This article is a part of a large project “ Study on factors which constrain learners’ listening comprehension in English” funded by Shanxi Scholarship for overseas Scholars.
The Use of Authentic Materials in Teaching EFL Listening
Ji Lingzhu and Zhang Yuanyuan, China
Ji Lingzhu is an Associate Professor in Foreign Language Department, Taiyuan Normal University, Shanxi, P. R. China. E-mail: email@example.com
Zhang Yuanyuan was previously a student in Taiyuan Normal University, Now she is part-time teacher in a language training school. At present, she is in the course of completing her MA for English language teaching. )
Advantages of using authentic listening materials
Factors to consider when selecting authentic listening materials
Applying authentic materials
The teaching of listening comprehension in EFL instruction has received more and more attention in the EFL circle in recent years. Many researchers and classroom teachers are doing research to find out what listening comprehension in the target language is, and to solve the learners’ problems in English listening comprehension. Selecting the suitable listening materials is one important research branch. Because authentic materials –unsolicited, spontaneous, natural and covering a wide spectrum of styles from formal to very informal, can truthfully reflect the real life language, narrow the distance between the learners and the target language used in reality, it becomes increasingly attractive to language experts, classroom practitioners and the learners. The present paper tries to discuss how these materials can be effectively used in listening teaching to improve students’ true listening ability in English.
Compared with foreign language teaching as a whole, listening teaching in the target language appeared much later. It first appeared in the Cambridge ESOL FCE exam in 1970, in the form of written texts read aloud. In the early days of English language teaching listening chiefly serves as a means of introducing grammar through model dialogues. It was not until the late 1970s and the advent of the communicative approaches that the skill was first taught in its own right. The researchers and teachers tended to do more research into reading, writing and speaking rather than listening. They often considered that listening was something which could be picked up easily and saw little need for developing a specific research agenda or approaches to teach listening. As a result, listening remains very under-researched.
Listening is drawing more and more of people’s attention in recent years. People recognized its important role in the language learning and communication in the target language. In the 1980s, Krashen came up with his Input Hypothesis which emphasizes the importance of listening comprehension. And more and more books on listening, both practical and theoretical, especially dealing with listening skills, have been published. Listening has been given an unprecedented attention. Under this background, a considerable amount of research has been done into listening materials.
Many published listening textbooks in China, at present, often include the recorded materials of written language. These materials are usually extracted from written articles in Standard English. There are rarely any “noise”, mispronunciation, misused words, and the intonation is always smooth and monotonous. Besides, many textbooks were compiled years ago, and there isn’t any change in a long period of time. As a result, the content of these materials is outdated with no contact with the life reality. Let’s take one of our textbooks for example, Listen to This, ( He etc. 1993 ) for example. It was published in the year of 1993 and most of the content and situation covered was in the mid-1980s . Students will feel bored if they always listen to the outdated materials, whose content is far away from their real life. The types of the materials don’t vary very much. In most cases, what students listen to is conversations and stories, but in reality they listen to far more things. The listening exercises, which are often prepared in advance and are often in the forms of true or false questions, multiple—choice and short question answering, are usually recorded on the tape, and don’t provide students with the kind of practice needed. Conducting this kind of class is an easy job for teachers, but it does not provide learners with realistic preparation for real life listening. If students get used to this kind of slow and clear English, they will find it hard to communicate with English native speakers in real-life listening, because they may fail to follow the speed of speech and to understand the idioms and slangs used by native speakers. Many classroom teachers turn to the authentic materials for help. They are trying their best to equip learners with limited target language knowledge to meet the challenge of real life listening.
The notion of authenticity has been much discussed. Marrow’s definition will serve us well. He relates it to “a stretch of real language, produced by a real speaker or writer for a real audience and designed to carry a real message of some sort.”(1977:13) Harmer (1983:146) says that authentic texts (either written or spoken) are those which are designed for native speakers: They are real text designed not for language students, but for the speakers of the language in question. Nunan (1989:54) thinks that a rule of thumb for authenticity here is any material which has not been specifically produced for the purposes of language teaching.
