Listening Comprehension Strategies: A Review of the Literature

By Berne, Jane E. | Foreign Language Annals, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Listening Comprehension Strategies: A Review of the Literature


Berne, Jane E., Foreign Language Annals


Abstract

Numerous studies related to listening comprehension strategies have been published in the past two decades. The present study seeks to build upon two previous reviews of listening comprehension strategies research. Of particular interest in this review are studies dealing with the types of cues used by listeners, the sequence of listening, differences between more- and less-proficient listeners, listening strategy instruction, strategies versus tactics, and identifying listening problems. This review first summarizes the findings of a number of studies in each of these areas. Based on these summaries, the review then posits some general conclusions and suggests directions for future research. The review demonstrates that listening comprehension strategies have been and continue to be a very fruitful area for researchers to explore.

Introduction

Over the past 25 years, one of the most important topics in L2 research has been the use and development of language learning strategies. Researchers such as O'Malley and Chamot (1990), Oxford (1990), and Rubin and Thompson (1994), along with many others, have examined a wide variety of issues related to learner strategies. The present study focuses on language learning strategies pertaining to L2 listening comprehension. There is a rich and varied body of research in the area of listening comprehension strategies and this research has been reviewed on two previous occasions. Rubin (1994) included a section on research related to listening comprehension strategies. Chamot (1995) also reviewed listening comprehension strategy research. The present study seeks to update and expand upon the work done by Rubin and Chamot by including research published since 1995. This review examines research related to listening strategies in several areas: types of cues used by listeners; the sequence of listening; differences between more- and less-proficient listeners; listening strategy instruction; strategies versus tactics; and identifying listening problems.

Types of Cues Used by Listeners

In one of the earliest studies to examine the use of listening comprehension strategies, Conrad (1981, 1985) examined the types of cues to which learners and native speakers devote their attention when listening. Results indicate that native speakers of English use primarily semantic cues (i.e., information provided by the context) to process aural texts, whereas both intermediate and advanced learners of English tend to direct their attention to syntactic cues (i.e., information provided by the grammatical structure of the sentences). However, with increasing levels of proficiency, learners appear to rely less on syntactic cues and more on semantic cues.

Harley (2000) examined the effects of age and Ll on the use of two particular listening strategies, namely syntactic cues and prosodie cues (i.e., information provided by the intonation and stress patterns of the sentences). Harley found that nonnative speakers of English, regardless of grade level or Ll (Chinese or Polish), tended to rely on prosodie cues to interpret ambiguous sentences or they adjusted the syntax to ht the prosodie cues. Interestingly, this was also true of native English speakers in the primary and middle grades. Only with native speakers at the secondary level did Harley observe a switch from relying on prosodie cues to relying on syntactic cues. As a result of these findings, Harley argued that it was important to familiarize learners with the prosodie patterns of the L2 because these prosodie cues provided an important linguistic foundation for successful inferencing.

The findings of these two researchers suggest that learners should be encouraged Lo develop listening strategies that focus more on prosodie and semantic cues and less on syntactic cues. However, because each of these studies focused on learners of English, it is not clear that these findings can be generalized to learners of other languages. …

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