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Listening plays a vital role in daily lives. People listen for different purposes such as entertainment, academic purposes or obtaining necessary information. As for foreign language learning, listening is of paramount important since it provides the language input (Rost 1994:141-142). Without understanding input appropriately, learning simply can not get any improvement. In addition, without listening skill, no communication can be achieved (Cross, 1998). As for that, language learners, especially those who learn English as a foreign language in a non-native setting, find it difficult to acquire good listening skill. This small project is an attempt to identify problems faced by first year-English major students Lac Hong University. This research would concentrate on these matters below:
The way student self-study on their own
The most common problems they encounter
The strategies which help them to get over and succeed in listening
I hope that my research would bring students advantages and development to their listening skill.
Listening plays an important role in second language instruction for several reasons (Rost, 1994). If you cannot hear it well you will find it hard to communicate or perhaps you cannot pass your listening examination for instance. In fact, students often take the wrong way when listening and this leads them to the poor result. It should be noted that the learner’s perception of their listening problem and strategies can affect their comprehension both positively and negatively (Wenden, 1986). Thus, in order to help students get improved with their listening skill, it is needed finding out their listening problems which cause difficulties to them. According to Yagang (1994), the problems in listening were accompanied with the four following factors: the message, the speaker, the listener and the physical setting. Furthermore, a numbers of research have been carried out to pick out the problem in listening. The problems were believed to cause by the speech rate, vocabulary and pronunciation (Higgins, 1995). As Flowerdew & Miller (1996) assumed that the problems of the students were for the speed of delivery, new terminology and concept, difficulty in focusing and the physical environment. As Nguyen Ngoan stated in his article “listening to VOA: advantages, problems and solutions” the students have to face these three problems. First of all, the students find it hard to understand proper names as they have never heard about it before. In other words, they have no background knowledge about what they are listening. The second problem is believed to rise from the unfamiliar, uninteresting and too long listening which makes the students feel strange, discouraged and bored of what they are hearing. The last one is assumed to be about the sound connections and intonation spoken by native speakers with different accents.
The research available on second-language listening comprehension is insufficient. Comparing with other skills, Goh (1997:161) said that “there are fewer insights about the process of listening and the way it is learnt”. Similarly, Richards (1985:189) stated that:” there is little direct research on second language listening comprehension”. As for that, I am doing this research not only to help students in our university with better listening but also to contribute a small part to enrich the listening research which has been done so far.
BACKGROUND OF THE RESEARCH
I. Aims of the study
This research attempts to explore ways employed by students while doing their won listening. It also aims to find out difficulties as well as to provide some recommendation for improvement.
Listening is almost ignored in both secondary and high school, where students spent seven years in English language learning. This results in poor listening skill when they become English major. As compared with other language skill, listening is considered the most challenging subject. Therefore low scores in listening are unavoidable.
III. Sources of study
In terms of the method, questionnaire was employed for this study. Questionnaires, in Nunan’s words, are more amenable to quantification, cheap and easy to answer. They are good ways for collecting information (Cohen & Manion 1989, Weir & Roberts 1994). Moreover, questionnaires considered more reliable ways since they are anonymous and this encourages greater honesty (Cohen 2000:269).
Questionnaire included closed and open-ended questions. The purpose for mixing of both closed and open-ended responses is that the former is easier to collate and analyze and the responses to the later will provide more flexibility so that the respondent can give more accurate answer
The participants consist of 50 freshmen of English department Lac Hong University. As they are in the first year of academic, they experience such problems. It is this stage that students should be equipped with variety of techniques right from their early listening. With appropriate strategies, they will have built up their listening skill by the time.
V. Defining Listening
Listening, as Howatt and Dakin (1974) define, is the ability to identify and understand what others are saying. This involves understanding a speaker’s accent and pronunciation, his grammar and his vocabulary and grasping his meaning
FINDING AND DISCUSSION
I. Students’ learning style
Fifty English major from different classes in the faculty of foreign language in Lac Hong University participated in this research. To find out their listening experience as well as the time students spend on self-study, students are asked to put a tick for their best answer.
Here is the result from questionnaires.
Table 1: Students’ learning style
Q.: questions from questionnaire
a, b, c, d, e: options for each question
The table above shows that 89.5% of students failed their listening tests. This means that the listening is actually an obstacle to students. In fact, to possess a good listening skill, it takes times and effort. However, students seem to spend very little time on practicing home 73.6% (sometimes), 5.2% (never), 10.5% (rarely). Without much self practicing, the students can not approach to any improvement or good result in listening comprehension. Self-study is such a way to succeed in listening. For their improvement, students listen to songs (63.2%), tapes and disks of the syllabus in University (43.4%), news in English (57.9%). However, much practicing would result nothing if the students can not infer the strategies from each listening task. The good outcome would result if students realize and adopt strategies through their practice.
