Challenges in Teaching Listening
Despite its obvious importance to language learning, the listening skill was for a long time relegated to a marginal place in foreign language curricula. With the advent of communicative language teaching and the focus on proficiency, the learning and teaching of listening started to receive more attention. However, listening is not yet fully integrated into the curriculum and needs to be given more "prime time" in class and homework.
Think of your own experience as a language learner. To what extent were you engaged in listening activities inside class? In homework assignments? To what extent were you asked to do extensive listening the same way you were asked to do extensive reading?
Language teachers talk about their lack of experience with the listening skill in the classroom.
For learners, listening presents a challenge for a variety of reasons, among which are the following:
- Listening involves multiple modes: Listening involves the interpersonal and interpretive modes of communication. It requires the listener to assume either a participative role in face-to-face conversations, or a non-participative role in listening to other people speak or present.
- Listening involves all varieties of language: In addition to listening to lectures and presentations in academic and formal settings, learners have also to partake or listen to exchanges that involve various levels of colloquialism.
- Listening involves "altered" and "reduced" language forms: In addition to dealing with the vocabulary and structures of the language, listeners have to learn to comprehend reduced forms of the language (e.g., I wanna go, Just a sec).
- Listening involves variable rates of delivery: Unlike a reading text that is at the learner's control, a listening text is constantly moving and at variable speeds that often cannot be controlled by the listener.
Because of all these factors, listening activities often create high levels of anxiety and stress among learners that can interfere with comprehension.
For teachers as well, addressing listening in the language classroom poses some challenges.
As a language teacher, one of your tasks will be to develop a vision of where listening fits within your teaching. As you progress through this module, continue to think of how you might plan to approach listening activities and what goals and expectations to set for your students.