Teaching and Testing Listening at Secondary Level

Bhupal Sin Bista 

This article discusses the techniques and activities used by the secondary level English teachers while teaching listening. It also sheds lights on the gap between the teachers’ theoretical knowledge and its use in classroom teaching, including situation of testing listening in Nepalese schools. For this, data were collected from different secondary level English teachers teaching in Kathmandu district, which helped explore the techniques and activities employed by the teachers in classrooms.

Background
For many years, listening skills did not receive priority in language teaching. Teaching methods emphasized productive skills, and the relationship between receptive and productive skills was poorly understood. (Richards & Renandya, 2010). In fact, among the four language skills, listening is the primary language skill. A child becomes able to speak after getting enough exposure to the language through listening. Researches show that congenitally deaf children are unable to acquire language though they are given enough exposure. Therefore, listening is the most important skill of all.

In the context of our country, teaching listening has been highly focused in the present English curriculum of secondary level. As the curriculum is based on the communicative approach, teaching listening is a must for the development of communicative competence in students. Taking into account the worth of listening skill, it is taught in the secondary schools of both the community and institutional (private) schools. However, only teaching is not enough. There should the use of right appropriate methodology. In this context, it is imperative to explore whether listening skill is taught as it should have been or not. Furthermore, it is equally important to find out the gap between the teachers’ theoretical knowledge of teaching listening and its application in the classroom. Thus, the research was carried out in order to find out the reality.

Teaching Listening
In this study, teaching listening refers to teaching listening comprehension. Listening is an activity of paying attention to and trying to get meaning from something we hear (Underwood, 1989, p. 1). It involves understanding a speaker’s accent and pronunciation, his grammar and vocabulary and grasping his meaning. For successful communication, listening skill is essential, so it should be taught to students. In order to teach listening comprehension effectively, the teacher should be clear about the skill to be developed in students. According to Rivers (1978, p. 142), before the teacher can devise a sequence of activities which will train students in listening comprehension, he must understand the nature of the skill he is setting out to develop. Field in Richards & Renandya (2010, pp. 242-247) examines a commonly used format for teaching listening, one which involves three stages in a listening activity: pre-listening, listening and post-listening.

Listening skill should be taught properly to the students at school. Instead of leaving it to be developed as part of a pupil’s general education training, it is to be taught explicitly to them. Students spend half of the classroom time in listening, so it should be developed properly. In this context, Hron (1985, as cited in Rost, 1994, p. 118) suggests that listening should be developed in all school children since it is a vital means of learning that may be as important as reading. In order to teach listening properly and effectively, appropriate approaches should be used. Without employing the appropriate approaches, listening skills cannot be taught well. For the development of appropriate approaches to teaching listening skills, it is essential to understand the nature of listening. In this regard, Nunan in Richards and Renandya (2010) mentions two types of models: the bottom-up and the top-down processing model. The bottom-up processing model asserts that listening is a process of understanding meaning from phonemes to complete texts. The top down processing model, on the other hand, views that listening is a process of understanding meaning on the basis of the listener’s shared or prior knowledge. In this way, these models are to be taken into account while teaching listening.

Stages of Teaching Listening
There are generally three stages of teaching listening, viz. pre-listening, while- listening and post-listening stages. They are also known as listening techniques.

1. The Pre-listening Stage
This is the first stage of teaching listening. At this stage, students are given some background information about the audio. Indeed, this is the preparatory phase of teaching listening in which students are prepared and motivated for listening and performing the tasks. Following Underwood (1989, p. 3), it consists of several activities like giving background information, looking picture, topic discussion, question answer, etc.
2. The While-listening Stage
In this stage, the students listen to audio, perform the activities and do the tasks based on the listening comprehension. This is the actual listening stage whereby students are asked to do exercises based on the audio. The main purpose of this stage is to help the students develop the skill of eliciting messages from spoken language.

3. The Post-listening Stage
This is the final stage where follow¬-up activities are done. As its name implies, post-listening stage embraces all the activities related to a particular listening activity which are done after the listening is completed. In a way, this stage is the extension of the activities done at pre-and while-listening stages. Problem- solving and decision-making activities, interpreting activities, role-play activities, written work, etc. can be exploited at this stage.

Testing Listening
Listening is one of the crucial language skills. Therefore, like other skills it should be taught and tested properly and regularly. While testing listening, different aspects of language should be tested. These generally encompass grammatical knowledge, discourse knowledge, pragmatic knowledge, sociolinguistic knowledge, etc. In this way, testers have to test the different aspects of listening skill. Listening perception and listening comprehension skills are to be taken into account while testing listening skills. In this regard, Buck (2010, p. 105) says that test developers would choose the following aspects of language competence which met the requirements of their test.

  • Knowledge of the sound system
  • Understanding local linguistic meanings
  • Understanding full linguistic meanings
  • Understanding inferred meanings
  • Communicative listening ability

Listening Skill in English Curriculum of Secondary Level
The present English curriculum of secondary level is based on the communicative approach to language teaching. It has incorporated four language skills and language functions in its content. Listening skill is also focused in the curriculum. In the examination, 10% of the total marks is allocated to listening skill. For the development of listening skill in students, there is a provision of listening lesson in each unit of the textbook. For the purpose of teaching listening, Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) has developed audio cassettes for classes nine and ten. The curriculum has mentioned the following objectives of teaching listening:

  • Listen to spoken text, understand the gist and retrieve specific information from it.
  • Record in note or make summary from the main points of spoken messages.
  • Respond appropriately to spoken directions or instructions.

