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There is no denying the fact that the ability to learn at least one foreign language is a vital necessity in today's globalized world. Nunan writes: "Language is arguably the defining characteristic of the human species and knowledge of language in general, as well as the ability to use one's first and, at least one other language, should be one of the defining characteristics of the educated individual."
This is corroborated by Ellis who stringently argues about the ever increasing global integration. He claims the world has become smaller, that it has in fact morphed into the so - called "global village". He goes on to claim we are living in an era of immense technological innovation where communication among people has expanded way beyond their local speech.
(Ellis, 1997, p.3)
"Nowadays a foreign / second language forms a permanent part of all types of curriculum, from primary schools to universities. The demands of the contemporary society together with the position of English as an international language may present a reason for learning this language in particular."
Due to the ever increasing demand for foreign languages such as English, more effective learning methods are constantly being created in order to improve students' English skills. The English language teaching profession has, therefore, changed significantly over the last decades in light of innovative communicative language teaching approaches. Training learners to be able to use English for communicative purposes has become the goal. In order to develop communicative competence, learners should master four major skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. However, among the given four skills, it is now generally recognized that listening plays a key role in facilitating language learning. As Rost (1994, p.141-142) points out, listening is important in the language classroom because of providing input for the learner. Unless the student has an understanding of language input at the required level, any learning simply cannot occur. Listening, therefore, is critically essential not only as a receptive skill but also for the developments of spoken language proficiency in general.
In many colleges and universities of Vietnam, listening has played a very important part in learning a foreign language and is recognized as the principle objective of many language courses. However, many difficulties in teaching listening skills in Vietnam in general and at Dalat Army Academy in particular still exist. Vietnamese students can generally write and read English quite well, but they have serious problems with regards to their listening capabilities. There are many reasons for this. After having taught English at foresaid academy for several years, I believe to have discovered several key issues that prevent an improvement of their listening ability. The majority of non- majored military students have never really been taught how to listen to English. They have practiced listening, they have been tested, but they have never been taught or given guidance about how to listen to English. Students, thus, have difficulties understanding the content when listening. They usually fail to comprehend and then give up when they cannot make out what is going on. When they are asked to rank the four macro language skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing in order of difficulty, listening skills is one which is usually put at the top of the list.
Obviously, learners should be adequately supported through various pre-listening activities such as previewing questions, pre-listening to relevant topics, and pre-discussion of relevant topics before listening to the actual text. Appropriate preparation before listening is vital for students' learning in a foreign environment. It is vitally important in order to give them a chance to comprehend the content of the target language. In order to solve this problem, I think that providing listening support such as question preview and vocabulary introduction may be necessary to help students to be more confident vis a vis listening. Thus I have a strong incentive to investigate the effects of two listening strategies - question preview and vocabulary instruction on enhancing listening skills for non - majored military students at ArmyAcademy Dalat city.
To carry out my thesis research, the first step hence is to ask myself the following research questions:
Do two different listening methods influence non-major students' listening capabilities in different ways? If the answer is yes, then which method leads to a more effective comprehension in general?
Does each individual kind of listening method lead to the same effect on non-majored students of different English listening proficiency? If the answer is no, then which method will be effective for high level or low level students?
What are non-majored military students' perceptions of the two methods?
"Listening comprehension precedes production in all cases of language learning, and there can be no production unless linguistic input was provided and became comprehensible intake for a listener."
(Byrnes, 1984, p.318-319)
Contained within the complex structure of language learning, listening is defined and distinguished as one of the four key language skills that decide overall language competence. Each language skill fuses one of two language modalities to one of two processing kinds. The coalescence of one language modality (audiotory or visual) with one processing kind (decoding or encoding) defines each of the four language skills.
Listening is an ability marked by the process of decyphering auditory input. The definition of listening comprehension goes a step further and actually incorporates the process of decoding auditory stimuli by manifesting itself into a mental representation that fuels and interprets the intention of a speaker. In this essay, I chiefly gathered and quoted theoretical literature and ideas or quotation of other authors and sources which are in the widest sense related to my thesis. First, I will focus on possible factors that might affect listening comprehension. Next, I will analyze literature related to two types of listening methods because they are essential experimental variables in this study. I want to know more about the effect of two individual methods of listening strategies on listening comprehension. Next I will delve into previous studies which compared the relative effectiveness of two strategies; the reason hereby is to familiarize myself with what the previous studies have already revealed and also to chart areas requiring further study. Furthermore, I will write about the pros and cons of Listening Strategy Instruction. Finally, I summarize the content of literature and present some ideas to link to the next methodology.
