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Teaching and learning listening skills for major english students at Halong University

This article is about the methods used and applied for teaching English listening skill for major English students at Halong University. It is focused mainly on using ICT tools in teaching students. Key words: teaching, mehtods, tools

Of the four skills, listening is regarded as the receptive and difficult one because of the following reasons. First of all, it is the passive one which happened in classrooms with the aids of multimedia or cassette recorders or using laptops with speakers. Also, it follows the textbooks that are set to design to teach each lesson, or tasks based learning. This leads to the boring and not flexible activities that learning English has required and not focused on student centred learning. Secondly, the environment serves for practising English outside class is poor, people use only mothertongue instead of using English as the second language (ESL) to communicate with each other, at home the learners speak L1 to communicate with the members of the family so that it is rarely for them to use English as a means of communication. The fact that English is now as a foreign language (EFL) in Vietnam. According to the 2020 project the frame of the language level allow the learners to get a particular level so as to graduate or that is considered as a condition to leave school or educational instutions. Last but not least, due to the accent of the authentics is rather different from the standard of general English with little intonation, stress, linking words, elision etc.  Therefore, this causes some difficulties in learning listening skills. In the nutshel, learning listening skills is really difficult and it requires long-term of suitable strategies to develop it.

Recently, the number of people who long for studying English has become more and more increasing. English has been a part of the general education. It is a compulsory subject not only at schools but also at the institutes of education in Vietnam education system. However, the teaching and learning process seems to focus more on grammar, structures and vocabulary instead of listening skill. As a result, the students are  good at doing exercises of written forms which mostly concern about grammar, reading or writing comprehension instead of good listening skill. This causes the listening skill seems to be the most difficult to the students. We all know that in order to learn a foreign language successfully, students should be helped to develop four skills : listening , speaking , reading and writing. These four skills are closely interrelated to one another and they all necessary and interactive. Of the four skills, listening is regarded as a prerequisite to understand what is being said and to pick up the general idea of what is being discussed. In my professional and personal life there will be situations where students will hear and have to absorb a lot of details, facts and figures and then extract some points from them. In my private life I  may wish to listen to talk in English about subjects I am  interested in and wish to consolidate what students have learnt in order to progress to other and more difficult areas. Therefore, it is possible to give students the chance to practise what they have learnt in the way listening to spoken English. To listen effectively to spoken English language needs to be able to work out what speakers mean when they use particular words in particular ways on particular occasion and not to simply understand the words themselves. As I am one of the teachers of Halong University. I would like to suggest some ways and one of them with the hopes for students to develop listening skills with the thesis title that I have intentions to develop here in advance goes as:

Using e-learning or creating apptropriate materials as some of the effective ways to help the learners to improve listening skills in teaching and  learning English process at Halong university.”

The context of Halong University

Our university is nearly the newest institution in Vietnam Education System. There are about 381 staff in which there are 12 teachers of English. Currently, we still train students following the school year instead of following the update training such as by using credits or focus on students centred learning. Most of the teachers of English have master degree and the head of the Department of English has PhD level. At present, the number of students is about more than 3000 students including service and inservice ones. This includes 120 major and non major English students in different abilities in class. For non major students, most of them are from kindergarten Department, the rest are primary department, English Department etc. The classes are big sized and fixed with intermingled students. The teachers use and apply the textbooks for general English for non major English students are life line, new head way or new English file. All of them are sellected randomly and we cut or divide them into some appropriate periods to support for the lessons outcomes. Actually, the curriculum is not appropriate or based on any principles for building or designing it. Thus, it leads to the poor results of the outcomes. So that we have problems of developing materials, building curriculum and the low input of students. Consequently, students get low results when they are tested not only in other subjects but also in listening skills.

Besides, I conducted the survey to collect data from the first years students by asking some questions relating to their background knowledge such as which skills do they find most difficult to learn or study at school or at this institution or I also observed them to study or the way they learned in the class. The percentage I got is that 80% of major English students considered listening skills is the most abstacle one. So that they need to change the way or habit to study this skill.

Literature review

As I mentioned above, listening comprehension is very difficult and there are many difficulties in learning listening skills. Due to the requirements or the assignments, these ones can be traced into five main points as following: the difficult and irrelevant materials or syllabus, difficult factors affecting on choosing suitable methodologies, barriers of culture problems, grammar in general and the difficulties of discriminating sounds or the phonetics and phonology problems.