Based on these definitions, we can find the real meaning of authentic materials: they are real language; produced for the native speakers; designed without the teaching purposes. In this sense, there are a large amount of authentic materials in our life such as newspaper and magazine articles, TV and radio broadcast, daily conversations, meetings, documents, speech, and films. One of the most useful is the Internet. Whereas newspapers and other materials date very quickly, the Internet is continuously updated, more visually stimulating as well as interactive.
If we want to introduce authentic materials in language teaching, we need to classify them first, because some of them are suitable for the teaching of reading and some are effective when prepared for the teaching of listening and speaking. According to Gebhard (1996), authentic materials can be classified into three categories.
- Authentic Listening-Viewing Materials: TV commercials, quiz shows, cartoons, news clips, comedy shows, movies, soap operas, professionally audio-taped short stories and novels, radio ads, songs, documentaries, and sales pitches.
- Authentic Visual Materials: slides, photographs, paintings, children’ artwork, stick-figure drawings, wordless street signs, silhouettes, pictures from magazine, ink blots, postcard pictures, wordless picture books, stamps, and X-rays.
- Authentic Printed Materials: newspaper articles, movie advertisements, astrology columns, sports reports, obituary columns, advice columns, lyrics to songs, restaurant menus, street signs, cereal boxes, candy wrappers, tourist information brochures, university catalogs, telephone books, maps, TV guides, comic books, greeting cards, grocery coupons, pins with messages, and bus schedules.
Here, we mainly focus on the authentic listening materials. In literature, phrases like “real speech” “the spontaneous speech” “live or natural language” “genuine instanced of language use” “natural conversation” “what people say in real life” “what native speakers say when talking to each other” have been used to define authentic listening material. The present author thinks the suitable definition should be that authentic listening materials is unscripted, natural and spontaneous spoken language materials, such as interviews, lectures, dialogues, discussions, and conversations etc.
A. Exposing students to the real language
Compared with inauthentic listening materials, authentic listening materials have the advantage of exposing students to the real language—language used in real life. This can be seen clearly by looking at the different features of the two kinds of materials. According to other people’ research, these different features can be summarized mainly into four aspects.
1. Different redundant features
We know that in the ordinary conversation or authentic listening material speakers tend to say a great deal more than would appear to be necessary in order to convey his message, which appears less in inauthentic listening materials. This is called redundancy. Ur (1984) clearly describes the features of redundancy as redundant utterances which may take the form of repetitions, false starts, re-phrasings, self-corrections, elaborations, tautologies and apparently meaningless additions or fills such as I mean or you know, well, err. Because of the occurrence of these redundancies, the authentic listening materials are often not well organized. Speakers tend to hesitate, to go back to the beginning of an idea and start again, to repeat themselves, to produced ungrammatical utterances, to change their minds in mid-sentence and go off at tangents. The following extract from the utterances of a pop singer may show many of the characteristics of redundancy:
“Yes, um, it, it, it’s very demanding, um, it’s probably like a, an executive job, um, where you can’t come home at a certain nine-to-five, you can’t spend a lot of your time with people around you, you feel detached because you know, it’s like, I, I... I don’t necessarily have a schedule, I might work weekends, um, but... I don’ t actually mind, but it’s like your family, your boyfriend, or your husband, or whatever, they can’t go to see you, it’s like last night, I, er, it’s like I was suppose to be going out to dinner with the old friend, you know with some old friends, and, I ended, I was still at the studio, and I said, oh I should be finished around seven, and of course eleven o’clock came, and I was still at the studio, and everybody was raving mad, and I got there while the...everybody was getting ready to leave the restaurant... Things like that does happen, you know you can’t, you...you are not tied to that, and because of that sometimes you feel you can’t do things that other people, nine-to-five, can do. You might have a day off at Tuesday, and all your nine-to-five friends have got to get up to work, so they don’t necessarily want to go out on the town the way you might want to on a Saturday, and so you find that a lot of the time, to fit into this you’re fr...you, you change, and because their schedules all fit yours...”