1. Definition of listening
There are many different perspectives regarding the definition of listening.
According to Field (1998, p.38), listening is "an invisible mental process, making it difficult to describe. Listeners must discriminate between sounds, understand vocabulary and grammatical structures, interpret stress and intention, retain and interpret this within the intermediate as well as the lager socio-cultural context of the utterance."
Mary Underwood (1989, p.1) maintains that "listening is the activity of paying attention to and trying to get meaning from something we hear so that the listener must recognize and interpret the other factors which are used to convey the messages".
Listening is theoretically considered as a process in which individuals concentrate on selected area of aural input, construct meaning from passages, and relate what they hear to existing knowledge (O'Malley, Chamot and Kupper (1989)).
Anderson and Lynch (1988) define listening as "the means to immediate oral production, the imitation of spoken forms". Listeners hear the input as well as actively process the message with comprehension in mind. The objective of listening comprehension is to enable the learners to talk and write about what they have heard after listening.
Buck (2001, p.31) points out that listening is an active process of constructing meaning via the utilization of knowledge to the incoming sound in which both linguistic and non-linguistic knowledge is involved. He indicates that "comprehension is affected by a wide range of variables, and that potentially any characteristic of the speaker, the situation or the listener can affect the comprehension of the message".
In short, it can be said that listening is a language skill involving a wide range of "sub-skills". It is more than simply hearing; it is "decoding" sounds and understanding the meaning behind those sounds.(Forseth, 1996)
Factors affecting listening comprehension
In order to augment learners' listening comprehension, it is imperative that we understand all the factors which may affect listening comprehension. According to Boyle (1984), factors affecting listening comprehension can roughly be divided into three groups: listener factors, speaker factors, and factors in the material and medium. Among these, listener factors can be further subdivided into two sections, one being general factors, such as experience / practice in listening to the target language, general intelligence, and general background knowledge; the other being more specific factors like age / sex and educational background, intellectual factors, like knowledge of the target in its various aspects: phonology, lexis, syntax, cohesion, knowledge of the specific topic or subject, memory (short term and long term), and psychological factors, like motivation and sense of purpose while listening, as well as the listener's powers of attention and concentration.
Speaker factors include four important parts. The first is the language ability of the speaker. This means a speaker's English proficiency level is one factor affecting the listener's listening comprehension. Whether the interlocutor is a native or non-native speaker, a beginner or advanced learner can all affect listening comprehension. The second is the speaker's speech pattern including pronunciation, accent, variation, voice, etc. This means incorrect pronunciation, strange accent, and variation of the same word, and different voice (e.g. man vs woman's voice) can impact listening comprehension. The third is speed of delivery. This means that the speed of talking, either too slow or too fast, will impair listening comprehension. The fourth is the social standing and personality of the speaker. This implies that the words or expressions the speaker uses are related to his social background and personality.
Additional factors in the material and medium include four essential elements. The first is the language used to convey the message. The second is difficulty of content and concepts. The third is acoustic environment: noise and interference. The fourth is the amount of external support provided by gesture, visual, etc. (See Table 2).
Table 2: Factors in the literature, as cited in Boyle (1984)
1. Experience/ practice in listening to the target: use of the media (cinema, TV, radio, etc.)
2. General intelligence
3. General background knowledge of the world
4. Physical and educational
4.2 home background, size of family
4.3 educational background
4.4 physical health and alertness
5.1 knowledge of the target language in its various aspects: phonology, lexis, syntaxt, and cohesion
5.2 power of analysis and selection: ability to distinguish between main and supporting points
5.3 knowledge of the specific topic or subject
6.1 motivation and sense of purpose while listening
6.2 attitude of the listener to the speaker
6.3 attitude of the listener to the message: level of interest
6.4 listener's powers of attention and concentration
B. Speaker factors
1. language ability of the speaker: native speaker - beginner - level non native speaker
2. Speaker's production: pronunciation, accent, variation, voice, etc.
3. Speed of deliver
4. Prestige and personality of the speaker
C. Factors in the material and medium
1. The language used to convey the message: phonological features, including stress, intonation, weak forms ( especially in conversation), lexis, syntax, cohesion, etc.
