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Teaching Skills for Listening and Speaking Alastair Graham-Marr [email protected] Tokai University / ABAX Ltd.

Why teach Listening and Speaking? There are many reasons for focusing on listening and speaking when teaching English as a foreign language, not least of which is the fact that we as humans have been learning languages through our ears and mouth for thousands upon thousands of years, far longer than we as humans have been able to read. Our brains are well programmed to learn languages through sound and speech. This is not to say that reading and writing are ineffective, far from it, only to highlight the value of listening and speaking and point out that many studies have suggested that language learned through sound and speech is more readily acquired. Apart from this there are of course many other reasons to focus on listening and speaking as skills and these will be detailed below. What does teaching Listening and Speaking involve? Listening and speaking are complex cognitive processes and the teaching of listening and speaking is no less an involved endeavor. To help us clarify what this might entail, it is perhaps helpful to make a distinction between the language system itself and the associated language skills. A language system encompasses not only the words of a language and their associated order, lexis and syntax, but also the phonology and the macro fields of genre and discourse; how the language is strung together in extended texts. Skills refer to how the language system is used, the degree to which this is automatic, the degree to which it is appropriate to a given social situation and the strategies used which aid and enhance communication. As Canale notes:

"communicative competence refers to both knowledge and skill in using this knowledge when interacting in actual communication. Knowledge refers here to what one knows (consciously or unconsciously) about the language and about other aspects of communicative language use; skill refers to how well once can perform this knowledge in actual communication." (Canale: 1983:5)

Although some linguists might question the psycholinguistic validity of dividing language knowledge and language skill in such a manner, it is nonetheless a useful distinction for teachers as it helps to focus teacher attention on what it is exactly that they are teaching. Teaching skills: A common characteristic of many language classes is a heavy focus on the language system. Vocabulary and grammar seem to garner far more attention than the skills needed to use this vocabulary and grammar. Skills are of course an essential part of communicative competence however skills themselves are often not explicitly taught but rather left to students to pick up with practice and language use. The default position is that skills will just be be acquired implicitly. This seems especially true of many listening classes. Research however suggests that such skills are more efficiently acquired if explicitly taught:

"Classroom data from a number of studies offer support for the view that form-focused instruction and corrective feedback provided within the context of communicative programs are more effective in promoting second language learning than programs which are limited to a virtually exclusive emphasis either on accuracy or fluency." (Lightbrown and Spada 1999: 152)

Another argument for explicit language teaching, a focus on form, comes from Richard Schmidt of the University of Hawaii who contends that language first needs to be noticed to be acquired; that is, once students have noticed something, they are more likely to acquire it if they meet it again.

There is support in the literature for the hypothesis that attention is required for all learning. Learners need to pay attention to input and pay particular attention to whatever aspect of the input (phonology, morphology, pragmatics, discourse, etc.) that you are concerned to learn. (Schmidt 1995:45)

Although attention to meaning should be a central tenant of our language classes, (language is after all a semantic system, a system of meaning), attention to language form aids language acquisition. Teaching Listening: Broadly speaking, listening skills can be divided into two classifications: · bottom up skills (or processing) · top down skills (or processing) Bottom up processing refers to the decoding process, the direct decoding of language into meaningful units, from sound waves to meaning. Top down processing refers to the attribution of meaning, drawn from one's own world knowledge, to language input. In short bottom up is what the page brings to the learner and top down is what the learner brings to the page. To illustrate this, listed below are a few of the sub-skills divided into bottom up and top down roughly sequenced from beginning level skills to the more advanced skills (adapted from Brown 2001 and Peterson 1991) Bottom Up Skills · discriminating between intonation contours · discriminating between phonemes · hearing morphological endings · selecting details · recognizing fast speech forms · finding stressed syllables · recognizing reduced forms · recognizing words as they link together in connected streams · recognizing prominent details · recognizing sentence level features in lecture text · recognizing organization clues Top Down Skills · discriminating between emotions · getting the gist · recognizing the topic

· using discourse structure to enhance listening strategies · identifying the speaker · evaluating themes · finding the main idea · finding supporting details · making inferences · understanding organizing principals of extended texts Teaching Bottom Up Listening Skills: If you were wanting to teach bottom listening skills to your class, what salient phonological features could you bring to your student's attention in the following sentences below: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. She works in an old office Pete and Robert? No I didn't see them last night The water? Put it over there She wants to go to Canada to go skiing The end

Teaching Top Down Listening Skills: There are many aspects to top down processing. Very rarely do second language learners hear and understand 100% of all spoken language input and as such need to make inferences or informed guesses about the missing content. Students need to fill in the gaps to give meaning to an imperfect understanding. To help with this students need to: · use their knowledge of grammar to fill in the holes · use their knowledge of discourse to fill in the holes · use their knowledge of idiom / collocation to fill in the holes · use their knowledge of intonation to fill in the holes Additionally another useful top down skill is the ability to predict what you think you'll hear in coming discourse. And again here a knowledge of discourse patterns is a useful tool. Predict and check activities work well for teaching these skills and can vary from simple gap fill style exercises with short simple sentences to longer interpretive predictions to longer texts. Another important top down listening skill is the ability to make inferences from language input; that by applying our background knowledge to any given language input we can make suppositions about the social situation surrounding the language event, its participants and other implied meaning bound up with the content of the language event. As such activities which ask students to make inferences are useful for exercising your student's top down abilities. When to focus on the top down and when to focus on the bottom-up: The choice of whether to focus on top down skills building or bottom up skills building is very much discourse dependent. And a useful distinction for language teachers are the categories devised by Brown and Yule of: · transactional discourse · interactional discourse

