Problematic Listening Comprehension In Language Learning English Language Essay

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ABSTRACT

Listening comprehension is one of the most problematic aspects of language learning. It is assumed that many language learners have problems about listening in the target language. As language learners are unfamiliar with this new listening environment and have limited proficiency about this matter, students have the fear of comprehending the message correctly.

Listening problems can stem from psychological obstacles, insufficiency of grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation knowledge, lack of cultural knowledge, unfamiliarity with spoken language, poor acoustic, poor quality of taped material and choice of inappropriate materials, noise level of the class and teacher's attitudes. From students' perspectives, these listening problems become serious obstacles for their learning process and communicative performance. As they don't comprehend the message accurately, they can't give correct answers. This causes listening anxiety among the students. From teachers' perspectives, teaching listening skills become one of the most difficult tasks. This is because as teachers, we know that listening is a skill which is acquired over time and with lots of practice. Furthermore, there are no rules as in grammar teaching. Based on the above discussions, this study is concerned with listening anxiety of students. Firstly, it explores the reasons of listening anxiety. Next it looks for solutions to overcome this problem. My own students in KaramanoÄŸlu Mehmetbey University are the participants of the research. The data will be collected through triangulation method: classroom observation, interview with the students and questionnaire to the students.

BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY

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Listening is an important skill for successful communication. Effective listening requires a wide range of skills to be used simultaneously. Owing to this, it becomes the most problematic aspect of learning a foreign language. For foreign listeners, there are many problems affecting their comprehension in foreign language. Anderson and Lynch (1988, p.35) define these problems as follows:

-Background problems

-Language problems

-Listening problems

As understood, there are additional problems for language learners while improving and studying listening, so learners feel anxious while listening in the target language. Chastain (1975) pointed that students have the fear of comprehending the message and interpret it correctly since listening is a complex skill. In this respect, listening anxiety causes poor performance and may intervene in successful communication. As instructors are aware of this anxiety, we must take some steps to reduce anxiety of students. Elkhafaifi (2005) emphasized the role of instructors for students to overcome this anxiety and highlighted that instructors can provide comprehensible input and create new opportunities for students to familiarize with tasks. Materials should be prepared on the grounds of their interest, relevance, and importance. Teachers should teach them how to listen more effectively through meaningful listening activities. It is highlighted that developing effective listening strategies is crucial for overcoming this anxiety, so students need to be trained about listening strategies. In a recent study of on FL listening anxiety, Gönen (2009) focused on the relationship between FL listening anxiety and FL listening strategies and pointed that high anxious students generally don't use effective listening strategies and lower anxious students aren't aware of using listening strategies to overcome the difficulties during listening. In addition to use of appropriate tasks and training students about the listening strategies, teachers should deal with environmental factors. According to Anderson and Lynch (1988), listening environment is an important factor for providing relaxing atmosphere. The ideal listening environment must be free from extraneous noise so that students can hear the input adequately and perform in a suitable context.

All in all, reducing listening anxiety is a key factor for effective communication. It is clear that students feel anxious due to factors such as environmental factors, unawareness of listening strategies, incomprehensibility and unfamiliarity of the materials. As teachers, we should be aware of this problem, encourage students to acknowledge their listening anxiety and find a solution.

AIM OF THE STUDY

The basic objective of this study is to define problems of the students in their listening courses, to understand why they have listening anxiety, and to find applicable solutions to these problems. The questions below constitute the foundation of the study.

1) What are the main reasons of the students' failure and listening anxiety in lessons?

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2) What are the possible ways to overcome students' learning deficiencies in listening course?

Research Design

In this study, action research is applied. Students are observed, the problem is defined, possible solutions are produced, they are used in the classes and the results are reflected in this paper. This study took four weeks at school. The present study is a report of actions conducted to improve listening.

Participants

This study consisted of my prep class students in KaramanoÄŸlu Mehmetbey University. There are 59 students enrolling in listening course. This study didn't consider the gender of students. As the main purpose of this study is to overcome listening difficulties students' gender was not taken into consideration.

Instrumentation

Observation, interview and questionnaire were used for collecting the required data in this study. My role in this study was observer, controller, organizer and facilitator.

Observation

I started to observe my listening class after midterm because the students got too low marks in the exam. With the help of this observation I had chance to analyze the reasons of their failure. The students were observed during their class hours; they have two hours of listening course weekly. These observations were conducted to define whether there was listening anxiety. As far as I observed and I talked with the students, I noted some common problems. These were students' negative attitude towards listening course, systematic problems such as voice quality and speakerphones, and being not familiar with a foreigner's talk. I observed the classes myself.