2. Difficulty of content and concepts, especially if the material is abstract, abstruse, highly specialized or technical, escoeric, lengthy, poorly organized.
3. Acoustic environment: noise and interference.
4. Amount of support provided by gestures, visuals, etc.
Above found information indicates that factors affecting listening comprehension are many in number and complicated. Due to time limitation, this study cannot take into consideration all the possible factors affecting listening comprehension. We are thus forced to narrow down the range of possible factors and explore if two types of listening strategies including question preview and vocabulary instruction will mitigate the negative influence from the fast speed of delivery and noise and interference as well as increase the listener's knowledge of the target language in lexis and the listener's powers of attention and concentration. The following two sections are literature reviews related to these two kinds of listening strategies.
3. Two strategies: Question preview and vocabulary instruction
3.1 Question preview
According to several researchers, question preview has positive effects on listening comprehension because it provides useful clues to guide learners in the right direction during the process of listening. (Buck,1991; Cohen,1984; Shohamy & Inbar, 1991) But, other researchers (Ur, 1984; Weir, 1993) disagree. They consider that question preview may change the nature of the listening process itself because the previewing probably disturbs listeners' attention regarding actual input. Buck (1991) conducted an experiment to investigate the effects of question preview on listening comprehension. The researcher compared the questionaire results of subjects who previewed questions with that of subjects who didn't and found out that the former reported they thought previewing questions not only helped them understand better but also made the test itself less difficult. Chen (2004) also conducted an experiment to investigate the effect of question preview on listening performance of junior high school students. His findings indicate the junior high EFL students benefited significantly from question preview. In addition, questionare responses confirmed the positive effects of question preview, which supported the result of Buck's study. Moreover, Chen found that listeners of high and intermediate proficiency levels gained much more assistance from the question preview than did those of low proficiency level. The result also suggests that question preview promotes information prediction and top-down information processing of test takers. I ask myself if the result of non-majored students in this study will be the same in Chen's study. Teng (1999) also conducted a study to examine the effects of question type and question preview on EFL Listening Assessment. The study investigated the effects of question types (multiple - choice, wh-questions, and close items) and question preview on assessment of English-as-a-Foreign-language (EFL) listening comprehension. The test subjects were 90 freshmen at a university, randomly assigned to two groups. One was provided with a question preview before listening to a passage, while the other was not. All of the subjects answered the three different question types after listening to the passage. Results indicated that the subjects had better listening performance while answering multiple- choice questions than while answering other question kinds. Moreover, question preview appears to have facilitated listening performance. Furthermore, additional listening comprehension testing techniques are suggested, including the use of question types with nonverbal response such as multiple-choice questions, having students read questions before the test begins, and designing test questions according to students' listening proficiency. The findings hereby also supported the positive effect of question preview. It also inspired the researcher in this study to adopt multiple choice questions of listening comprehension tests. Building on these results, I would like to determine if previewing questions is the most helpful listening method for non-majored students at Dalat Army Academy.
3.2 Vocabulary Instruction on Listening Comprehension
Rixon (1990) states that "one of the most obvious sources of listening difficulty for a learner of English is the way in which it is pronounced"(p.39) and goes on to say that listening difficulties originate from pronunciation, exemplified by the weak relationship between English sounds and the way they are spelled in written language. Therefore, it is important to reinforce the relationship between sounds and spelling. It inspired the researcher of the present study to encompass spellings and pronunciation teaching in the vocabulary instruction. In addition, Tsai (2005) conducted a study to investigate the relationship between receptive English vocabulary sizes and listening comprehension competence of college EFL students. The result indicated that there were indeed significantly positive correlations between the subjects' performances on the listening and reading vocabulary levels tests; between the listening vocabulary levels test and listening comprehension test; between the reading vocabulary levels test and listening comprehension test.
