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1-The importance of listening skill

Mastering the speaking skill of a language like English does not occur just when the learner has an inborn capacity that enables him to speak in a foreign language, but it is also the result of exposuring to that language. In other words; the ability of listening comprehensively to a foreign language is the initial of its mastery. Recent studies push the researcher to clarify the influence of the listening skill on the speaking one, and to show how good listeners are fluent speakers. From the comparison, we come to recognize that the good at listening is the best in speaking. The meant listening is the comprehensive one in which students use their critical thinking. From daily experience, the importance of listening comprehension from teachers’ part is felt because they are aware about that skill. while EFL students are not aware of it due to many weaknesses at different levels. Even if learners try to practice listening, they feel unable to understand the target language used because of natives’ speed of speech, slangs, weak form, stress, and so on. As a result, the learners prefer to be far from practicing listening, as they feel that it is not helpful to improve their speaking. So, the aim of the present review is to make students aware about the importance of listening skill and its different method 1.

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During the learning a foreign language, learners are faced up with a huge number of difficulties. For instance, they find themselves disable to comprehend recorded texts, direct speech, songs, or even dialogues. This is due to many factors such as native speakers’ speed of speech, accent, pitch, and so on. This inability leads to other difficulties in language learning. That is why they are required to be exposed to it by listening. Also listening is considered to be a basic skill in language learning and acquisition, and it is placed at the top of language skills because before you start speaking the language, you have to be exposed to and to get used to it 2.

 

2- Definitions of Listening

In an attempt to gain a broader understanding of listening, various authors’ points of view concerning listening will be considered; after which an overall definition will be given. However, it is important to highlight that no consensus on a definition of listening has been reached as of yet. Some experts in English as a second and foreign language teaching view listening from two distinct perspectives including Listening as comprehension and Listening as acquisition 3.

 

2-1- Listening as comprehension

According to Burley-Allen, listening comprehension consists of “absorbing information from speakers, other people or ourselves, while remaining non-judgmental and empathetic”. Also Purdy defines listening comprehension as the process of assigning meaning to the input (spoken language) received by the brain. Howatt states that listening as comprehension is “the ability to identify and understand what others are saying” which is further defined by the addition that it involves understanding speaker’s accent, grammar, vocabulary, and reaching an understanding. Based on the three definitions above, listening as comprehension can be defined as a process via which listeners receive information from outside world (input), and process it with the purpose of extracting meaning and accordingly, reaching an understanding 4, 5.

 

2-2- Listening as Acquisition

Listening as acquisition deals with “how listening can provide input that triggers the further development of second language proficiency”. Guo & Wills suggest a definition of listening as acquisition that is closely akin to the one suggested by Richards. Listening as acquisition discusses the utmost importance of the input that is regarded as the foundation for the second or foreign language learning. In conclusion, listening as acquisition is grounded on the hypothesis that the main role of teaching listening in English as second or foreign language is to provide students with input which is responsible for acquisition of the target language and its further development 3.

 

3- Historical Consideration of Teaching Listening Skills

Within the past few years, listening comprehension skills have aroused enormous interest of researchers when compared to the other language macro skills 3, 6. Furthermore, as it is reported by different literature on languages teaching, it was not until 1950s that listening comprehension skills were recognized as integral skills of language learning. Here is a detailed account of historical development of listening skills teaching in second or foreign language teaching. They outline the main approaches to language teaching and the role of listening; elaborating on how each one approaches listening activities. Amongst the discussed approaches are grammar-translation approach, the direct-method approach, the grammar approach, the audio-lingual approach, the discrete-item approach, the communicative approach, the task based approach, the learner-strategy approach, and the integrated approach 7.

 

2-1- Grammar-Translation Approach

The grammar-translation approach views language as a set of rules, which when learned, would enable pupils to speak the foreign language. This method comprises two important components, namely grammatical structures and lexis, which educators frequently present to the learner based on their degree of difficulty 8. In this historical period of foreign language teaching, listening comprehension is entirely excluded in the tenets of the grammar-translation approach, consequently it was not taught at all. Briefly, it can be assumed that during the period of the grammar-translation approach, listening skills were not considered as prominent as other skills of the language such as reading and writing, which were the main focus of this approach 3.

 

2-2- The Direct-Method Approach

The direct-method approach is grounded on the hypothesis that pupils would learn easily what is natural, and that an oral way of teaching was appropriate for achieving the desired results 9. In addition, this approach emphasizes the use of the target language as the language of instruction in the classroom, in contrast to the traditional grammar-translation method, where the students’ L1 was used. “Although the target language was used for all purposes in the classroom, there was no systematic attempt to teach listening comprehension or to develop listening skills in the learners”. In this case, teachers assumed that by hearing what was being said in the classroom, students would develop comprehension skills without teachers’ guidance. Although the direct approach does not value listening comprehension in second or foreign language teaching similar to the grammar-translation method, there are some positive aspects in it as the learners are somehow immersed in the spoken language, where possibly and unconsciously they could familiarize themselves with some features of spoken language 7.