Interview with the students

After I observed the students, I determined some present problems. Then the students were asked about the causes of listening anxiety in lessons. Furthermore, thorough interview they were asked some questions about what kind of a listening course they picture in their minds to feel more confident while learning English.

Questionnaire to the Students

A questionnaire was given to the prep class students in university. In this study, the questionnaire aimed at finding the problems and possible solutions for the current listening problems. As far as I talked with the students, they stated that they were afraid of this course because they totally would hear a different language apart from their native language. After this; students were asked what factors caused listening anxiety. What is more, there were questions to define a useful listening course for them to reduce anxiety and feel more confident. They were ensured their names would not be exposed without their consent.

DATA ANALYSIS:

ANALYSIS OF THE OBSERVATION:

After the midterm I observed prep-class students in order to check their previous knowledge and to check what they remember. Throughout this observation I asked the vocabulary that was dealt before and I also asked short questions about the previous topics. By this way, I aimed to find out what they remember about the vocabulary, the topic. I had observed students for a week.

I observed students in our smart class where there was a smart board as we had the necessary equipment there. The students were not willing to participate in the listening course due to their failure in the midterm. I determined that they had a high affective filter because during class hours they all the time complained about the difficulty of the listening skill. They had a high affective filter. Without changing the listening material we started our lesson. Beforehand I prepared the text of the listening script with blanks in it. Firstly, the students tried to predict the topic. Then we listened the text and students tried to fill in the blanks. The listening text didn't contain any pictures. I had chosen a web site for the listening course but there were no picture stories in this site. So it was so abstract without seeing anything just listening. These were;

-http://www.agendaweb.org/listening/all_levels1.html

-http://www.agendaweb.org/

-http://www.esl-lab.com/

-http://www.elllo.org/

-http://www.cdlponline.org/

-http://www.englishenglish.com/listening_skills.htm

We listened the text three times but the students again complained about the difficult text and the people in the script spoke too fast and there were a problem with the speakerphones. They also said they don't understand the pronunciation and they can't hear the word exactly. They could only fill few blanks. They said they also couldn't understand the general meaning of the text as it was difficult despite the fact that I tried to choose one of the simple ones. They wrote the words what they heard from the speakerphones. The spelling of the words that they filled the blanks with while listening the text was not correct. At last I had to give the correct answers and note them to the smart board. However I asked some comprehension questions about the text but they refused to give answers as they didn't understand the text.

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Next hour I told the students that I would make a pop quiz about the text. In the quiz I asked some questions about the details that we talked upon while listening. Moreover the mentioned vocabulary was included to the quiz. I wanted them to write Turkish equivalent of the words.

After they finished I collected the papers to check the answers. The students answered only a few of the questions. Then we answered the questions altogether. They said when I repeat the story again with my own words they understood it better but they couldn't write correct answers to the questions in the quiz.

After all these I started to focus on the problematic parts of the lesson.

ANALYSIS OF THE INTERVIEW WITH THE STUDENTS:

I observed students and I tried to deal with their inefficiencies in listening. In order to do this I did a written interview with the students in prep-class something like a survey. I wanted them to write the reasons. I gave them papers to state their listening comprehension problems in order to determine the failure in this course and to come up with possible solutions. They wrote their reasons and some of them are stated below:

Question

Students' responses

The reasons of listening comprehension problems:

-The people in the script speak too fast

-Unclear voice

-Unknown vocabulary

-Speaker's accent

-Students' low participation and concentration

-Course teacher's speaking English all the time

-Being afraid of making mistakes

-Difficult course material

-Inefficient grammar knowledge

-Uninteresting listening materials

Firstly I wanted them to write their general thoughts about English. The question was 'why is English important? State your reasons'. All the students who voluntarily chose prep-class were aware of the importance of English. They all believed that English is a worldwide language; it has already taken its place in our lives from technology to the business world. They think that they should learn English in order to keep up with the developments all around the world. Speaking English will be necessary and crucial while entering to workplace. For this reason they stated that before it is too late they have to deal with English as much as possible.

Some of the students wrote about their past English lessons and they complained that they hadn't learned anything. So it would be a good chance to compensate this deficiency with the help of prep-classes. However one of the students said he/she learns English because his/her family wants him/her to do so.

When we look through the reasons that the students stated in the interview, we see different reasons. The first thing they wrote is about speakers' speed, so when they were trying to follow the lines they couldn't understand the meaning of the text. In fact we have some systematic problems related to the speakerphones, the students complained about the unclear voice. As much as possible I tried to select easy listening texts with few unknown words despite these students said that the material was so difficult that they even couldn't understand a single word. Also they said as the material was not interesting and they didn't have popular and contemporary topics they couldn't concentrate on the lesson and they daydreamed during lesson. The students said that they didn't understand the speakers' accent so they didn't participate in the lesson enough. Furthermore; as they didn't understand what was said they were afraid to give wrong answers while checking the blanks of the listening text. Another point that students made clear was their being not so capable in English because of their inefficient grammar knowledge. Lastly the other point they stated was my speaking English all the time. They said sometimes they couldn't understand what to do during the lesson, they needed more clarification.

