In the previous post I described top down processing (TDP) to listening and, predicting content in particular. This analysis raises several possible issues for learners. Lack of knowledge of the language makes TDP based on knowledge of the world even more important as a compensation strategy. Therefore skills like identifying topic from key words, and inferring the meaning of unknown words become even more important than they are for native speakers. Learners often feel frustrated when listening to spoken interaction. There are a number of reasons for this:
- Predicting the grammar structure of spoken discourse raises many issues for learners. In my experience pre-intermediate and elementary learners have difficulty with moment-to-moment lexical grammatical encoding at clause level. This tends to interfere with the discourse level (McCarthy, 1991). Learners may resist using TDP strategies even when those are available to them. As Field (2008) suggests, less skilled listeners should often rely on context to understand meaning because they find it easier than decoding language word by word.
- Cultural identities also raise different issues for recognising a context. As Rots (2006) argues, in L2 listening there are often significant mismatches between the speaker’s and the listener’s scripts (Richards,1983) (e.g. cinema scripts, library scripts, etc.) that lead to misunderstandings. Indeed, differences in schemata for culturally specific references and events lead to comprehension problems, as well as perceived social distance from the speaker (Rots, 2006). In multilingual/multicultural classes students often may lack many of these culturally specific scripts and comprehension may be difficult (Richards,1983). For example, cultural knowledge differences between Indian and American learners could lead to different interpretations of texts about marriages (Sadegh, 2006). Likewise Italian learners may have some comprehension problems with the notion of American calendar, starting with one weekend day (Sunday) instead of the first weekday (Monday) as in the Italian calendar.
- Most elementary and pre-intermediate learners have problems recognizing predicted words because of native speakers’ connected speech. This means that consonants and vowels within words are affected by the position in which they occur. Consequently, patterns of juncture or assimilation are common, and word boundaries disappears.
e.g. get on (geton)
it’s no joke (snow joke)
- If beginner learners hear – The glass was already broken, it’s no joke (snow joke) . They will not be able to understand the meaning and they will need to use their previous knowledge and the context to understand it. While a proficient or advanced learner would not have problems recognizing the juncture.
- The context where the listening task is taking place plays a key role on the success of learners performance. I have noticed that students need to feel relaxed and self-confident in order to successfully work on prediction. Especially with young elementary learners, they should feel comfortable that even if the prediction is wrong, clear and positive support will be given to them.
- Younger teenagers often avoid listening in English for the fear of listening to too many unknown lexical items. This problem might be caused by the choice of genre and topic inappropriate to the level of the students.