(Harmer and Elsworth, 1989:75)
The following forms of redundancy occur in the above extract:
- Tautology: you know
- Hesitation (filled pauses and empty pauses): um, er...
- False starts: while the ...everybody; you’re fr...you, you change
- Repetition or stutter: it, it, it’s; I, I, I...
- Self-correction; you can’t, you...you are not tied to that
By comparison, many inauthentic listening materials show nothing of these forms of the redundancy as shown in the above extract.
2. Different grammatical features
The differences in grammar between authentic and inauthentic listening materials can be reflected in the differences between the spoken language and written language. Brown and Yule (1983) summarize these as : a) most speakers of English produce spoken language which is syntactically very much similar than the written language(e.g. few subordinate clauses);b) speakers often use incomplete sentences; c) the vocabulary of spoken language is usually much less specific than that of written language; d) interactive expressions like well, oh, uhuh features are used in spoken language; e) information is packed very much less densely in spoken language than written language. This means that the vocabulary used in authentic listening materials is different from that used in the inauthentic listening materials. The former tend to use the general nouns, thing, person, animal and the verb get, do, make, have, etc. and conjunctions and. It also tends to use colloquial vocabulary. In addition, in the natural communication, the speaker pays less attention to the cohesions and always uses the ungrammatical structures. Sometimes, the referents of cohesive markers such as this, these, and you are omitted in speech. For example,: “well you know, there was this guy, and here we were talking about, you know, girls, and all that sort of thing ...and here’s were what he says...”(Richard, 1983:226)
If we compare the following two extracts A and B, it is not hard to see some of the differences in grammar between spoken language and written or between the authentic listening material and the inauthentic listening material. Extract A is from an authentic interview taken from Listen to This, book2, Teachers Book. ( He etc.1993 ), and may show some of the ungrammatical features of spoken language or the authentic listening materials, while extract B is from the existing textbook Step By Step 2000, book 2, Teachers Book. (Zhang, 2001:80),and may show the grammatical features of written language or the inauthentic listening materials:
Interviewer: ... Mrs. Bradly, you and your husband smoke cigarettes I see. What about cigars ...a pipe ... do your husband...?
Mrs. Bradly: Oh he’s never smoked a pipe. He’s is the restless, nervy type. I always associate pipe-smoking with people of another kind...the calm contented type... As for cigars I suppose he never smokes more than one a year-after his Christmas dinner. Of course I only smoke cigarettes.
Interviewer: Right. Now let’s keep to you Mrs. Bradly. When and why –if that’s not asking too much-did you begin to smoke? Can you remember?
Mrs. Bradly: Yes... I remember well. I’m third-two now...so I must have been...er...yes...seventeen...when I had my first cigarette. It was at a party-you know- at that age you want to do everything your friends do. So when my boyfriend-not my husband-when he offered me a cigarette I accepted it. I remember feeling awfully grown-up about it. Then I started smoking...let’s see now...just two or three a day... and I gradually increased.
He etc. 1993:82
Nearly all the sports practiced nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do you utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up slides and no feeling of local patriotism involved, it’s possible to play simply for fun: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in school football match knows this. At the intermediate level, sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behavior of the players but attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe-at any rate for short periods-that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.
The following is the result of the comparison of the above two extracts:
Incomplete sentence: What about cigars ...a pipe ... do your husband...?
Interactive expressions: you know; let’s see it now
Full of completed sentences
No interactive expressions
3. Different stylistic features
Just as we mentioned, the authentic listening material contains elements of natural and spontaneous spoken language, which seems variable, and is very different from one dialect area to another and very different from people of different identities. We may see the varieties of real and spontaneous spoken language from the following example (spoken by the landlord of a Cambridge pub in England, who has a southern English accent):
“the man you have to watch is the one who becomes quietly belligerent, and you sort of take him gently by the elbow to lead him to the door and the next thing you know is thump-you’ve been you’ve been landed one, and of course without warning you have to collect your senses pretty quickly before he lands you another one!”
