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Benefits of using extensive listening in ELT

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There has been little research on the effects of extensive listening despite the fact that input is essential in the development of skills. Results from previous research showed that students in the English language program at University of Quintana
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    MEMORIAS DEL VI FORO DE ESTUDIOS EN LENGUAS INTERN CION L FEL 2010) ISBN: 978-607-9015-22-0   ©Universidad de Quintana Roo – Departamento de Lengua y Educación http://fel.uqroo.mx - fonael@yahoo.com    36    Benefits of using extensive listening in ELT   José Luis Borges Ucán Universidad de Quintana Roo Abstract There has been little research on the effects of extensive listening despite the fact that input is essential in the development of skills. Results from previous research showed that students in the English language program at University of Quintana Roo (UQROO) performed poorly in two proficiency tests with the lowest scores in listening tasks. The benefits of being exposed to plenty of material to develop listening skills are numerous. According to some authors, an extensive reading approach should be adopted instead of strategy training activities. The present work explains the benefits obtained by a group of beginners after following an extensive listening program. The results of a survey about students’ attitudes towards extensive listening are also given. A list of available sources to start using extensive listening is also provided. Introduction  In 2009, a group of researchers at University of Quintana Roo found that students enrolled in the English language program performed poorly in two sample international examinations. According to detailed results, participants showed lower proficiency in the listening section than in any other section. These results were not satisfactory and showed the need to conduct research on ways to improve the listening skill in learners of English. The present research focused on the implementation of extensive listening in a class of listening and speaking in English for beginners. The total number of students was 16. This course is preceded in the program by an elementary 128-hour English course. Students were also enrolled in English II, another 128-hour beginners’ course at the same time.    MEMORIAS DEL VI FORO DE ESTUDIOS EN LENGUAS INTERN CION L FEL 2010) ISBN: 978-607-9015-22-0   ©Universidad de Quintana Roo – Departamento de Lengua y Educación http://fel.uqroo.mx - fonael@yahoo.com    37  1. Defining extensive listening One related term to extensive listening is extensive reading. Although there is plenty of research regarding extensive reading, few studies can be found on extensive listening. However, both schemes follow the same principle: students are exposed to large amounts of comprehensible material that is enjoyable to them. The idea of extensive listening is that you learn by doing. Learners develop needed listening skills by listening. It is very important to emphasize that the listening material should be selected according to the students’ proficiency level. If students are exposed to a more advanced level material, they will probably obtain little benefit, if any, and their motivation to continue listening may be greatly reduced. Using material above students’ level of proficiency can even affect their willingness to continue learning English. The material should be enjoyable enabling students to listen for pleasure. In extensive listening, the instructor should avoid testing students on the material that they have been exposed to. Students should never feel any type of pressure during their listening activities; instead, they should be encouraged to relax and listen. 2. Opposing views When teachers try to teach listening, many of them might test their students’ listening skill without actually helping them develop the skill. However, there are two different approaches that suggest ways to help students develop their listening skills: extensive listening and strategy-based training. Supporters of extensive listening present strong arguments against the effectiveness of strategy-based training. There also is criticism related to the methods used in research. Ridgway (2000) claims the following: Listening in a foreign language is a task at a high level of difficulty in cognitive terms, and therefore demands full attention. In this context, it seems odd that in some experiments on listening strategies (e.g.Vandergrift 1997) subjects are stopped during the listening process and asked what they are thinking about! (p. 180)    MEMORIAS DEL VI FORO DE ESTUDIOS EN LENGUAS INTERN CION L FEL 2010) ISBN: 978-607-9015-22-0   ©Universidad de Quintana Roo – Departamento de Lengua y Educación http://fel.uqroo.mx - fonael@yahoo.com    38 Ridgway (2000) also claims that one danger of a strategy-based approach to the teaching of receptive skills is that it may depreciate the value of practice. According to him, “whilst guessing skills are useful, learners learn the skills of listening comprehension from what is comprehensible to them. They need to practise listening comprehension, not listening incomprehension.” In one article, Field (2000) replies to most of the arguments posed by Ridgway. On one of the main points of discussion, he claims: Some commentators (Chamot 1995, Mendelsohn 1994) believe that they can and they have argued for an approach to listening based upon a type of strategy training developed at the University of Georgetown, where strategies are practised one by one and explicitly (i.e. with the aims of the exercise explained in detail to learners). (p. 192) 3. Particularities about listening