Listening is the ability to understand and decode what is being said. It is one of the fundamental language skills and, at the same time, one of the most difficult activities when learning a foreign language, since it includes skills to understand sound, words, grammatical structures of the sentences; skills to decode intonation and speaking situation and much more.
The whole process of listening in the studying context is usually divided into three stages:
1. Pre-listening activity – the purpose of listening task should be given at this point. There can also be some “guess-what-it-is-about” task based on the name of the text or some key points from the text written down in the textbook.
2. Listening itself – the setting and environment should be appropriate. This part may be repeated when needed.
3. Post-listening activity – answering multiple-choice, true/false, general questions, discussing previous predictions or analyzing main points of the text, etc.
When preparing a listening task a good teacher should consider such things as listening task, pre- and post-listening tasks, visual aids, extra explanations of vocabulary or content when needed.
The possible purposes of listening activity may be:
- listening for general information (main points);
- listening for specific information (details);
- listening to figure out the organization of ideas or sequence of events.
Top-down strategies involve usage of the listener’s background knowledge. A listener bases some preliminary expectations and opinions about the text on his/her previous experience or knowledge.
Top-down strategies may be used to
• listen for the main idea;
• predict what is going on to happen or be said in the text;
• draw inferences;
Bottom-up strategies involve relying on the text. What is considered here is the sound, word and grammatical structures combinations that create an overall meaning of the text.
Bottom-up strategies are usually used to
• listen for specific details;
• recognize cognates;
• recognize patterns of the word-order.
Listening for Meaning
When listening for meaning, it is necessary to follow 4 main steps:
1. Determine the purpose of listening, bring out background knowledge on the topic for predicting or analyzing what is going to be said.
2. Choose between top-down and bottom-up strategies in accordance to the task (usually those strategies are used together for better task fulfillment).
3. Prepare to pay attention to the important parts and try to avoid concentration on additional details (it is easier done when the text is being listened 2 times: after hearing the text for the first time, the students may decide which parts are more important and what they have to pay attention to while listening for the 2 time).
4. Check the comprehension by doing various exercises and discussing the points raised in the text.