This provides more evidence that the more vocabulary the learner has acquired prior to listening, the better listening comprehension the learner achieves. It confirms that vocabulary instruction is beneficial for learners. Another study investigated the effect of lexical collocation instruction on Taiwanese college EFL learners' listening comprehension (Hsu, 2005). There were three groups in the study. Each group received three different types of instruction which are single-item vocabulary, lexical collocation instruction, and no instruction in each class. The results indicate that participants got the highest mean score in the comprehension test after receiving lexical collocation instruction. Moreover, the data collected from the questionaires revealed that these participants selected the lexical collocation instruction as the most favored instruction type, and no instruction as the least choice. It provided suggestions for the researcher of the present study to employ lexical collocation to teach vocabulary. Moreover, Chiang (2000) conducted an experiment to study the effect of various approaches to vocabulary presentation on the listening comprehension of university students in Taiwan. The results indicated that giving vocabulary clues in advance could help the listeners to have a better understanding of the texts. Besides, context clues did have a more beneficial effect on listening than did isolated ones. However, there was no difference in terms of the effect of visual and sound clues for vocabulary on listening comprehension. In other words, providing pronunciation of words yielded no better effect in comparison to only providing the visual form of words. The result again supported the view that vocabulary instruction is beneficial for listening comprehension. But the conclusion that visual and sound clues for vocabulary had no different effect on listening comprehension was contradictory to Rixon's (1990).
In order to determine the impact of vocabulary instruction on listening comprehension, I will conduct an experimental study on non-majored students to find out if vocabulary instruction is a better listening strategy than question preview.
4. Studies on Comparison among the Relative Effectiveness of Different Types of listening strategies
Elkhafaifi (2005) conducted an experiment to compare the relative effectiveness of different pre-listening activities and examined whether their effectiveness varied as a function of multiple exposures to the listening passage. Subjects were asked to finish a pre-listening activity (vocabulary preview or question preview) or a distracting activity. The distracting activity asked students to write out the number from one to fifty while listening. The result showed that additional exposure to the listening passage significantly improved listening comprehension performance, despite pre-listening treatment. Moreover, subjects who completed the question preview activity got significantly higher scores than those who completed the distracting activity. In addition, Chu (2004) conducted a study to investigate the effects of vocabulary and question type instruction (similar to question preview) on listening comprehension of EFL elementary school students. The result indicated that the use of vocabulary was most beneficial to students in listening comprehension. The use of question type was beneficial to some degree but not as much as with vocabulary. Furthermore, students had positive response toward pre-listening vocabulary teaching and previewing of questions. But the study didn't examine if different types of pre-listening activities have different effects for different listening proficiency students. It left some space for further study. Chang and Read (2006) also conducted an experiment to compare the effects of four types of listening support (previewing the test questions, repetition of the input. However, the learner's level of listening proficiency had a significant interaction effect, especially for question preview. Vocabulary instruction was the least useful form of support, for any proficiency level. The result was contradictory to Chu's study.
In the context of Vietnam, Le Thi Xuan Anh (2001) revealed that "Listening Strategies" were unconsciously used by Vietnamese students at tertiary level. She realized the relationship between the learners' listening abilities and their strategy choice. Pham Thanh Vinh (2002) investigated the difficulties in listening faced by first-year students of English at Da Nang College of Education. Phung Thi Hoai Thu (2008) examined listening difficulties perceived by teachers and students in using the new English textbook for grade 10 at Que Vo II upper-secondary school in Bac Ninh. It can be seen that most researchers mentioned focused on studying either the general principles for teaching listening skills or the problems faced by learners in learning listening and suggested solutions to improve their listening skill. Besides, their research subjects were mainly students at the tertiary level, not non-majored military students.
After taking a close look at previous studies, I obtained sufficient background information in this field of study. The answer to the relative effectiveness of different types of listening strategies is not systematic and consistent according to different researchers. The question was to which type of listening strategies is the most beneficial in general remains unanswered. Besides, the answer to the relative effectiveness of different types of listening strategies for students at different learning stages (junior, senior high school, and college) is also unsure. Due to the limitation of time and resources, I only choose to conduct an experimental study to determine the relative effectiveness of two different types of listening strategies on listening support on listening performance of non-majored military students.
5. Effects of Listening Strategy Instruction
Listening strategy instruction can not only facilitate learners utilization of the language input they receive but also improve their listening performance (Rubin, 1988; Thompson & Rubin, 1996). It is important to incorporate pre-listening and post-listening activities into listening training. Before listening, instructors can teach learners to plan for the listening task; during listening, instructors can teach learners how to monitor their comprehension; and after listening, instructors can teach learners how to evaluate the method they use to aid comprehension, as well as the consequences of a listening task (Vandergrift, 1999).