Teaching and Testing Listening at Secondary Level
The secondary level curriculum of Nepal aims at developing the communicative competence in students. That is to say, it is based on the communicative approach to language teaching. The teachers teaching at this level, therefore, are expected to teach the listening skill in accordance with the objectives of the curriculum. This skill should be equally focused as other skills of language teaching but in reality, this skill has been neglected. During the research, it was found that listening skill was not taught in the secondary level of Nepal. However, some schools were found giving importance to teaching this skill. The researcher visited different schools and used different tools for the purpose of research. From the theoretical point of view, almost all the teachers were found having sound knowledge of teaching listening. However, this knowledge was not used in the actual classrooms.

Teaching and testing should go simultaneously. Teaching listening should be fostered by testing as testing is an integral part of teaching. Whatever is taught in the classroom should be tested, for the items neglected in the testing are generally neglected in the teaching as well. Therefore, for the effective teaching of listening, it should be tested seriously in examination. However, in the secondary schools of Nepal, listening skill is not tested properly. There is the provision of testing in the curriculum. However, its implementation is very poor. Testing listening has merely become a matter of formality. It is not tested properly even in School Leaving Certificate (SLC) board examination. Listening is also one of the crucial components of language learning. Without having detailed knowledge of listening, the learners cannot achieve sound communicative competence.

Findings
The major findings of the study are as follows:

  • The majority of the teachers were found using only two stages of teaching listening (i.e. pre- and while- listening).
  • Although the majority of the teachers were found having sound knowledge of teaching listening, they were found not employing their theoretical knowledge in the classroom teaching. Only a few teachers were found using this knowledge while teaching listening in the classroom. Thus, there is a vast gap between the teachers’ theoretical knowledge of teaching listening and its application in the classroom teaching.
  • No teachers were found conducting listening as the course prescribes. Most of the teachers were found not conducting listening consistently: sometimes they conducted listening once a week and sometimes even once a month.
  • The majority of the teachers were found not giving priority to listening skills. They did not take listening as one of the most important language skills.
  • Listening skill was not tested properly in the secondary schools of Nepal.

Recommendations
The following recommendations are made on the basis of the findings of the research:
• All the teachers who are teaching listening at secondary schools should use at least the following listening techniques and activities.
a. Pre-listening stage
– Giving background information of the listening text
– Picture discussion
– Discussion on the topic and/or situation
– Reviewing the areas of grammar
– Simplifying the meaning of difficult words given in the text.
b. While-listening stage
– Short answer questions
– True/false items
– Fill in the blank items
– Multiple choice items
c. Post-listening stage
– Writing or presenting the summary
– Parallel writing
– Dictation
• Most of the teachers were found having sound theoretical knowledge of teaching listening. However, they did not apply the knowledge in the classroom, Therefore, seminars and workshops should be organized to refresh and enhance the skills of the teachers, especially, NCED should develop special training package for teaching listening.
• Most of the teachers were found neglecting and not giving priority to listening in their teaching. Therefore, it should be made an important part of examination and tested properly. As a whole, teachers and other stakeholders should be made aware of the importance of listening via conferences, seminars, workshops, etc.
• Secondary level English course prescribes listening lesson in each unit. However, teachers were found not teaching listening according to the course. Thus, teachers should be encouraged to use enough listening materials in order to give sufficient exposure to students.
• Some schools were found not having appropriate listening materials. Thus, the concerned authority should make the mandatory provision of managing required materials in every school.

References
Buck, G. (2010). Assessing listening. Cambridge: CUP.
Cross, D. (1992). A practical handbook of language teaching. London: Prentice Hall International Limited.
Crystal, D. (1994). An encyclopedic dictionary of language and languages. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Harmer, J. (2007). The practice of English language teaching. Edinburgh Gate: Pearson Education Limited.
Harmer, J. (2008). How to teach English. Edinburgh Gate: Pearson Education Limited.
Lynch, T. (2007). Study listening. London: CUP.
Richards, J.C. and Renandya, W.A. (Eds.). (2010). Methodology in language teaching Cambridge: CUP.
Rivers, W. M. (1978). Teaching foreign language skills. London: University of Chicago Press.
Rost, M. C. (1994). Introducing listening. Harmondsworth : Penguin English.
Underwood, M. (1989). Teaching listening. London : Longman.
Ur, P. (2010). Teaching listening comprehension. Cambridge : CUP.

Bhupal Sin Bista
Master in English Education,
Mahendra Ratna Campus,
Tahachal, Kathmandu

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One Response to Teaching and Testing Listening at Secondary Level

  1. Thank you for the article Bhupal ji. I would like to know more about the process and your experience during your research. It would give more authenticity to your claim. Maybe you could do a more reflective and data oriented article on the same research. it would be invaluable for people like us. Editors, what say?

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