ANALYSIS OF QUESTIONNAIRE :

In the questionnaire, students were asked to read 12 statements and give answers like 1)strongly agree 2) agree 3)undecided 4)disagree 5)strongly disagree. The responses of the fifty nine prep class students were analyzed.

The first question asked if they find listening course useful. For the first question,45 students find listening courses useful.( 25 strongly agree- 20 agree) The number of the students who disagree or are undecided is too low in total number.7 are undecided ,4 disagree and 3 strongly disagree.

The second statement asked if they find opportunity to consolidate the things they have learnt. For the second statement, nearly 50% of the students agree that they find opportunity to consolidate the things that they have learnt.16 students are undecided.11 disagree is and 2 students strongly disagree.

The third statement asked if they have problems in listening courses and feel anxiety toward the lesson and listening. Their answers indicate that nearly 75% students accept that they have problems in listening courses.(27 strongly agree and 17 agree).5 students are undecided fort his question.7 disagree and 3 strongly disagree with this.

The fourth question is asked to learn if their motivation level is low and they can focus on the lesson.28 students feel unmotivated and they pointed that they can't focus on the lesson.12 students are undecided.19 students answered that their motivation level is high.

The fifth question asked if anxiety in listening courses is caused by the teacher. %65 of the students (20 students disagree and 20 students strongly disagree) point out that their anxiety isn't because of the teacher.11 students are undecided.6 students agree and 2 students strongly agree with this statement.

The sixth statement asked to the participants was that the listening activities are interesting and enjoyable for them. Surprisingly for this question,,40 students answered that listening activities are chosen according to their interest.7 students are undecided and 12 students point out that the activities are boring for them.(2 students strongly disagree and 10 students disagree about this question)

The seventh statement directed to the participants was that their anxiety is caused by difficult and appropriate materials in order to determine how many of them think so.As their answers indicate, 62%of the students agree that they can't participate in the activities as materials aren't suitable for their levels.(20 students strongly agree and 17 students agree about this).13 students are undecided and 9 students hold the opinion that the materials are appropriate for them.(5 students disagree and 4 students strongly disagree).Compared with the sixth question, we understand that listening activities are interesting but not appropriate for their levels.

The eighth statement was that the quality of the taped materials is poor .36 students hold the opinion that they can't hear to taped materials well.(21 students strongly agree and 15 students agree about this). On the other hand, 4 students are undecided, 13 students disagree and 6 students strongly disagree.

The ninth statement was that their anxiety is caused by pronunciation difficulties.66% of the students agree about this statement. (17 students strongly agree and 22 students agree )

They complain about that they are unfamiliar with English sounds.7 students are undecided, 10 students disagree and 3 students strongly disagree.

The tenth state their anxiety is caused by lack of vocabulary knowledge. 46 students pointed that as they don't know the meaning of the words, they can't comprehend well. The level of listening anxiety increases. (21 students strongly agree and 26 students agree about this statement).8 students answered that their listening anxiety isn't because of lack of vocabulary knowledge.(7 students disagree and 1 student strongly disagree)

The eleventh statement is about their anxiety is caused by difficulty in understanding grammar and syntax of English. As understood from the responses of the students, 28 students hold the opinion that grammar and syntax are unfamiliar, their comprehension of messages is poor.(17 students strongly agree and 11 students agree about this statement).14 students are undecided,14 students disagree and 3 students strongly disagree about this statement.

The twelfth statement was that they are afraid of making mistakes and refrain from friends.14 students pointed that they withdraws or avoids social interactions in the classroom.10 students are undecided, 35 students disagree about the statement.

ACT ON EVIDENCE:

During this study I tried to change the variables that the students complained about but of course it was not possible to change all of them and satisfy all the students. I changed the web site that we used for now, I tried to fix the voice quality of the speakerphones, and also I benefited from pre and post listening exercises.

Before changing the web site we were using are stated below;

-http://www.agendaweb.org/listening/all_levels1.html

-http://www.agendaweb.org/

-http://www.esl-lab.com/

-http://www.elllo.org/

-http://www.cdlponline.org/

-http://www.englishenglish.com/listening_skills.htm

Nearly all the students had complained about uninteresting listening subjects and they found the listening texts too childish. As I learned this from the written interview done before, the first thing I focused on was the web site. In some the pages stated above the voice was unclear, in some of them the speakers had instead of standard English a different accent. Also the recording was not good enough to understand.