(Harmer and Elsworth, 1989:75)
Looking at the underlined parts we can see the informal form (you sort of take) and some idioms and slang in the speech of the pub landlord which is consistently with his identity: to land one in you’ve been landed one and he lands you another one is a slang meaning to hit somebody. However, the inauthentic listening material that has the characteristics of written language does not change very often.
4. Different environmental features
Authentic listening materials have background noise while inauthentic listening materials have no background noise. According to Ur (1984), “Noise” is the opposite of redundancy. It occurs when the listener cannot receive or understand information because of interference. “Noise maybe caused not only by some outside disturbance, but also by a temporary lack of attention on the part of the listener or by the fact that a word or a phase was not understood because it was mispronounced or misused or because the listener simply do not know it. In any case, a gap is left which is filled, as far as the listener is concerned, by a meaningless buzz”. In an informal conversation the listener may request a clarification and redundancy may often help him to construct the meaning. However, the inauthentic listening materials are all graded to suit the level of the foreign language learners without any “noise”.
We can see that authentic listening materials reflect the naturalness of spoken language, which can narrow the distance between the learners and the actual social reality. If students constantly receive the authentic listening input, they will find it easier to communicate with native speakers in real life, and their true listening ability can be developed.
B. Stimulating students’ motivation
Authentic listening materials, especially the current popular ones such as clips from media always dealing with topics that are familiar to students and relevant to their personal experience, hence, have been found appealing. Introducing and utilizing natural materials can be a very meaningful experience for students and can capture the interest and stimulate the imagination of students. So students will be more motivated to learn. (Ma, 2005)
C. Accumulating students’ knowledge
Authentic materials contain quite an amount of information covering almost every field of human life. Therefore, applying such materials in language teaching can provide students opportunities to accumulate their world knowledge.
A. Learner’s language proficiency level and the linguistic demands of the listening text Teachers need to bear the following questions in mind:
- Is the critical vocabulary in the recording (words central to an understanding of a topic) likely to be familiar to the listener?
- To what extent does the task rely upon the ability to decode the linguistic content?
- To what extent can the task be achieved without a full understanding of the linguistic content?
Learner level is an important factor in selecting authentic listening materials. According to Driven (1981), spontaneously spoken language is too complex to be introduced in the classroom in the first stage of foreign language learning, but in the second or intermediate stage of foreign language learning, all the factors of the spontaneously spoken language come into action. So for the lower level learners, we should provide easier materials such as the short headline type reports, audio and radio advertising, or short news broadcasts or children’s songs.
For the intermediate levels, there is a wider range of choices. Four or five minutes TV or radio news reports, the slightly adopted movies, or even whole TV programs can be included. As for the advanced level students, they have learned the target language for years and have the ability of dealing with the possible difficulties with their linguistic competence and world knowledge. Teachers now can choose some political speeches, ceremonial formulae, gossip, family quarrels etc. as the teaching materials. These materials are either very formal (ceremonial formulae, political speeches) or fairly informal (gossip, family quarrels), which are considered very difficult for foreign language learners.
B. Learners’ interest and the intrinsic interest of the topic
Teachers have to think how easy it is to create interest in the topic at a pre-listening stage and how familiar the topic is to the students. Learner’s interest is another important factor that should be taken into consideration when selecting authentic listening materials. An applied linguist once said that it’s no good trying to get your students fascinated by a text on the latest art movies if they are all fans of action films. You might as well save your time and energy and just use the textbook. So it’s necessary for teachers to know students’ likes and dislikes on listening materials and it’s wise for them to make a survey among students before the selection. For example, the teacher gives each student a form like the following one, and asks them to fill it, and then makes a summary of the survey. In this way, the selected materials may be accepted by most of the students and successful listening teaching may achieve.
C. Cultural appropriateness
If there is any cultural specific content in the recording,, the teachers should consider whether they can reduce its comprehensibility to the listeners from other cultural backgrounds or whether it can potentially cause cultural offence.
D. Cognitive demands
How complex are the ideas in the recording? How dense are they? How complex are the relationships between the ideas? How complex is the overall argument structure
Can you design any learning tasks based on the text to ensure the learners’ comprehension? There are other factors need to be considered: the information density, the accent, the speed of the speaker, the relevance of the listening material to the syllabus and the students etc.
