of listening tasks have also been talked about. Students need to choose what information that they need. It is the basis of the importance of knowing the purposes of a listening task, whether it is listening for specific information, listening for details, listening for the main idea, listening for opinions, inferring meaning, recognizing context, predicting, or identifying emotion.

Diverging tasks in listening activities is important in teaching listening. The purpose of the listening, together with the micro- and macroskills of listening comprehension help teachers to determine what tasks should be given to the students in listening classes. Different tasks should be given to aim at different purposes.

— o – o – o —

References:

 

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Brown, H. Douglas. 2007. Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy (3rd ed.).New York: Pearson Education.

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Wagner, Elvis. 2007. Are They Watching? Test-taker Viewing Behavior during an L2 Video Listening Test. Language Learning & Technology 11(1), pp: 67-86.

 

(Nashruddin, Wakhid. 2010. Diverging Tasks in Listening Activities. Paper presented at The 2nd National English Language Teachers and Lecturers Conference,The Language and Cultural Center of State University of Malang, March 20)

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