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The main purpose of any classroom teaching in English is to improve the communicative abilities of the learners. To improve the communicative abilities, the classroom teaching has to be necessarily skill oriented. English language is widely used for communication purposes and so competence in language skills has become necessary to improve the communicative abilities specially listening, speaking, reading and writing (LSRW).
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Among these four skills, both listening and reading are called as receptive skills or passive skills and the other two skills, namely speaking and writing are called as productive skills or active skills. It is important to note that these skills are interconnected in order to achieve the overall objectives of communication. Every thing takes place and develops within the linguistic, cultural and social boundaries of the concerned society in which the particular language is spoken. It is the curriculum, syllabus; text book, teaching methodologies under the efficient functioning of the teacher in the classroom, those students are shaped in communicative competence.
2.4.1 Listening Skills
Listening is the capacity to process information coming from an aural source. Such information is first filtered by the perceptual processes of the listener and absorbed into the short-term memory. Selected information is then stored into the long-term memory for retrieval at a later stage, if and when required.
Listening is the first and foremost language mode that children acquire which provides the basis for the other language arts (Lundsteen, 1979).
The activity of listening plays an important role in the process of acquiring/learning language whether it is first or second language.
The linguistic items like phonemes, morphemes, lexical items, grammatical items, syntax and semantics are taught to listen in order to develop other modes of language – viz; speaking, reading and writing.
Listening is a conscious act. It is a complex, multi step process by which spoken language is converted into meaning in the mind (Lundsteen, 1979.1) Wolvin and Coakly (1985) have identified three steps in the process of listening which are receiving, attending and assigning meaning. In the first step, listeners receive the aural stimuli or the combined aural and visual stimuli presented by the speaker. In the second step, listeners focus on or attend to select stimuli while ignoring other distracting stimuli in the classroom. In the third step, listeners assign meaning to or understand the speaker’s message.
The Process of Encoding and Decoding
An act of communication requires encoder- the speaker and decoder- the listener. The speaker encodes the concept or message through a set of code. The listener decodes the concept or message from the set of code used by the speaker. That is, on the one hand, the act of encoding involves hearing the sounds into words, words into sentences, sentences into discourses. On the other hand, the act of decoding involves identifying the sounds, understanding the utterances and their meanings, and recognizing the prosodic features like tone, intonation, pitch, stress etc. used by the speaker.
Listening comprehensive process
Richards (1990) draws two way process of listening comprehension; top-down and bottom-up processing. In top-down processing, the listener gets an overall or general view of the text. This is facilitated in the listener’s schemata allow him/her to have appropriate expectations of what he/she is going to come across. In bottom-up processing, on the other hand the listener focuses on individual words and phrases and achieves understanding by putting the detailed elements together to build up a whole (Harmer 2001). According to Harmer it is useful to see acts of listening texts as interactions between top-down and bottom-up processing.
The Speaker-Listener Polarity
For the effective exchange of information, both the speaker and the listener are expected to be equipped with the competence of the language which is used. That is, the same level of competence is expected from the listener and the speaker as well. Any short- coming in the linguistic competence of the listener or the speaker would affect the communication. So, both the polarities should be more or less equally equipped with the linguistic competence of that language for effective and efficient communication.
Types of Listening
Cralvin (1985) (as cited by Chidambaram, (2005) has identified eight categories of listening with due general purpose.
Translational listening-learning new information (speeches, debates, political conventions).
International listening-recognizing personal component of message (new pieces of speech, report).
Critical listening- evaluating reasoning and evidence (news broadcast).
Recreational listening- approaching random or integrated aspects or event.
Listening for appreciation- information, making critical discriminations or selection.
Selective listening- Selecting certain features at a time (phonetic features)
Intensive listening- for details (vocabulary, grammar)
Extensive listening- (general idea stories, rhymes, songs).
Relationship between Speaking and Listening
Speaking and listening are interdependent processes. The activity of speaking requires at least a listener, an individual or an audience. The speaker speaks keeping certain objectives in his or her mind. That is, speaking involves conveying meaning using a code and listening involves understanding the meaning with the help of code the speaker used. If it is a transaction, one way listening, the speaker does not receive feedback, but if it is interaction, two- way listening the speaker receives feedback for the listener. In transactional or conversational discourse, sending-receiving and receiving-sending are alternative phenomena.
Purpose of Listening
While listening to various texts, one applies different skills to process the text, depending on the purposes for which one is listening.
Listening is the only medium through which one access the sounds of a language and all the supra segmental features of the language, such as tone, pitch, stress, pause, etc. Hence, listening is a pre-requisite for speaking and at a later stage, for reading.
Without knowing how a language sounds, one cannot engage confidently in speaking in the language, and without knowing how the sound patterns of the language function, reading its graphics serves little purpose. Teaching discriminative listening helps the learner to comprehend the language.