Authentic materials have many advantages compared with inauthentic materials. However, it does not mean that choosing and using appropriate authentic materials in listening teaching can really improving students listening ability. The most important thing is what kinds of methods are adapted to utilize these materials. As for the question of utilizing, different people have different opinions. According to many researchers and my own studies, I think the following ways of using authentic materials are effective.
A. Integrating target culture with language teaching
Language and culture are closely related with each other. Language is a part of culture and plays an important role in it. On one hand, without language, culture cannot be transmitted. On the other hand, language is influenced and shaped by culture. Language and culture interact with each other and the understanding of one influences the understanding of the other.
In the teaching of listening comprehension, we can find that listening materials, especially authentic materials, often have much cultural content that is closely related to the knowledge of American and British culture, society, and economy. If students lack this kind of knowledge, there will be difficulties in their listening comprehension. Maybe many of us have this experience: when we are listening to something familiar to us, whatever is concerned, we usually find it easy to understand. Even if there are some new words, we are able to guess their meanings from the context. However, if the materials are unfamiliar to us, or too culturally based, we may feel very difficult. Even if there are no new words in the materials, we can only get the literal meaning. We don’t understand the meaning in depth, because of the lack of cultural information. For instance, here is a sentence from a report, “The path to November is uphill all the way.” November literally means “the eleventh month of the year”. But here it refers to the presidential election to be held in November. Another example is “red-letter-days”—which is a simple phrase and easy to hear, meaning holidays such as Christmas and other special days. Without teachers’ explanation, students are usually unable to understand them. In order to solve the problems in this respect, teachers are suggested to pay attention to culture teaching in listening comprehension
1. Introducing background knowledge
Some listening materials are too culturally based, thus not easy for students to understand. A good suggestion for teachers is to introduce some background information before listening. For example, if what the students are going to listen to is a piece of BBC or VOA news, the teacher had better explain the names of countries, places, people’s names and ages etc. appeared in the news, which are a little difficult for second language learners. If the materials are on western customs, the possible way for the teacher is to ask students to search the relevant information in advance and then share what they have found with the whole class. If teachers prepare original English films for students, it’s wise for them to introduce the characters, the settings, and the general plot and tell students how to watch these original films. In this way, students may feel easier to listen to the authentic listening materials.
2. Explaining idioms
Idioms are important in any language and culture. They are often hard to understand and hard to use appropriately. We know that it’s usually impossible to understand them without the context. Some English idioms mean much more than the literal meanings.
Authentic materials are likely to contain many idioms, especially in films. The teacher should explain the idioms and ask students to accumulate them. Students can benefit from this in the long run.
3. Encouraging students’ self-learning
Time in class is limited. Teachers’ teaching is just one of the learning resources for the students. Teachers should raise students’ cultural awareness, and encourage them to learn the target culture by themselves. Here is a long term plan of culture learning: the teacher asks the students to learn the target culture in their spare time in group. Students are supposed to have discussions on their interested topics with their group members and prepare a report for the whole class. In this way, they can accumulate their information and learn more. It’ better for the teacher to give the students one hour to report each week. This plan emphasizes students’ self-learning. The following is the suggested procedure:
- Divide the whole class into four groups.
- The teacher provides four topics for each group. (Students are allowed to find their own topics if they like). Then they are expected to search as much information as possible on the selected topic. After this, they should hold a discussion with their group members on the found information and decide how and who will give the report.
- On the “report day”, the four representatives give their reports one by one. Instead of reading the report, they are asked to retell what they have prepared. The rest of the students should regard this class as a listening practice and respond to it after the report.
- When the reporter finishes, students can ask whatever questions related to the report. If the reporter can not give the answers, he/she can turn to his/her group members.
