The Listening Skill – Part 1

Listening is an essential area of development in both native and second languages. It’s a very challenging skill for students to develop, yet one of the most important.  Scarcella and Oxford (1992: p. 138) state that “listening is the process of receiving, attending to, and assigning meaning to an aural stimuli”. So listening is a complex problem-solving skill. It is more than a perception of sound. Listening requires comprehension of meaning. “Effective listening sharpens thinking and creates understanding”.

Listening in L2 includes getting used to a variety of accents, the possibility of acquiring language subconsciously, and the fact that students improve listening through practice

Students and teachers agree that many students’ level of listening comprehension is far lower than any other linguistic skill they possess. By developing their ability to listen well, we develop students’ ability to become independent learners, as by hearing accurately they are more likely to be able to correct their own pronunciation, reproduce accurately, refine their understanding of grammar and develop their own vocabulary.

A relatively standard format for listening lessons was to begin with some sort of pre-teaching of the context of the listening and some of the vocabulary contained within the text, listening to the text (usually twice), and answering some sort of comprehension questions. This model of lesson focuses on product rather than process. ‘How’ a student arrives at an answer is nowhere near as important as what the answer is.  If we don’t focus on how a student gets an answer to a listening comprehension question, then how do we as teachers assist students who don’t get the answer in the first place?

Furthermore, most listening materials also contain non-authentic texts.  A case can be made for the argument that fully authentic, naturally spoken English would be incomprehensible to average elementary level students. Students need to listen to material that is not fully authentic in terms of its ‘connectedness.’ However, it is also not helping students to listen to something that, for comprehension purposes, is completely divorced from natural speech.


I believe learners need exposure to the listening skill to develop confidence, thus becoming better speakers. Listening skills are as important as speaking skills. We cannot communicate face-to-face unless these two skills are developed in tandem. Rehearsed production is useless if we are unable to respond to the reply from our interlocutor. It is mostly a reciprocal skill, as we cannot practise listening in the same way we rehearse speaking, because we cannot usually predict what we’ll have to listen to.

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Stephen Greene
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Roseli Serra

Roseli is an enthusiastic educator in Brazil. Graduated in English and Portuguese, she works as an ELT consultant, teacher trainer, materials writer, Cambridge examiner and e-moderator. She's a member of the IATEFL LT (Learning Technologies) subcommittee and works, teaches and trains professionals in the area of TD and LT. She’s also a psychologist, a mentor and a coach certified by SLAC (Sociedade Latino Americana de Coaching). She has a post-graduate degree in Applied Linguistics and is now doing her MA studies in Science of Languages at UNICAP (Universidade Católica de Pernambuco). She truly believes in life-long learning and teacher development.

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