          First of all, the fact that using tasks or textbooks of English is not appropriate. According to Assoc.Prof.Dr. Luu Qui Khuong and Phung Nguyen Quynh Nga, Nghe An, most students found that they couldn’t catch any information and solve the listening tasks assigned though they were allowed to listen more than three times for each task in English Textbook 11 at one of high schools in central of Vietnam in which the writer use the authentic materials with different contexts not appropriate with Vietnamese one. Besides, the rest about 10% of students confirmed that the tasks were a bit appropriate for them. In addition to this point, the types of tasks are the factors that have influence on their listening. Based on this statistics, 75% of students considered Questions and Answers ( Q and A) the most difficult activity to deal with. Next, the gap- filling especially gap-filling without given words were sometimes too demanding for them. Besides, the other tasks such as multiple-choice activity, true-false statement, and information gap were really difficult. Next, Anderson and Lynch (1988) use the term “ gloss” which means definition of ambiguity reference. They claim that when learners come across ambiguity of reference, they tend to find an appropriate gloss for the time being used in the discourse. This problem related to the lexical fuzziness and multiple co-reference possibilities. When the listeners listen to a lexical fuzzy text, or a text with unfamiliar or specialized jargon and unlikely reference, they might make some assumptions and guesses the meanings, or they may tolerate their ignorance or ask for definitions, if they can. Thus, when the listeners listen to a text with multiple co-reference possibilities, they may select the most salient gloss among other possibilities. Contrary to these writers, Ali S.Hasan mentions the listening comprehension in his research is taken to refer to the way listeners select and interpret information that comes from the auditory and visual clues in order to come to a better understanding and comprehension of what speakers say. This view of listening comprehension is in accordance with second - language theory which views listening to spoken language as an active and a complex process in which listeners focus on selected aspects of aural input, construct meaning, and relate what they hear to existing knowledge. In addition, Nobuko Osada supposed that in listening comprehension studies, there is no comparably sensitive on-line task that can monitor listeners’ moment changes while they are processing incoming information. This author has the sharp eyes on listeners about the lack contextual knowledge, sharing mutual knowledge and common context makes communication easier and students may have considerable difficulties in comprehending the whole meaning of the passage unless they are familiar with the context from the textbooks.In short, choosing irrelevant materials affects the listening comprehension processes so that the fact that it can’t be denied that with the mixed ability of students class in which the teachers or educators should sue flexible techniques to help the learners to develop listening skill. On the other hand, the educators should provide the appropriate syllabus for students to acquire it easier.

          Secondly, many writers have similar point of view about the problems of the L2 learners face to is the phonetics and phonology. The first aspect of this point is that students have difficulty recognizing words that made up a connected utterance, (Rajaa Aquil). Basing on this idea, not every word of the utterance is stressed and fully articulated. According to this reseacher, the utterances are shortened rather than fully articulated. Some vowels are reduced, or even deleted. On the contrary, consonants are blended together, generating different allophones from the ones in slow unconnected language or in citation forms ( Ladefoged, 2001). Also, it is really difficult for the learners to distinguish between the sounds like voiceless fricatives, lateral sound and that causes the common confusions. Moreover, both vowels and consonants affect listeners of L2 ( David Penner). Another aspect of sounds difficulty is that it is students who have to discriminate every sound, understand words and grammar, interpret intonation and other prosodic clues, and retain information gathered long enough to interpret it in the contexts ( Wm.R.Holden III). In addition to these opinions, ( Ali S.Hasan, 2000) supposes that learners’ perceptions of their listening problems may or may not correspond to what actually happens as different factors which the listeners may not be aware of many interact and influence learners’ perceptions. However, they might identify one factor, among others, which they think can be behind some of their listening problems. Hasan also made a proof that some listeners might think that a spoken passage is difficult to understand because speakers speak or read too fast, while in fact it is not the speed of the speaker but some other features which cause the difficulty, such as pronunciation, hesitation, pauses, and various accents. In short, the pronunciation is one of the most difficult factors that affects students’ listening comprehension, so that it requires a lot of time and techniques as well as the efforts of the learners to overcome these challenges.

         Many other writers also agree that listening skills reflects the process of first language acquisition, processes and decodes speech requires recognition knowledge. This explains to some extent why learners of limited proficiency have difficulties listening for accurate meaning and learning to produce speech at the same time. Nobuko Osaka  suggested that students can’t control the speed of delivery and he also quoted Underwood’s idea is that the most difficulty with listening comprehension is opposing to raeding comprehension, is that the students can not control how quickly a speaker speaks. Nobuko added this point due to the learners’ limit of vocabulary which the speaker may choose to words that the students do not know and the learners sometimes  tend to encounter an unknown word, which may cause them to stop and think about the meaning of that word and thus cause them to miss the next part of the speech. As a result, it can be difficult for the students to listen well unless the aids of understanding, decoding the language with rich knowledge of transcription of speech and it requires mixed skill to listen effectively.       