Table 2: Students’ strategies in listening
a, b, c, d, e: options for each question
What students do before listening partially has impacts on their comprehension of the listening text. According to the data which has been collected, 84.2% of the students said that they would go through the questions and guess what the topic about. It is reasonable enough for this first stage of listening. However, the task instruction should be prior to read under any circumstances. As they read them, they know what they are supposed to do and how to giảm giá with that. There are just 42.1% of students taking this first step.
In addition, new words are such matters that prevent students from understanding the text. When encountering a new word, just 10.5% choose to ignore the word and keep on listening, 42.4% try to guess its meaning and 47.4 % feel depressed and can not listen anymore. From this, we can see that lacking of vocabulary could be a barrier to students.
As Hedge (2000:237) pointed out that, instead of listening to every word in their first language, many language learners tend to integrate their linguistic competence, experience and background knowledge to comprehend the text.
In listening comprehension, a good listener will not listen to all the words of the listening task. They may skip any part of it and just focus on the information that they need for their answer. In contrast, most participants in my research consisting of 73.6% agreed that they listen to word by word. Listening word by word or listening for detail, as they think, is very important to get the main ideas. Once they try to comprehend every single word, there is little chance for them to discover the key words which give them clues to understand the listening text.
In our first language, we skim over parts of the message and pay attention to relevant parts only. Thus sentences are not processed word by word and the focus is placed on the ideas behind these words and how these ideas are linked together to draw conclusions. Brown (1992).
II. Problems in learning listening
To identify problems, students are asked to put their answer on as scale of frequency ranging from never to always. Problems are classified into two different categories, namely problems from the listeners and listening materials and equipment.
1. Problems from the listeners
Making prediction what the speaker talk about
Guessing unknown words or phrases
Recognizing main points
Table 3: Statistics about problems from the listeners
The first problem students have is predicting what the speaker is going to say with 68.3% (often & always). In fact, the prediction brings about a number of advantages to students in their listening comprehension. According to Hasan (2000), the problem is believed to cause by the habit of listening to word by word. They do not focus on any particular cues which help them predict what is going to be talked about. However, in every listening task, cues are provided indirectly that well-trained or experienced listener could recognize it naturally. For instance, the title of the task can help learners to guess the points coming next. In addition, prediction can be made by photos, maps, charts or anything that provided in the listening. Besides, making questions relating to the listening topic would keep students motivated and improve their comprehension.
There would be no worry if these questions do not match the next points in the listening task. Creating predictions questions, as Berman (2003) thought, would maintain the students’ focus on their tasks. Furthermore, the answers to these prepared questions in the pre-listening stage could be the actual main ideas of the listening task. In this way, prediction question is such a useful way for comprehension improvement.
The second problem is the limitation of vocabulary power. 89.4% of the participants suffer from incomplete comprehension. Some listeners thought that meaning resides within the unfamiliar words so they need a huge amount of vocabulary. On facing a new word, they tend to find out the meaning rather than infer it from the context (Hasan, 2000). Here are some techniques for references:
The first and most basic strategy is to use the clues which are the words or phrases coming after the unknown words. Nevertheless, students have to make sure that they do not spend much time on guessing the unfamiliar word or they will miss the speaker’s next point. In addition, the speakers may use synonyms, antonyms or appositives to explain the words.
The third problem is recognizing the main points in listening comprehension. If students can not obtain any main points, failure will be an inevitable result. 73.6% of the students can not recognize the main points in a listening because they concentrate too much on listening to word by word. Thus they can not identify the key words or the content words of the listening tasks. However, there are clues suggested by Berman (2000) to identify the main points in listening.
Discourse marker is considered to be the bridge that leads to the points. It is such a natural thing that the speakers often signal the main points with discourse markers. Different markers with particular expressions keep listeners catch up to the turning points of the task. Marker of addition (in addition, moreover, furthermore, etc) announces a modification or an addition to an idea while marker of cause and sequence (because, due to the fact that, as a result, consequently) informs us the reason and the result of a fact or an action.
Repetition is supposed to be the signal of main points. When a word or phrase is repeated for several times, possibly it covers the important points.
The speed of the speech also supplies cues for catching the main points. As a matter of fact, the natural talk is very fast to second language learners so it makes up some trouble to the non-native speaker. Nevertheless, in the streaming of listening students would notice that sometimes the speaker speaks a bit slower and clearer than he did before. This is mostly the points of the listening. It is the chance for students to capture the necessary information in a listening text. Emphasis is a natural factor in speaking so speaker also emphasizes to signal the most significant ideas. What students should do is to pay attention to the speed and the intonation of the speaker and identify the points. As in his books “advance listening strategies” (Berman, 2003) assumed that:
Pace is the speed of speech. Unimportant points or small details are usually spoken more quickly. Important points, such as main ideas, are usually spoken more slowly and clearly.
