Listening in Real Life
In the past few years, Francisca has been teaching the same groups of students belonging to the same cohort for two to four consecutive semesters. This has given her opportunities to watch them develop their listening ability in the context of listening courses that aim mostly for successful completion of comprehension exercises. To her dismay, her students’ listening ability has grown very slowly over the years, regardless of the fact that they have passed four listening courses.
In Francisca’s listening classes, there are times that the lesson did not go the way she’d planned. For example, one day in her advanced listening class, the topic was about the Bosnian war of the early 1990s. After completing some prelistening activities to activate their background knowledge, the students listened to some people sharing stories of how they survived the war. As they did not find the stories relevant to their lives, they did not respond well to the classroom activities. Moreover, they found the recording difficult to comprehend due to the “foreign” accent of the speakers.
Another day in Francisca’s intermediate listening class, a handful of students dominated the class because they knew the answers to the comprehension questions; the others, however, were confused and unable to answer any of the questions. It seemed that the audio recordings were too fast for most of them that day, and they could not catch the native speakers’ speech rate. When she offered to play the recordings once more, they all said yes, but even then, the texts were just too challenging for them.
Some days, Francisca’s students really enjoyed the lessons. For instance, one day in her elementary class, her students listened to the recordings attentively. They did their worksheet dutifully without too many problems, because the topic was familiar and exciting, and the recordings were clear and slow. The class ended quickly because they enjoyed what they were doing.
These illustrations reveal many points that Francisca has found challenging. Her classes are heterogeneous, and she finds it hard to differentiate instruction, so the same materials are used by learners of various levels. Thus, they do not fit everyone’s level of proficiency. Consequently, her students often fail to comprehend spoken texts because the second language (L2) input is beyond their comprehension level as a result of unfamiliar topics and accents, fast speech, unknown words, or unfamiliar topics . The focus of all of the listening courses is on intensive listening practice, so learners have limited exposure to spoken text in the L2 and are required to move very quickly from one topic to another because they have to follow the syllabus. They do not listen to texts that fit their levels, needs, and interests. It is, thus, not surprising that their listening skills and proficiency develop very slowly throughout their study.