            Besides, the grammar knowledge has influence on the listening comprehension. It is the students’ foundation of pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary is insufficient, this leads to their English listening comprehension will be negatively affected by lack of language knowledge

( Guo 05088,). However, the most basic outward shell of language is pronunciation and intonation. Thus, the listening prcesses is learning how to identify and select sound signals basing on pronunciation. If, students’ knowledge of pronunciation and intonation is inadequate their capacity to discriminate will be weak and affect listening comprehension. It is obvious that there are so many sentence types that are complex and different from mothertongue. Therefore, the relationship among clauses of sentences is confused for students and this causes the problems of listening comprehension. Besides, lexical difficulties are one of the most highly cited sources of listening comprehension problems, even by advanced learners and students must be aware of how important the role of inferential ability in listening comprehension in EFL ( UEDA Marisa ).As a result, whether students understand every word of the sentence, it is also rather difficult for them to listen well. In the nutshell, the lack of grammar is one of the major factors to reduce the English listening level basing on this writer.

          Next, culture is one of the barriers to affect on listening comprehension. Obviously, each country has their own culture and however effective it is up to the learners. Nobuko mentioned the difficulty of lack of contextual knowledge. He highly appreciated the mutual knowledge and common context makes communication easier and even though the listeners can understand the surface meaning of the text, they may have considerable difficulties in comprehending the whole meaning of the passage unless they are familiar with the context. Nonverbal cues, such as facial expression, nods, gestures, or tone of voice , can also be easily misinterpreted by listener from different cultures ( Nobuko, 2004, p. 22).According to Trudgill (1983), language is like a mirror that reflects the national culture of its speakers and it can not exist without culture. It has effects on the expression of the language. Thus, it carries knowledge and cultural information and it reflects the subtantial and particular ways of thinking of that people (GUO 05088,). From Guo’s opinions, culture is embedded in even the simplest act of language. It is an inseparable part of the way in which we live our lives and the way we use language. Therefore, students without or little background knowledge of counture in English is unlikely to understand as well as listen well.Consequently, students should provide themselves about the knowledege of culture to acquire the listening comprehension better.

          Finally, I would like to mention here about the difficulties of students’ learning listening comprehension is about the ways that the teachers provide or use to apply in teaching them. Guo 05088 remind the development of functional language theory since the 1970s , this method emphasized on the the research of function in society. Functional linguistic experts recognise language as a communicative tool, but not a an isolated structure system so that the teaching of listening is not simply intended to make students hear a sound, a word or a sentence, rather , the goal is to cultivate students’ abilities to understand speakers’ intentions accurately and communicate with each other effectively.Consequently, this mwthod is not relevant with the progress of modern society to meet the demand of the development of education.   According to Luu Qui Khuong and Phung Nguyen Quynh Nga, the difficulties of teaching listening comprehension that they percived are lack of teaching facilities and teaching aids, intermingled students with mixed ability, time limitation for curriculum as well as lack of experience in teaching listening skill. Basing on this point, teachers are poor with methodologies to teach and help students to listen better. These two writers also mentioned the ways that teachers applied are they read the tape scripts instead of using the cassette-players. They complained that the cassette-players in the schools did not work for a long time and these ones need repairing. Moreover, teachers can not help students to make the opportunities to approach the real language through listening to the native speakers. Teachers often expect so much from the learners to develop listening skill by using osmosis and without help ( Mendelsoln, 1984; Oxford,1993). Owning to Nobuko Osaka, the osmosis is known as the Audiolingual method, it is believed that if students listen to the target language every day, they will go up their listening skill through the experience. Also, this method was relevant in the early years of the 20th century, and had a great influence on theories of language teaching (Nobuka, Dialogue,2004,vol.3). On the other hand, the other one suggested the pedagogical approach of combination of face to face teaching, and encouragement of students’ autonomous learning and coaching. This approach focus on the student-centered, with the goal of encouraging students to monitor and control their learning processes, to choose their learning content and learning methods, and to reflect on and assess their own learning outcomes ( Guo 0508 ). Consequently, the process of English teaching and learning based on some features of the workplace, with more flexible time arrangements, individualization and an encouragement to take initiative and act with personal autonomy. 