Renandya and Farrell   (2010) explain some aspects that differentiate listening from other skills. They state that listening is fast, variable, with blurry word boundaries and has to be processed in real time. All these characteristics make this skill challenging to students. If we compare listening to reading we find that although they are both receptive skills, they are both challenging in different ways. For instance, when students have reading material and face problems understanding a sentence, they can always go back and read the sentence again. This is not possible if they have listening material which is fast and has to be processed in real time. It is also important to analyze that blurry word boundaries are very common in many languages and English is not an exception. Students may lack comprehension because words sound connected in speech. They can also sometimes sound as one word when they are actually two. For instance, “should have” will probably be pronounced as     by most English native speakers. 4. Benefits of extensive listening Waring (2003) listed the following advantages of using extensive listening in ELT: Speed recognition is built, learners are helped to chunk, text is more likely to be enjoyed, and focus is on understanding and interacting with the text.    MEMORIAS DEL VI FORO DE ESTUDIOS EN LENGUAS INTERN CION L FEL 2010) ISBN: 978-607-9015-22-0   ©Universidad de Quintana Roo – Departamento de Lengua y Educación http://fel.uqroo.mx - fonael@yahoo.com    39 Yonezawa and Ware (2008) carried out an extensive listening (EL) study using six university classes. They did pre- and post-listening tests plus two surveys (n=148). They observed score increases that students attributed to doing EL and shadowing. A strong majority of students in that study reported that doing EL and shadowing was useful, and that these activities improved their English. The benefits on pronunciation are explained in a study by Trofimovich, Lightbown, Halter and Song (2009) who did an experiment with two groups. The experimental group followed a comprehension based program and the second a typical language learning program. They state: Students in the experimental program received a great deal more input from reading and listening than students in the regular program. This input helped sustain the pronunciation ability of the experimental group, for at least 1 year, in the virtual absence of any speaking practice and exposure to English outside the classroom. (p.632) 5. Experience using extensive listening with beginners As mentioned above, sixteen students in the class of listening and speaking in English participated in an extensive listening scheme and answered a questionnaire at the end. They listened to approximately thirteen hours of English in the classroom and as independent work. They can be considered beginners regarding their level of English. 5.1 Students perceptions Most students claim to find both, the strategy-based training and extensive listening very helpful. However, it is important to mention that most were exposed to more extensive listening than different strategies. One strategy they find useful is getting meaning from context. Students find it logical if the listening context can be used to guess the meaning of a limited number of unknown words. After being exposed to about 13 hours a week of extensive listening, a listening and speaking class answered a questionnaire about their experience with extensive listening in the class. Only 1 out of 16 (6.35%) prefers to have the extensive listening material chosen by the teacher. Here is a comment from a student concerning this idea. “I prefer to select the listening material because sometimes the material assigned by    MEMORIAS DEL VI FORO DE ESTUDIOS EN LENGUAS INTERN CION L FEL 2010) ISBN: 978-607-9015-22-0   ©Universidad de Quintana Roo – Departamento de Lengua y Educación http://fel.uqroo.mx - fonael@yahoo.com    40 the instructor is too fast and sometimes boring.” Only 2 out of 16 (12.5%) stated that they had previously practiced extensive listening. Even though most students said in class to feel comfortable with the BBC learning English programs, answers in the survey reflected that students actually found them challenging and preferred to choose programs from the Spotlight radio website which have a slower pace. It can be concluded that some of them felt embarrassed to say in class that they could only follow Spotlight radio programs easily. Most students obtained benefits from extensive listening. These are some of the answers related to the benefits obtained. “I understand the audio material and my classes of English easily.” “I understand more how to pronounce words.” “It helps me with my speaking.” “I have learned about the culture and customs in other places.” “I know much more vocabulary.” “I can listen more clearly.” “It is much easier to understand when someone speaks at a faster pace. I understand better when they use contractions and listening to English is not tiring anymore because you understand easily what you are listening to. It feels as though I have always been listening to English.” Based on these comments from students, extensive listening helps them to increase their vocabulary, to improve listening comprehension, to feel more comfortable when listening to English, and to increase their general knowledge. When students were asked about their preferences regarding the content of the material, 31.25 % stated that they prefer to listen to fiction, 25% prefer non-fiction, and 43.75% like both types. Every group of students is different. However, teachers should always make an effort to obtain a large amount of fiction and non-fiction material to suit students’ interests.
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