Students may benefit in two ways if they carry on this plan. First, in the report section, students in fact make a listening class by themselves. Every student is getting involved in this process, so they are highly motivated and willing to listen to each other very carefully. Second, in the preparing process, students may read quite an amount of cultural information, and deal with various authentic materials. Their knowledge on culture will soon be enriched. Day by day, when they come back in the listening classroom, they may find that the authentic listening materials are no longer so difficult, and when they go outside the classroom, they may find it easier to communicate with native speakers.
B. Helping students to adapt to authentic listening situation
The goal of listening teaching is to help students to understand the “real speech” to communicate in real life. Rost (2002) said that second language listeners must try their best to cope with “genuine speech” and “authentic listening situation”. That is, listeners must be able to understand natural listening speech to meet their own needs as members of the English-speaking community. However, many learners complain that authentic listening situations are in most cases out of their control. To solve this problem, Mendolsohn (1994) put forward that teachers should provide listeners with strategies training. His way is to train listeners’ ability of starting listening from the middle. For example, if students listen to a conversation from the middle, they are expected to attune to the conversation while simultaneously trying to understand it.
As a strategy—training activity, listening from the middle is based on the idea of Mendolsohn (1994, 1995) and Andersen and Lynch (1988). Mendolsohn once described how he helped his students hypothesizes by listening to an audio recorder of the middle of a medical procedure – part of a larger discussing about inferences. Madden (2007) has done the same research. His goal is to give learners strategies for studying to listen in the middle of a conversation by quickly making inferences about the setting, mood, interpersonal relationships and the topic. Madden used the audio recordings from his course texts. Generally speaking, his class consists of three stages: presenting, while-listening, and post-listening.
There are three steps in the presenting stage. First, introduce the activity and explain that the class will be working on how to listen from the middle, and then tell students the importance of knowing about the listening time and place, the speakers, their feelings, what kind of speech they are engaged in, what the topic is, and why someone might want to listen. Second, tell the students that during listening they need to take notes and discuss what they hear. The following two tables will be given to the class.
|What came before:
||What I heard *(Start here):
||What comes next:
(Table 1; see Richardson & Morgan, 1990, p. 97; Ogle, 1986)
|What I can identify about:
Relationships among the speakers:
Type of listening:
Why someone might listen to this:
(Table 2. Based on Mendelssohn, 1995; Anderson & Lynch, 1988)
Third, tell the students to be ready to take notes in the “What I heard” part of Table 1.
In the while-listening stage, four steps are needed. First, play a one-minute segment from the middle of the listening text. All of the speakers should be heard in this part. Students should take notes. When the recording is stopped, students should check their notes with a classmate. The discussion provides additional listening practice and opportunities to negotiate meaning (Lee & Van Patten, 2003; Pica, Young, & Doughty, 1987). Second, play the same one-minute segment again. Ask the students to check or add to their notes, and then confer a second time with classmates. Third, as a class, students discuss and fill out the displayed copy of the “What I heard” portion of Table 1, and then the second table. Fourth, play the segment a third time. Students make corrections to the “What I heard” and “What I can identify about” tables.
In the last stage, check answer and encourage students to use this method for listening practice in their free time.
In this research, Madden’s teaching material is audio recording because he thinks that the difficulty level of this material is suitable to his students. This is an important principle we have mentioned before. In fact, based on students’ interest and linguistic backgrounds we have a wide range of other choices, such as films, radio, TV-play etc. We can see that there are three characteristics in this activity: note-taking, classroom discussing and prediction, which are effective ways of involving students in the listening process.
Generally speaking, listening from the middle is a good way of using authentic material to help students adapt to authentic listening situation and improving their listening level.
In listening practice, some students tend to believe that unless they understand everything, they will understand nothing. They always want to gain the “total and thorough comprehension”. In fact, even native speaker do not impose a standard of total comprehension on themselves, and they indeed tolerated a certain degree of vagueness. In using authentic listening materials, we should learn to tolerate vagueness.
It is necessary to encourage students to make most of their incomplete comprehension, and predict what they will hear next. Rubin (1975:45) says that the good language learner is a willing and accurate guesser. Anderson and Lynch (1988) think that successful listener should be actively engaged in the listening process. Understanding is not something that happens because of what a speaker says: the listener has a crucial part to play in the process by activating various types of knowledge applying what he knows to what he hears and trying to understand what the speaker means.
