Magazine article Perspectives on Language and Literacy

Listening Comprehension Special Considerations for English Learners

Magazine article Perspectives on Language and Literacy

Listening Comprehension Special Considerations for English Learners

Article excerpt

The number of English learners has increased throughout the world. In the United States alone, there are 4.4 million English learners who attend public schools (National Center for Education Statistics, 2015). These students face significant challenges. They must learn English, i.e., the language of instruction, while at the same time, they are attempting to master the content of their studies. Helping students learn a language and keep pace with grade-level content requires support and compassion. It also requires teachers who understand the particular needs of second-language learners and how to support the development of their listening comprehension skills. How do we as educators ensure that English learners have the listening skills necessary for learning? Are there specific strategies for improving listening skills among this population of students? These are just a few of the questions that we should ask ourselves as we prepare to teach a population that is increasingly diverse. The focus of this article is to describe listening comprehension, its impact on language and literacy skills in second-language learning and the special considerations for instruction with English learners.

Listening is an active skill. Listening in its simplest form is paying attention, processing what is heard, and making sense of it. O'Malley, Chamot and Kupper (1989) define listening comprehension as an active and conscious process in which the listener constructs meaning by using cues from contextual information and background knowledge while relying on multiple strategic resources to fulfill the task requirements. Purdy (1997) defines listening as a multilayered, active and dynamic process of attending, perceiving, interpreting, remembering, and responding to the concerns and statements of others. Anderson and Lynch (1988) focus on how listeners perceive and parse words into meaningful units. Vandergrift (1999) describes a complex, active process in which the listener discriminates between sounds, understands vocabulary and grammatical structures, interprets stress and intonation, retains what was gathered in all of the above, and interprets it within the immediate as well as the larger sociocultural context of the utterance.

Listening Comprehension Challenges for English Learners

Teachers who are knowledgeable about the underlying components of listening comprehension can support English learners in the classroom by ensuring that they receive comprehensible input. Comprehensible input includes providing information to English learners at a language level that they can understand and makes the content clear. Educators can use a variety of strategies such as the use of pictures, gestures, and/or primary language support to increase the likelihood for English learners' understanding. Listening involves only auditory cues; reading comprehension, on the other hand, supports understanding with a visible record of the message. Listening comprehension begins with an acoustic signal, speech sounds that form words. The listener must derive the meaning of the words and group them into meaningful units as a foundation for comprehension.

For an English learner, the first stumbling block could be the realization that he or she just heard some new, unfamiliar speech sounds. These new sounds are difficult to decipher because the speech rate may exceed the listener's ability to keep up. Although context may help, it is not sufficient to overcome the quality of the input. Additionally, many speakers do not produce all the sounds as distinctly when they express themselves in phrases and sentences as compared to single words. For example, the English learner may wonder whether the speaker said, "I see" or "iced tea." Context may help but the listener's attention and concentration and the use of deductive reasoning skills are also necessary. That is, extra attention is necessary to process the phrases correctly and then use context and deductive reasoning skills to ensure understanding of the message. …

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