2. Problems from the listening material
Speed of speech
Table 4: Statistics about problems from listening material
Table 4 shows that unfamiliar topic sometimes bring about a problem in listening comprehension. 63.2% (sometimes) and 36.8% (often and always) of the students have problems with topics which are unfamiliar to them. The listening material may contain a variety of fields in life or society. For instance, it is likely a business report, a daily conversation or a political issue which confuse the listener. These conversations may include words, phrases or terms unfamiliar to listeners. They are totally strange to them so it is such a hard job to listen when the message is full of terminology. The solution is to ask the students to practice as much as they can on these various materials. Therefore, they can get used to listening to the variety of topics without any difficulties.
According to table 2, variety of accents causes difficulties to students in listening comprehension since they do not have much exposure to different accents. The result from table 2 demonstrates that 47.4% and 31.5% of the students experience this kind of problem. For instance, if learners listen to French people speaking English, they will feel hard to understand him or her as they speak English in a native French intonation. For this linguistic feature, students need much more exposing to different kinds of accents. Yagang (1994) assert that the listeners have tendency to get familiar with the accents which they mostly listen. If listeners are exposed to standard British or American accents, they will face problems in understanding other accents.
Besides, it is the real language or authentic material that causes a great difficulty to students. Students have been exposed themselves to materials which are designed for teaching and listening purposes. Therefore, the language in these materials, to some extent, have been simplified and contained less colloquial English. In addition, students in our university mostly learn English with non-native teachers. As for that, if students listen to an informal conversation, it is for sure that it is much harder than listening to a formal conversation used mostly in English classroom. Unlike the recordings in the ESL classroom, the informal conversation consists of a number of words that sounds weird to students. Consequently, they do not know what they are listening to . The real language includes colloquial words, expressions and even slang which absolutely hardly bring the students any concepts about them. McCarthy (1990:15) points out that it takes native speakers years to acquire an acceptable knowledge of collocation. On the other hand, Heron and Seavy (1991) highlight the importance of authentic material for their great improvement in listening comprehension since authentic material related closely to the lives and language variety.
Also, the linguistic features are language barrier to learners. The liaison, the linking of the first word and the word coming right after which begins with a vowel, is claimed by 73.7% of the students to be the most common obstruction in listening since the students are used to hearing each separate word by unit in a sentence and slow stream of listening. Hence, they misunderstand the linking words or they have no idea of the meaning delivered. Another problem in listening is the elision of a sound or exactly a syllable in a word. These kinds of features may be encountered when the message is spoken such a rapid speed mood that the sentences uttered can not be spoken word by word. Thus, students cannot recognize the words that they hear. Liaison and elision, as Yagang (1994) think, are difficulties which listener often face while listening. Normally, they get used to the written words that organized orderly in a textbook. Thus, in the stream of speech, students find it hard to recognize separate words.
In fact, students often try to unlock the meaning by analysis of sentence structure. Unfamiliar structure would be confusion to them. Therefore, there are 47.4% of students who face this problem. Hasan, cited in (Vogely, 1994) agrees that difficulty in listening comprehension is partly due to the structure component of the text. In informal talk, difficulties stern from the ungrammatical sentences or the message is spoken with much hesitation. 78.9% of students think they suffer from this problem. Furthermore, whether it is a habit or not, the adding something or reducing something to a sentence seems to confuse the students. Yagang (1994) also find out that in conversation, ungrammatical structure is used due to the nervousness and hesitation of the speakers. Therefore, speakers may omit parts of a sentence or add something redundant. Consequently, this limits the understanding of the listeners.
The long listening text is supposed to be an obstacle to students in listening claimed by 84.2% (sometimes and often). Actually, if the students do the listening for a long time, they will be under pressure. This will not bring out good result. Furthermore, if the listening text is too long, the listener is required the skill of note-taking. However, the note-taking is not easy for students. Most students find it hard to take note while listening for they are not trained with this skill.
The length of time students listen may cause memory problems or even fatigue and this would distract listeners’ attention from grasping the meaning of the text, and learners may miss the rest of the text when there is a lapse in concentration. This may be attributed to the short memory span for the target language. (Hasan, 2000: 143)
The skill of note-taking seems to be the most useful way when students have to face a long task in listening. This will help students to remember the main points or the precise information. The question here is that how students can write down what they hear as quickly as they could so that they will not miss the other ideas. It is supposed that students should write down the main point. Besides, they should develop their own characters or symbols. This is believed to be the most efficient way when students face with a long listening task. As Berman (2003) says:
Effective note-taking requires that you records information quickly. To do this, good note taker do not write down every word or try to take note in neat sentences; instead they write only key words and phrases. In addition, good note taker use shorthand when they take note. In other words, they use symbols to represent words or ideas. Here are some of the symbols:
> is more than w/ with
= is equal to b/c because
# is different K thousand
Increase / per/ out of
Reduce @ each or
♀ Female ♂ male
3. Problems result from physical settings
Not only the difficulties come from the message, the listener or the speaker but also come from the environment surrounding the students.