I searched many web sites on the internet at the end I decided on this web site;

http://www.oup.com/elt/global/products/englishforlife/beg/b_stories/

http://www.oup.com/elt/global/products/englishforlife/elem/b_stories/

Here in this page there are different parts and listening part is focused on separately. In English for life part there are stories about real life and they are ordered according to the learners level. We started with beginner level stories. There are episodes in these stories and the episodes are linked to each other with the storyline. The students feel as if they were watching a soap opera. As an example I wanted to share one of the episodes of the story and I try to explain how we go through during the lesson;

That's Life! Episode 1

Test your memory/ Test your listening

1) Read the gapped story and guess the missing words.

Complete the 'guess' part of the table.

2) Listen and complete the 'listen' part of the table.

3) Read the full story and check your answers.

Word

Guess

Listen

1

2

3

4

5

Here in the first part the students read the story and try to guess the blanks and they write their guessing to the guess part. As the students read the story with blanks they try to understand general line of the story and we talk about the story, the people in it, and the place. The students are made to listen the text for three times in order to get clear understanding and they try to focus on the missing words and their spelling.

Ryan: 1…….. ! Lucy!

Lucy: Hello Ryan. Tea, 2……… . No….coffee.

Ryan: Sure?

Lucy: 3……..

Ryan: OK. Here you are.

Lucy: 4………you.

After listening the text we check the answers together. We highlight the unknown vocabulary and practice their pronunciation and note the words to the board. Then two students practice the dialog as a conversation. After finishing while listening part we check the vocabulary again and we talk about the story and we try to guess the coming storyline.

Moreover, as I wanted to guarantee that all the students thoroughly understood the text, I applied them a short comprehension questions consisting of five questions to check the meaning of the text.

We had our listening course with this story for nearly two weeks. The students were satisfied with the ongoing lesson.

Every week when the students come to the lesson we remember the story again. I check the students' comprehension with pre and post tests. Before listening the text, we try to remember the previous week's vocabulary. I made the students note down the words that they had in their minds on a piece of paper, then change the paper with their classmates and check the meanings of words whether they are correct or not.

For the remaining two weeks to the final exam I wanted the students to make something different. We watched a trailer of a film from a web site. The trailer was shown in this web page and after that there were comprehension tests. After watching it the students tried to answer the questions as much as they understood from the part. They liked this activity because the trailer was not boring and it caught their attention. Then we talked about the film and I asked them whether they watched it or not. Also we talked about the daily conservation of the actors and actresses.

For the next week I wanted them to prepare their own trailer and present it in front of the class. Firstly, they refused to do so as it was difficult to speak English in front of their friends and they were afraid of making mistakes. I convinced them to prepare their trailer and I wanted them to write a summary of the film with their own sentences. Not all the students were willing to take part in this activity but some of them were. Next week some of the active students prepared their presentations and they presented their slight show in front of the class with the help of the smart board. At the beginning despite their complaining, they enjoyed doing such kind of an activity.

INTERVIEW AFTER ACTING:

I asked the students whether the listening course was beneficial for them or not. Nearly all the students attending to the lesson regularly told me that they liked the way of studying listening course. They said that the voice quality was much better when compared with previous courses. They had more chance to do practice on spelling and pronunciation. They said they had learned many new words and formulaic chunks form the speakers' daily conversation. In previous class hours they were afraid of taking this course but then they stated that they were more sympathetic towards listening.

Besides these, the students mentioned that as they actively participated in the lesson they had a lower affective filter.

CONCLUSION

This study is conducted to determine the reasons of listening anxiety and their failure in listening courses. This study also aimed at finding possible solutions for reducing anxiety of students and their failure in listening courses. Considering the findings of the study, it can be said that inappropriate choice of material, unfamiliarity of the spoken language, poor quality of taped materials, fear of making mistakes and lack of grammar and vocabulary knowledge lead to listening comprehension problems and listening anxiety. This study gave an idea about how to solve listening comprehension problems. The findings of this have put forward that the use of appropriate materials with visual aids such as photographs, videos, and variety of tasks like listen and complete, listen and discuss helped students to focus on the lesson. The quality of new taped materials were checked and used in classroom for three weeks. With the use of good quality of materials, students felt relaxed, heard the speakers in clear tone, comprehended better and participated in the activities. In addition to non participatory activities such as listening to tapes, participatory activities like preparing projects with peers, participating in discussions were organized, so they had opportunity to practice English and feel more secure. It is clear that changing some variables in this classroom worked and reduced listening comprehension problems and anxiety in this respect.