Listening can be a major source of pleasure and relaxation. Listening to the sounds in nature can be very soothing. Listening to someone reading stories aloud or poem is a pleasurable activity.
Listening is also an important social skill. People listen to allow a speaker to talk through a problem. Children, as well as adults, serve as a systematic listener for friends and family members.
Sub-Skills of Listening
Each skill of language comprises a large number of sub skills, whose value and relevance vary from one situation to another. Rosts (1990) has distinguished two kinds of clusters of micro skills of listening. ‘Enabling skills’ (those employed in order to perceive what the speaker is saying and to interpret what they intended to mean) and ‘Enacting skills (those employed to respond appropriately to the message).
Recognizing prominence within utterances, including:
Discriminating sounds in words, especially phonemic contrasts.
Discriminating strong and weak forms, phonetic change at word boundaries.
Identifying use of stress and pitch (information units, emphasis, etc).
Formulating content sense of utterance, including:
Deducing the meaning of unfamiliar words.
Inferring implicit information.
Inferring links between propositions.
Making an appropriate response including:
Transcoding information into written form.
Identifying which points need classification.
Integrating information with other sources.
Providing appropriate feedback to the speaker (Adapted from Rost, 1990. 152 – 153). (As cited by Chidambaram, 2005).
Difficult Factors in Listening
There are five major factors that researchers believe affect listening comprehension.
Text characteristics (Variation in a listening passage / text or associated visual support.
Interlocutor characteristics (Variation in the speaker’s personal characteristics.
Task Characteristics (Variation in the purpose for listening and associated response).
Listener Characteristics (Variation in the listener’s cognitive activities and in the nature of the interaction between speaker and listener).
Teaching Listening Comprehension
Listening comprehension involves a number of language skills, though the listening may be the specific focus. Teaching listening can be categorized into two modes. The first one is teaching linguistic nuances like phonemic variations, discrimination of similar sounds in words, recognizing word boundaries, recognizing morphemes, distinguishing grammatical and lexical items in a sentence, etc. The second one is teaching how to listen to a context, how to deduce meaning for an unfamiliar word, how to recognize them over a discourse. These two modes are important and inseparable for teaching of listening comprehension. If any shortcoming is found in teaching of either of this mode, its consequences will be seen in other skills of language.
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Testing listening skills
Listening tasks should aim at helping students arrive at the meaning of words and provoking an examination of the given material. The test items include: Dialogue, news, railway announcement, sentence, words, word pairs, numbers, telephone numbers, years, days were used to test listening comprehension of the students understudy. These test items aim at evaluating the ability and skills of listening such as: predicting text based on information, deducing meaning of unfamiliar words, recognizing prominence with in utterance including: Discriminating sounds in words especially phonemic contrasts, phonetic changes, deducing the meaning of unfamiliar words, recognizing grammatical errors in sentences, recognizing word boundaries, etc,.
Here, the emphasis is on the importance of addressing the differences between spoken and written texts in the teaching of listening skills. It is only when learners are aware of the unique characteristics of authentic listening input that they can be equipped with the skills to handle real life communication.
2.4.2 Speaking Skills
Language is the basic form of communication between human beings and in a society. As human beings, they always need communication to express their ideas to do everything; what’s more as students or learners they have to speak to express their ideas to their teacher as long as learning process takes place.
Speech is the first and foremost form of communication. It occupies a predominant position in enlightening the minds of the people. Information is understood and processed easily through speech rather than writing. Speech is biologically endowed behaviour of human beings.
Spoken language has wider range of functions to perform than the written language. They start from casual spontaneous conversations ending with formal speeches and so on. Written language tends to serve rather specialized functions at the formal level.
In the process of learning spoken mode of second language, learner encounters difficulties because of inter and intra-lingual factors, language shock, cultural shock and so on. However, difficulties and problems are inevitable in the process of learning spoken or written mode of the L2.
Process of Communication
Communication is a process of exchanging verbal and non-verbal messages. It is continuous process. This process can be termed as human communication or oral communication. The activities of the communication maintain eco-balance, co-operation, and tolerance and bring the people in a common line.
The complete communication process is the hierarchical arrangement of the various components of communication. They are as follows:
The received message
Message is the key idea that the sender wants to communicate. Messages can be abstract ideas and feelings of speaker who wishes to communicate. Encoder is a person who sends the message in the form of words and gestures. Signal is a means used to exchange or transmit the message in the form of the mechanical impulse. Channel is the medium through which a signal travels. Decoder is a person for whom the message is intended/aimed. Decoder receives communication signals into meaning and ideas. Received message is the result of decoding communication signals. Feedback helps the sender in confirming the correct interpretation of message by the decoder. Psychologically speaking after receiving the message, the nervous system of the receiver is activated and subsequently interpreted and appropriate meanings are assigned to the received codes to make the communication process complete.