Poor tape quality
Table 5: Statistics about problems from physical setting
Table 5 shows that there are 63.1% of students have to face the problem of noises. If the listening task is carried out with noises around, it is for sure they will not have a good result in listening. First, they are distracted by the noise no matter how hard they try to focus on the task. Otherwise, the noise makes a complex of sounds instead of the solo recording being played. This interrupts the students from hearing and focusing on the task.
The problem also comes from the poor quality of the tapes or disks. For example, the cassette may be recorded while there are noises around or the cassette is used for such a long time so the quality is worn out.
The poor equipment is somehow an obstacle to students in listening. For an example, in listening comprehension, it is the best place for students to do the listening in the laboratory room. This somehow will bring out the better result for the noises outside can not get through the lab room. A good cassette recorder or a CD player may give them the better rather than that of the old one.
This research of mine has finished finding the common problems which the students in the faculty of foreign language have to experience in listening comprehension. Based on the fact and figure, a number of strategies are also suggested to help them with better listening. To confirm what have been written above and my ideas about the solution to improve the listening skill of the students, I conclude with these ideas:
Firstly to the students, they should spend much more time on practicing. They should listen to a variety of topics in order to get familiar with them. Hence, the background knowledge will be enriched as well as the skill. In addition, the students should know to apply suitable strategies to each kind of listening text in order to get the best result.
However, the skill of students will not be improved the best without teachers. Teachers play such a significant in building up their skill. By each lesson, the teachers show his students the ways in each stage of listening comprehension. Generally, there are three stages: pre-listening, while-listening and post-listening. Furthermore, he or she will advise their students with the syllabus they can self-study home. In short, this research of mine does not focus on how teachers carry out their lesson but it is a chance to understand more about the student’s problems. As (Willis, 1981) suggested that here are the micro skills that needed in an enable listener:
● predicting what people are going to talk about
● guessing unknown words or phrases without panicking
● using one’s won knowledge of the subject to help one understand
● identify relevant points; rejecting irrelevant information
● retaining relevant points (note-taking, summarizing)
● recognizing discourse markers, e. g, Well, Oh, Another thing is, Now, Finally, etc.
● recognizing cohesive devices e. g such as and which, including link words, pronouns, references, etc.
● understanding different intonation patterns and uses of stress, etc, which give clues to meaning and social setting.
● understanding inferred information, e. g, speaker’s attitude or intention
To conclude, listening is vital not only in language learning but also in daily communication. However, the students seem to have problems with listening. Here are the most common problems collected from the learners: the time they spend on studying themselves is too little to improve the skill, the inappropriate strategies of learner would be a hindrance for their listening comprehension. The problems are also caused from the listening material and physical settings. To acquire an acceptable listening skill, students themselves should have much more exposure to variety of listening. Simultaneously, they should learn the tips or strategies through each of their learning themselves. Teachers play an important role in teaching learners strategies and how to apply them into the listening task. These are suggestion to solve the problems as well as to upgrade the listening skill for students in Lac Hong University.
I am doing a small project entitled “difficulties and strategies inlistening”. This aims to find out the problems that most students face when listening. Hopefully, the findings I get from this project contribute a small part to help you with better listening. I would really appreciate if you spare your valuable time to fill in this questionnaire.
1. Have you ever failed your listening test? (tick out the best answer)
□ Three times
□ More than three
2. How often do you self-study listening home? (tick out the best answer)
3. How do you self-study home? (you can tick more than one)
□ Listen to English songs
□ Listen to tapes or disks of the syllabus in university
□ Listen to news in English
4. What do you do before listening? (you can tick more than one)
□ Go through the questions and guess what the topic is about
□ Nothing to do just ready to listen
□ Guess the content of the listening
□ Ask about the new words
□ Read the task instruction
5. What do you do while you are listening for the first time? (tick out the best answer)
□ Listen to word by word
□ Listen for the detail information
□ Focus on the new words
6. What do you do if you can not understand words or phrases while listening?( tick out the best answer)
□ Ignore it and keep on listening
□ Try to guess its meaning
□ Feel depressed and can not listen anymore
7. How often do you encounter these following problems? ( put a tick in the appropriate column)
Making prediction what the speaker talks about
Guessing unknown words while listening
Lacking of background knowledge
Speed of speech
Recognizing main points
Long listening text
Poor tape quality
The poor equipments
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