Transactional discourse is language that serves in the expression of `content' and Interactional discourse is language involved in expressing social relations and personal attitudes. (Brown and Yule, 1983:1) This is a useful distinction for language teachers as it provides a framework for looking at the predictability of discourse. As Burns notes:

"The concepts of interpersonal and transactional genre types and the predictable staging of texts provide a valuable discourse perspective to language teaching. The concepts give us a framework for categorizing texts we wish to introduce to our learners and we can use our knowledge of their generic patterns to help learners increase their understanding of predictable stages." Burns (1997:29)

By and large interactional discourse types lend themselves to top down activities of prediction as the texts themselves are more predictable, while transactional discourse patterns are often better suited for teaching the bottom up decoding skills. Teaching Speaking It is not my intention to put forth an exhaustive list of skills that we as teachers need to present to our students. For those interested in a more comprehensive treatment H. Douglas Brown's Teaching by Principles, An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy (2001) provides readers with a fairly comprehensive breakdown of language skills into their sub skill components. For our purposes we can note that some of the speaking skills that merit classroom time include: · fluency · phonological clarity · strategies · being able to produce chunks of language · appropriacy (register etc.) · understanding elliptical forms · use of other cohesive devices etc. . . . Fluency Fluency is an important part of speaking and includes the following: · the ability to use language spontaneously · the ability to listen and comprehend spontaneously · the ability to respond spontaneously · the ability to compensate for any lack in any of the above As such fluency activities do not seek to enhance student understanding of the language system but rather seeks to improve the speed and efficiency with which students access their language system knowledge. It entails getting students to use language they already know. It entails getting students to use language that they are already well familiar with. Fluency work entails getting language to become "automatic". A Few Fluency Activities: Fluency work involves activities that demand language at levels of difficulty well within student capabilities.

· extensive review, extensive review, extensive review · non challenging role plays with functions well within student capabilities · well known easy topics etc. . . · 5 - 3 - 1 / memory circles / relay races / Alibi · Literature circles ( A look at Strategies: Communication strategies include the following: · confirmation strategies · compensation strategies · control strategies · involvement strategies In addition to the reasons given above for explicit language teaching, there are also noteworthy cultural reasons for speaking strategies to be made explicit; namely that strategies can sometimes contradict our student's own L1 speech conventions. There is a kind of L1 "strategic interference". Ideas such as turn taking, politeness, appropriacy and so on are language specific and some of the second language strategies we often advocate can be at odds with L1 speech conventions. Activities which promote the use of strategies: · dictation exercises / relay races (confirmation / control strategies) · activities which push the bounds of student capability (compensation activities) · guided dialogs (involvement strategies) · role plays Assignment Questions: Choose one from the following and expand on your answers with suggested activities and variations as they apply to your own teaching situation. 1. "Strategic Competence" according to Canale and Swain (1980:25) involves "how to cope in an authentic communicative situation and how to keep the communicative channel open". What does this imply for the teaching of speaking? What concrete steps could you take in your class to enhance your student's "strategic competence"? 2. What do you think is meant by the following: "It is not enough to base classroom exercises on an imitation of reality. We must also take into account the specific difficulties faced by the foreigner in learning to cope with heard English speech." Ur (1984:10) What implications does this have for the teaching of listening? How could you apply this to your own classes?

References from Handout and Presentation Brown, Gillian & Yule, George, (1983) Discourse Analysis, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Brown, H.D. (2001), Teaching by Principles, An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy, New York: Addison Wesley Longman Buck, Gary, (2001) Assessing Listening, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Burns, Anne & Joyce Helen (1997), Focus on Speaking, Sydney: NCELTR Canale, Michael & Swain Merril, (1980) "Theoretical Bases of Communicative Approaches to Second Language Teaching and Testing, Applied Linguistics, Vol 1, No. 1, Oxford: Oxford University Press Canale, Michael, (1983), "From communicative competence to communicative language pedagogy" in J.C. Richards and R.W. Schmidt (eds) Language and Communication, London: Longman Celce-Murcia, Marianne, (1996), Teaching Pronunciation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Foley, Barbara, (1994), Now Hear This, Boston: Heinle & Heinle Gilbert, Judy, (1984), Clear Speech, Cambridge; Cambridge University Press Lightbrown, Patsy & Spada Nina, (1999), How Languages are Learned, Oxford: Oxford University Press Oxford, Rebecca, (1990), Language Learning Strategies, Boston: Heinle & Heinle Peterson, P., (1991), "A synthesis of methods for interactive listening", in M. Celce-Murcia (ed.), Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language, 2nd edition (pp. 106-122), New York: Newbury House Schmidt, Richard (1995), "Consciousness and foreign language learning: a tutorial on the role of attention and awareness in learning", In Richard Schmidt, (ed.) Attention and Awareness in Foreign Language Learning, (Technical Report #9), Honolulu: University of Hawaii Second Language Teaching and Curriculum Center. Underhill, Adrian, (1994), Sound Foundations, Oxford: Macmillan Heinemann Ur, Penny, (1984), Teaching Listening Comprehension, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press


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