 

2-3- The Grammar Approach

The main idea of grammar-based listening exercises is “to analyze the language by its components and reconstruct an incomplete text”. In addition, the rationale behind this approach was that learners would be able to understand speech, if they understood the structure of the target language; therefore, listening comprehension was not in the principles of this approach. This assumption had already been made by the grammar translation method. In this approach, the main listening task that students are given is usually to fill in the gaps with correct words based on the information (input) from the recording. In conclusion, it can be said that the grammar approach does not view listening as a way of developing students’ comprehension skills, but as a technique that could be used only to improve students’ knowledge of the syntax of a language. In addition, it views the listeners’ roles as passive, as it does not give an opportunity to the learners to be critical to what they listen to 7.

 

2-4- Audio-Lingual Approach

The audio-lingual approach can be regarded as one of the aural based approaches. However, it differs from others owing to the fact that it focuses on listening to pronunciations and grammatical forms that are frequently practiced through drilling 10. Furthermore, “teaching of listening comprehension, pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary are all related to development of aural fluency not to the development of learners’ listening skills”. It could be said that the audio-lingual approach marginalizes listening comprehension the same way other approaches do. However, students somehow benefit from the fact that they are exposed to spoken language 7.

 

 2-5- The Discrete-Item

Approach The discrete-item approach tackles the segmental1 and suprasegmental2 features of the spoken language and their contextualization and they are usually dealt with in a well-organized form. In an attempt to make the learners aware of the phonetics of the foreign language, the aforementioned features of speech are usually introduced in the form of drills, and then they are compared to other sounds in the language. The discrete-item approach values listening in second language teaching given that the learners have access to the spoken language in the classroom, which is fundamental in language learning. 1 Segmental Features of speech are “the individual vowel and consonant sounds”. Suprasegmental features are “usually listed either as set of features consisting of pitch, stress, and quality, or define as features whose domains extend over more than one segment” 11. Nonetheless, it uses listening with the intent of improving only some phonetic and phonological aspects of the language, and not developing listening comprehension skills of the learners.

 

2-6- Communicative Language Teaching

According Richards 12, communicative language teaching is “a meaning-based, learner cantered approach to L2 teaching where fluency is given priority over accuracy, and the emphasis is on the comprehension and production of the message”. In the course of second or foreign language teaching, learners are usually coaxed into engaging in dialogues that allow them to use the target language and different skills simultaneously, e.g., listening and speaking. Moreover, the communicative language teaching to listening stresses on information gap activities, where the learners are supposed to involve themselves in interaction with others in order to exchange the necessary information; hence students need to listen attentively to what is conveyed by their peers 12, 13. On the same grounds, Renukadevi argues that in communicative language teaching “the basis for communicative competence is listening as it provides the aural input and enables learners to interact in spoken communication” 14. The emergence of communicative language teaching can be considered as a turning point in the history of listening skills teaching, for it is with this approach that the considerable importance of listening skills in second or foreign language learning begins to be recognized 2.

 

2-7- The Task-Based

Approach According to Brown as cited in Flowerdew & Miller, “the main idea behind a task based approach to developing listening is to make students become active listeners”. Furthermore, he argues that in this approach, learners are usually exposed to authentic materials3, and the topic and input from the recording is used to accomplish further tasks defines authentic recordings as “recordings of people speaking naturally and without the purposes of language learning in mind”. Among the variety of tasks provided in the task-based approach to developing listening are completing diagrams or charts, filling in tables, or drawing pictures 11. Given that the task-based approach emphasizes the use of authentic materials in the classroom, it provides the students with an opportunity to familiarize themselves with prosodic features of speech, which are indispensable in preparing the students for real world communication. In few words, it can be said that this approach carefully underlines the importance of listening comprehension in second or foreign language learning, and it also recognizes the active role of the listener in the course of listening, for not only is the learner supposed to listen and respond, one is also supposed to do something with the information obtained from the listening task.

 

2-8- The Learner-Strategy

Approach The learner-strategy approach stresses students’ autonomy, where learners are given an opportunity to make their own choices regarding listening tasks 11. In addition, this approach helps learners become aware of their own listening strategies and the circumstances under which those strategies are adequate for them. One of the most important aspects of this approach is that it distinguishes between different listening strategies, while intending to develop the students’ autonomy, which is crucial for their lifelong learning.

 

2-9-The Integrated Approach

Teachers tend to use more than one approach to teach listening and other language skills in an attempt to find an effective approach. Flowerdew associate this with the availability of information regarding the skills, and the fact that there are different sources from which teachers can obtain listening materials. This approach, as the name itself suggests, integrates a variety of listening approaches: relates authentic recordings to “a stretch of real language, produced by a real speaker or writer for a real audience and designed to carry a real message of some sort”. A discrete-item-based approach when listening for the sounds of words; a grammar-based approach when completing cloze sentences or paragraphs; a task-based approach when all the exercises build on one another around a similar topic; and a strategy-based approach when asking students to think about how they listen and generate hints on how to listen. Given that this approach attempts to view listening comprehension in different perspectives, and to cover the gaps left by other approaches, it can be recommended as the most effective approach for teaching of listening comprehension 11, 15.

4- Conclusion

In this review, was tried to give a good sight to foreign language learners about the listening skill and its importance in language teaching also in language learning; starting with the explaining the importance of the listening skill for EFL student. We have included this later to show how much both listening and speaking are related to each other. Then some important definition of listening was explained and finally historical consideration of teaching listening skills stated.

 

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