This chapter contains an overview of theory related to listening comprehension in EFL environment. First, the importance of listening comprehension is discussed. Second, difficulties in listening comprehension for EFL learners are illustrated. Third, listening comprehension processing is discussed. Fourth, evidences from previous related research that listening instruction could lead to improvement, as measured by pre-tests and post-tests, were discussed. Fifth, nature and characteristics of children’s learning are reviewed. Lastly, research questions of the present study are stated.
1. The Importance of Listening Comprehension
The increased importance of listening comprehension in language learning may be attributed largely to the development of communicative language teaching approach, which attempts to prepare learners to transfer their classroom skills to real-life context, over the past three decades (Asher, 1977; Krashen, 1982; Omaggio Hadley, 2001; Vande Berg, 1993). There has been a shift from non-teaching listening comprehension in the audio-lingual period to teaching listening comprehension in a strategy-based approach (Mendelsohn, 1998). Before World War II, the teaching of reading was given the most attention while that of listening comprehension was the most infertile and the least understood language skill (Winitz, 1981). Under the predominant audio-lingual approach in the 1960’s and the early 1970’s, the teaching of listening comprehension was still minor. With the increasing interest towards communicative language teaching approach, several researches revealed the importance of listening comprehension (Brown & Yule, 1983; Faerch & Kasper, 1986; Feyten, 1991; Long, 1985). Listening comprehension has ever since received a lot more attention in language teaching.
On the one hand, technological advances and the growing awareness of the importance of listening in the world have made listening even more important in the communication process (Mendelsohn, 1998). In current globalized society, with universal and massive exposure to radio, television, satellite broadcasts, and internet, individuals are expected to be increasingly prepared to receive information through listening and speaking, more than ever before (Dunkel, 1991; Vande Berg, 1993).
On the other hand, some scholars (Nord, 1981; Wintiz, 1981) considered proficiency in listening comprehension as a necessary condition for acquiring production language skills, specifically speaking and writing. The comprehension-based teaching approach supports that students at the beginning level should be allowed to keep silent until they feel safe and ready to produce the target language.
Thus, it can be reasonably concluded that students are probably engaged in listening before they are able to speak and write in the target language, which means that second language instruction at a beginning level should focus on developing learners’ listening comprehension ability. Still, other scholars (Dunkel, 1991; Long, 1985; Rost, 1990; Vogely, 1999) stressed that listening is important because it provides input as the raw material for learners to process in language learning. Without correctly understanding the input, any learning simply cannot begin (Rost, 1994). Furthermore, the failure of listening comprehension of the target language is an impetus, not merely an obstacle, to language learning as well as to communication interaction (Rost, 1994).
The recognition of the importance of listening comprehension has resulted in an increased number of listening activities in students’ textbooks and even in comprehension-based methodology texts designed specifically for teaching listening (Anderson & Lynch, 1988; Rost, 1990; Underwood, 1989; Ur, 1984). Several studies have found that through the use of effective pre-listening activities, instructors can increase students’ understanding of the listening passages, which in turn develops their listening proficiency and contributes to their mastery of the target language (Herron, 1994; Richards, 1983; Rubin, 1994; Teichert, 1996; Vande Berg, 1993).
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