Academic journal article College Student Journal

Challenges of Academic Listening in English: Reports by Chinese Students

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Challenges of Academic Listening in English: Reports by Chinese Students

Article excerpt

Academic listening plays an important role in an ESL university student's academic success. Research in EAP has begun to show that ESL students have difficulty in English academic listening at American universities. Chinese students, who are from a different educational system and cultural environment, experience particular challenges in English academic listening. This study focuses on their challenges as reported by Chinese students in understanding English lectures. Seventy-eight Chinese students at an American university were asked to complete a questionnaire that consisted of 30 items and an open-ended question. Most of the items required them to mark their responses on a five-point Likert scale.

This paper focuses on American classroom instructional factors that Chinese students report affect their English academic listening. Chinese students report that the following instructional factors affect their English academic listening at an American university: 1) lecture organization, 2) use of textbooks, 3) blackboard writing, 4) lecture summary, 5) amount of student participation, and 6) amount of group work. The paper offers suggestions for American professors about how to make their lectures more accessible to Chinese students.

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Listening has been regarded as the most frequently used language skill in the classroom. It plays an even more important role in one's academic success than reading skill or academic aptitude (Conaway, 1982). Research shows that English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students have difficulty understanding academic lectures at American universities. Chinese students, who are from a different educational system and cultural environment, experience particular challenges in understanding academic lectures in English. The question of which factors affect their academic lecture comprehension merits closer examination. Recognizing their challenges in understanding English lectures is the first step; the next is to discover the sources of these challenges and to propose solutions. This study reports the sources and suggests solutions to challenges of academic listening as reported by Chinese students at an American university.

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

Academic Listening: Definition and Importance

Listening purposes vary according to whether learners or not are involved in listening as a component of social interaction. Brown and Yule (1983) classified listening functions or purposes as interactional and transactional. The purpose of interactional listening is to engage in social interaction. Participants usually make these interactions "comfortable and non-threatening" and their purpose is to communicate "good will" (Richards, 1994).

In contrast, the purpose of transactional listening is primarily to communicate information. Accurate and coherent communication of the message is required. It is important for the listener to get the direct and exact meaning of the message in transactional listening. For example, news broadcasts, lectures, descriptions, and instructions are all transactional uses of language (Richards, 1994). "Speakers typically go to considerable trouble to make what they are saying clear when a transaction is involved, and may contradict the listener if he appears to have misunderstood" (Brown & Yule, 1983, p.13).

Transactional listening is common in academic listening. Academic listening involves listening and speaking tasks in university classes. According to Flowerdew (1995), it has its own characteristics and places special demands upon listeners. To be a successful academic listener, a student needs relevant background knowledge, the ability to distinguish between important and unimportant information, and appropriate skills like note taking. Richards (1983) also suggests many micro-skills are required for academic listening: the ability to identify the purpose and scope of a lecture, the ability to identify the topic of a lecture and follow topic development, the ability to identify the role of discourse markers in signaling the structure of a lecture (p. …

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