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Listening Using Authentic Video for Overseas
Learners of English
By James Frith
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Problems Encountered

While teaching in the UK this summer, it struck me how advanced the students’ listening skills were in comparison to my year round Spanish students who are of a similar general level of English. I did not find it particularly surprising. After all, who has not complained about the listening tasks in text books being too demanding for our poor students learning overseas. And who has not received the response that coursebooks are often written with the student living in the UK in mind. However, I began to ask myself just why these students should have such abilities. The initial answer to spring to mind is that they have much more exposure to English, of which we will discuss more later, but before looking for answers, there were more questions to be asked.

I chose an advanced class who have particular problems with listening tasks and set about doing some research into why this was so. After an informal chat during which they agreed that the sheer velocity of English and the subsequent intrusion of connected speech was their major enemy, they were given a questionnaire (see Appendix A) incorporating ideas from Parrott’s list of sub-skills (1993). The following is a summary of the results.

All of the students questioned stated that instead of trying to understand every word they just tried to understand the message. When it came to problems perceived and aspects of the skill of listening on which they wanted do more work, guessing the meanings of words from context figured highly, as did understanding specific details. Recognising the attitude of the speaker and understanding the main ideas were also mentioned.

In addition to the problems found in listening, the students were also asked about the situations in which they listened in English outside of class. I was surprised to find that although some students were regularly required to use English in meetings at work, the majority of listening took place for pleasure in the form of watching television or films, or listening to music. This lead me to the decision to focus on video as the listening material in my research as it would have been unfair and redundant, in my opinion, to use a resource without visuals when so many of the above mediums of communication involve visual information. Ur (1984:24) goes so far as to suggest that: ‘the speaker is actually visible to the listener in most real-life situations.’ What is more, video lessons, in my experience, generally prove to be highly stimulating (also supported by Ur 1984). I chose to use authentic video in order to include the fast connected speech mentioned earlier. As Richards highlights:

Materials should aim for relative authenticity if they are to prepare listeners for real listening situations. Many current commercial listening materials are spoken at an artificially slow pace, in prestige dialects that are not typical of ordinary speech.

(Richards 1985:203)

Although the situation may be changing, it is still not an ideal one. Finally, in view of the types of listening my students were involved in outside of class, this research is concerned with examining one-way interactional texts, meaning texts where more than one speaker is present and the students are effectively eavesdropping.

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