The term communicative competence is coined by the anthropological linguist Dell Hymes (1967, 1972). Light (1997. 63 ) has described communicative competence as “Being able to meet the changing demands and to fulfill one’s communication goals across the life span. Communicative competence is the ability to send messages which promote attainment of goals while maintaining social acceptability.
The term ‘all modes of communication'(Hymes, 1962) can further be explained as the language competence that has total comprehension, and total verbal exposition in all modes of society, which includes group interactions – inter-personal interaction involving different dialectal areas. As it is evident from the above, one thinks of two different types of competence, namely grammatical competence and communicative competence.
Grammatical competence is the ability to recognize and to produce distinctive grammatical structures of a language and to use them effectively in communication. Whereas, the communicative competence can be achieved by exposing oneself both to the structure of the language as well as the social behaviour which pivots around certain conventional rules as put forth by the society.
Effective communication depends on one’s ability to express oneself in speech clearly, accurately and fluently. The development of spoken language involves the development of pragmatic usage in addition to the development of pronunciation, constructing words, phrases, sentences and discourses. Discourse in learning of second language plays a vital role.
The stages of learning the speaking skills of L2 are same as learning of speaking L1. The problems encountered by the learners in the process of learning subtle, and detailed knowledge, show the gradual development of spoken language. The purpose of learning the second language fulfills when the learners use language with the real people for real purpose.
Zheng (2004) suggests that communication strategies are feasible and to some extent inevitable for language learners to use in their oral communication. These strategies can enhance language learners’ confidence, flexibility and effectiveness in oral communication.
Tarone (1980. 420; 1983.65) defines communication strategies as a “mutual attempt of two interlocutors to agree on a meaning in situations where requisite meaning structures do not seem to be shared”.
In addition, Canale (1983) and Bygate (2000) argue that communication strategies are used not only to cope with any language related problems of which the speaker is aware during the course of communication, but also to enhance the effectiveness of communication even if there is no problem or difficulty involved in an oral communication. Thus, it can be said that communication strategies are commonly used not only to bridge the gaps between the linguistic and sociolinguistic knowledge of the second language learners and those of the interlocutors in any communication situation but also to keep their talk flowing within their available linguistic knowledge, and eventually manage their oral communication. And also the learners adopt the strategies wherever they encounter problems at all the levels of language like phonological, morphological, syntactical and discourse.
Cook (2001) says communication strategy of L2 learners will enhance the learning; and the learners’ strategy indicates that the learners are encountering the linguistic problems in the process of learning. The learners knowingly or unknowingly use the intra and inter lingual strategies to convey their message to others. By using the strategy they get satisfaction, assuring that they have conveyed the meaning completely to the questions by the researcher.
Learning strategies are defined by Oxford and Crookall as “Steps taken by the learners to aid the acquisition, storage and retrieval of information (404).
Strategic competence is ‘the way learners manipulate language in order to meet communicative goals’ (Brown, 1994, 228). It is the ability to compensate for imperfect knowledge of linguistic, sociolinguistic, and discourse rules (Berns, 1990). With reference to speaking, strategic competence refers to the ability to know when and how to take the floor, how to keep a conversation going, how to terminate the conversation, and how to clear up communication breakdown as well as comprehension problems.
The strategy of learning differs from learner to learner. However Oâ€²malley and Chamot (1990) have defined three types of strategy used by L2 students:
Meta cognitive strategies which involve planning and thinking about learning, such as planning one’s learning, monitoring one’s own speech or writing and evaluating how well one has done.
Cognitive strategies which involve conscious ways of tackling learning, such as note taking, resourcing (using dictionaries and other resources) and elaboration (relating new information to old).
Social strategies mean learning by interacting with others. Such as working with fellow students or asking the teacher’s help.
Strategy – process
Language processing involves the retrieval of words and phrases from memory and their assembly into syntactically and propositionally appropriate sequences. Effective speakers need to be able to process language in their heads and put in coherent order so that it comes out in forms that are comprehensible and convey intended meaning.
Process being used with reference to the systematic series of steps by which the learner arrives at the same usage overtime. Bialy Stock (1978) distinguishes process from strategies by the criteria obligatory/optional. Similar criteria are used by Fravefelder and Porqurer (1979) who classify process as universal, strategies as optional mechanism employed by individual L2 learners. Other researchers also defined process as continuing development involving a number of changes.
In second language research, a great deal of attention has been paid to related area of communicative behaviour. So, this part of the chapter concentrates on communication strategies of the L2 learners. Here, it is a tactic followed by the learners to conceal a gap in their communication. Hence, it is a test given to identify when and how the learners make use of such strategies in speech.
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