Discussion

    I have just had an overview of the strong points and bad points of each article above. From these articles, it is easy for me to clarify the difference among these authors. Nobuko osada provided the nature of listening skill and he also exploited specific strategies to overcome challenges of learners’ difficulties. Next, Guo 05088 made an investigation of factors influencing English listening comprehension and he also supposed some possible measures to develop these ones. To contrary these authors, Wn.R.Holden suggested some successful strategies to facilitate listening comprehension. Also, David Penner mentioned about the strategies to improve problems specific to Japanese listeners of English as well as the problems and solutions in general to learners (EFL). Acoording to Ali S. Hasan and Rajaa Aquil, the most difficult factor is pronunciation, they focused the students’ problems of discriminating sounds, intonation, stress which related to phonetics and phonology. Meanwhile, Luu Qui Khuong and Phung Nguyen Quynh Nga used a case study to discover the difficulties faced by EFL teachers in teaching listening at high scho ols in Nghe An, Vietnam. Unlike these authors, UEDA Marisa introduced the role of inferential ability in listening comprehension in English as a foreign language. 

Solutions

From the problems and discussions above, with the role as a teacher I suggested some ways to reduce and solve it. First of all, it is crucial to survey the freshmen students again when they enter the University. I have intentions to use and apply the quality and quantity research to inspecting the students’ motivation by measuring the percentage of the questionnaires answered. Also, I am willing to use the action research to compare the students sellected and students not sellected into two classes in order to apply the old text books with former curriculum and the new materials with tasks based learning and focus on students centred learning.

First of all, designing the suitable curriculum is compulsory because by creating it aids the teachers focus on the objectives of the course or meet the social demand. We know that the qualities of the trainees will decide the quality laborers. More over, through the curriculum that I can adjust the texbooks or materials for teaching and learning process. In this case study, I also use or apply the ICT tools in teaching and learning process when the cousre finishes I will create the hands out with survey questions so as to get students’ feedbacks about their satisfaction of the cousre. The result will be analysed by the likert scale as following:

Please select the number below that best represents how you

Feel about your recent online software purchase for each statement.

                    Strongly                             Strongly

                     Agree    Agree  Undecided  Disagree Disagree

=====================================================

1. The listening activities we learn are effective      

1       2        3         4        5

2. The teachers’ methods are suitable 

 1       2        3         4        5

3. The  volum of the speakers is clear and appropriate   

 1       2        3         4        5

4. We are  happy with   the teaching aids supporting for self-studying 

1       2        3         4        5

This hand out is given to 2 classes of major English students, they will have to choose the number they like and then I will analyse the number of answer for each question then give feedbacks to the teachers and students.

Another way is providing tests for students to do during the progress of learning or by the end of the terms. The results will be stored by mearuring the

scores of the during tests I will adjust the formative assessment and based on the scores of the final tests I will have ways to control the curriculum.

Another way to evaluate is using action research that we divide the class into two types in which one is about to use and apply new materials and new curriculum with new methods that focus on students centered learning. The other one is about to use and apply the former ones so as to aid the teachers compare the results of the two classes based on the tests designed and hand to studenst at the end of the term.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the difficulties of learners of listening skill are clear with supporting ideas of the articles above. I try my best to describe the context of our institution and analyse these articles with hopes that these difficulties are the targets in which I long for to serve for my research or help us solve the problems of teaching and learning listening skills at my institution. Although the authors come from different countries with different points of view about listening skill, they admit that listening skill is the most difficult one of four skills in English that students get involved. However, it is said that every thing has the key to get into that listening skill is not the special one so that I plan to use ICT tool to get rid of these difficulties. As I mentioned in my literature review above,  the most difficulty is to identify sounds and utterances that related to aspects of phonetics and phonology so that in order to make progresses, I will introduce the new curriculum with the aids of the application of ICT to exploit listening comprehension skill to innovate for my problems of teaching and learning listening skills. In my opinion, I hope that this connection will be practical and meet the requirements of my research.

Reference

1. Nobuko Osada, Waseda University (part-time lecturer). Listening Comprehension Research  : A Brief Review of the Past Thirty Years.

2. Guo 05088, Robin Wills. An investigation of factors influencing English listening comprehension and possible measures for improvement.

3. Wm. R. Holden III. Facilitating listening comprehension : Acquiring successful strategies.

4. Ali S. Hasan. Learners’ perceptions of listening comprehension problems.

5.David Penner, Ling 5P03. Phonetics for life: Strategies to improve problems specific to japanese listeners of English.

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