Thompson and Rubin (1996) assume that systematic instruction in the use of strategies would improve learners' listening comprehension ability. Therefore, they conducted an experiment to examine the effect of learner strategy instruction on listening comprehension. The participants were students who were taking a required third - year Russian language course at George Washington University. There were two groups. One was an experimental group receiving strategy instruction for two years; the other was a control group receiving no strategy instruction. The strategies taught to the participants in the experimental group including meta-cognitive and cognitive strategies. In the aspects of meta-cognitive strategies, students were taught how to plan for a listening task, for example, deciding how many times to view a particular segment. They were also taught to define the goals of the listening task, for example, deciding what exactly to listen for. In addition, they were taught to monitor the outcomes of the listening task , for example, assessing their comprehension. Furthermore, they were taught to evaluate the listening task, for example, assessing the effectiveness of strategies used.
With regard to cognitive strategies, the participants in the experimental group were taught to predict content based on helpful resources such as visual clues and logic of the story line. They were also taught to listen to the known, such as familiar words and phrases. Additionally, they were taught to jot down words and phrases to determine what they mean and pay attention to information concerning who, what, where, when, and how.
All participants listened to the listening materials which contained segments from Russian television and movies and video segments designed for learners of Russian, from simulated authentic materials. Before the beginning of the strategy instruction, all of the participants were given pretests of listening comprehension. At the end of strategy instruction, all of them were given posttests of listening comprehension.
The results indicated that after strategy instruction, listening performance of the experimental group was significantly improved compared to the control group. Thompson and Rubin's hypothesis that systematic instruction of listening strategies would effectively improve listeners' listening comprehension ability was confirmed.
Moreover, Cheng (2002) investigated the effects of listening strategy instruction on junior high school students in Taiwan. The findings revealed that listening strategy instruction aided students a lot in their listening comprehension; namely, the experimental group which received listening strategy instruction performed better than did the control group which didn't receive listening strategy instruction. Besides, the results also indicated that listening strategy instruction apparently improved beginning EFL English learners' listening comprehension ability. Therefore, it is suggested that explicit strategy instruction not only broadens the repertoire of learners' strategies but also increases the frequency of strategy use. With regard to students' attitudes toward listening strategy instruction, most of them were positive. In addition, students' confidence in their own listening comprehension ability had also been enlarged. Finally, it is suggested that I incorporate listening strategy instruction and listening training into classroom-based teaching in my school.
Huang (2003) also examined the effect of listening strategy instruction for junior high school students in Taiwan. Two classes of 56 students joined this study. One class was the control group; the other was the experimental group. The experimental group received four kinds of listening strategies instruction throughout nine months and finished the listening exercises, whereas the control group finished the same exercises without any listening strategy instruction. The results indicated that listening strategy instruction assisted junior high school students in listening comprehension. Besides, one of the four strategies, called scanning, which means listening to keywords or details, was favored most by students. The other strategy called linguistic inferring, which means inferring meaning according to the context, ranked the second, followed by skimming. However, the experimental group expressed that note-taking was not useful. In addition, the researcher also compared the effect of the statement and the dialogues on students' listening comprehension. The results indicated that the experimental group benefited more from strategy training in the text type of statement and felt it was easier than dialogues. Moreover, strategy training also helped students in the question type of picture identification; they were able to identify the correct picture after listening to a description.
Chien (200) also investigated the effects of listening strategy instruction for industrial vocational high school students. The researcher instructed fourteen listening strategies to the experimental group for nearly one semester, whereas no instruction was given to the control group. The results coincided with Cheng's and Huang's findings. The experimental group became more confident and less nervous regarding listening comprehension tests. They benefited from listening strategy instruction. Moreover, their listening comprehension abilities significantly progressed. Also, the frequency of the use of listening strategy was apparently increased.
In conclusion, listening strategy was not only beneficial for learners of English in junior high school, industrial vocational high school in Taiwan but also for learners of Russian at a university in America. I will, therefore, use the listening strategy instruction to investigate the effects of two kinds - question preview and vocabulary in teaching English listening for my non-majored military students at low and high levels at Army Academy Dalat city.
This chapter has mentioned a general view of some basic theories of two kinds of listening strategies. Besides, this chapter also reflects my own ideas on them. Now we will come to the next part to see what research methodology was used to carry out this thesis.
REFERENCE BY APA STYLE
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