D. Integrated skills on activating students’ authentic response
It is important to integrate listening with other skills because: “listening is not an isolated skill”. According to Oxford (1993) most of the time in real life, listening occurs together with speaking and it also occurs with writing. For example, note-taking while listening to a lecture. Therefore, activities require such techniques as note-taking, discussing, role-play, or summary writing etc. can be introduced in listening comprehension, and activate students authentic response to authentic materials.
It is said that the activities based on authentic materials are generally the same as the traditional listening class activities, except that these activities require more productive responses.
The most common listening activities proposed by Rixon (1981) are:
- Posing of problems (pre-questioning or discussing work sheet)
- Class listen and give individual answers on worksheet;
- Class discuss their results in pairs or small group. The teacher withholds “correct” answers at this stage;
- Class listen again as necessary to solve anomalies or settle disputes as far as possible;
- Whole-class discussion of results, elicited by teacher.
- Teachers play back tapes to whole class. Final discussing of language points that have lead to dispute or misunderstanding.
Rixon mainly focuses on the skill of discussing. In fact, in teaching practice teachers have many choices. After seeing a film, they can ask students to role play certain scenes, or make oral comments on some characters; after listening to a lecture, help students to organize an interview; they can also use discussing, retelling etc. All of these are effective ways of using authentic materials in listening comprehension.
It is the advantages that attract us to accept and use authentic materials in foreign language classroom, but when using them, it’s inevitable that we’ll face some problems. For most students, the challenges are that authentic materials may be “too culturally based” and often contain “difficult language, unneeded vocabulary items and complex language structures (Richard, 2001). So students are required to have sufficient cultural background knowledge and a large amount of vocabulary and a good command of grammar knowledge. Therefore, lower-level students are easily de-motivated when confronted with this kind of materials. Authentic materials often create problems to teachers too. Since the language of authentic listening materials is difficult, teachers need to do special preparation before class that is often time consuming. These disadvantages can be avoided in selecting and lesson planning. Actually if used appropriately, the disadvantages can be turned into advantages.
There is a conservative view that the proper place for authentic recording in foreign language listening class is with the advanced learners. The early- stage-learners had better start with simplified materials, since self-confidence and motivation are very important for them. This view sounds rational and reasonable, but it denies the early stage learners the opportunity of hearing what the target language really sounds like. If we limit the listeners’ experience to what has been graded to fit their language level, then they will not be equipped to cope if and when they come face to face with the target language in the outside world.(Field: 2008)
There are some ways in which a teacher can ensure that an authentic recording falls within the listening competence of the learners.
1. Simplifying the task: teachers may counter-balance the increased linguistic difficulty of the text by simplifying the requirements of the task (Anderson and Lynch, 1988). It is not necessarily the language that makes a piece of listening difficult. Difficulty may also arise from the task that is set. It is possible to use a listening passage which is well beyond the learners’ level, provided that what is demanded of the learner is correspondingly simple. If one notches up the text, one notches down the task. (Field: 2008)
2. Grading the text: As a teacher, if you prepare to use authentic recording with your students, you should have a large enough collection of recording samples, then you can grade authentic recording in accordance with the proficiency level of your learners. You should bear the following in your mind when doing the grading:
- More frequent vocabulary;
- Simple syntax;
- Simpler and less dense ideas and facts;
- A degree of redundancy, with ideas/facts expressed more than once;
- A degree of repetition, with the same form of words repeated;
- A very specific context or genre of communication which to some extent pre-determines how participants behave; (Field:2008)
3. Staging the listening: With a piece of authentic recording, teachers may design many tasks. In the classroom, they should begin with very simple tasks, and progress to the tasks that are more demanding.
In all, we can find every reason that foreign language teachers should introduce authentic listening materials to the learners at all levels to increase their exposure to the real target language in use. Quite a lot of evidence shows that learners feel more comfortable and motivated with authentic listening materials. There are a lot of ways to help us to achieve this without demanding too much of the learners.
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