The Role of Visual Components in Teaching and Assessing Listening Comprehension

Seminar Paper, 2011

22 Pages, Grade: 1,0



Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The theoretical background of listening comprehension
2.1 Mental processes
2.2 Components of listening comprehension
2.3 Parameters of spoken texts and requirements for decoding
2.4 Determination of text difficulty
2.5 Designing listening comprehension tests: problems and task variety
2.5.1 General problems of assessing listening comprehension Preparations: finding a suitable text and equipment issues Language proficiency as a combination of different abilities The inevitability of testing remembrance capacity The difficulty of determining correct answers Strategies for fair assessment
2.5.2 Test types for listening comprehension Global vs. detail questions Formats suitable for low-proficient learners Formats suitable for high-proficient learners

3. Putting listening comprehension into practice
3.1 The role of non-verbal signals
3.2 Lesson Plan
3.3 Description of the experiment
3.4 Adaption
3.5 Thesis
3.6 The assessment sheet as basis for evaluation
3.7 Evaluation and interpretation of the results

4. Conclusion

5. List of Works Cited

1. Introduction

Next to reading, writing and speaking, listening comprehension lies at the heart of language learning. However, it has also proved to be difficult for the language learner to acquire and for language teachers to teach and to assess. Teachers do not only need a rich understanding of the listening process but also strategies that enable them to teach listening effectively and to assess it in a rational way.

The procedure of testing can be divided up into two theoretical fields. First, the large field of teaching listening comprehension and second the field of actually testing it. Both fields need to be carried out thoughtfully in order to achieve success in the whole process. Despite or maybe even due to the difficulty that lies in listening comprehension itself and in teaching it, “L2 listening remains the last researched of all four language skills” (Vandergrift 2007: 191). However, in recent years there has been an increased focus on L2 listening ability since its importance in language acquisition has finally been acknowledged and is now regarded as as a skill that requires more classroom attention. In particular the field of teaching listening with the help of technology has been investigated since the revolution in multimedia has made available a large variety of aural and visual text in foreign languages. With the increasing possibilities to use visual support for the instruction of L2 listening comprehension the interest in the relationship between visual channels and listening comprehension increased. Visual components can provide non-linguistic input like mimic, body language and gestures, which help to convey meaning to learners. Seo argues that these paralinguistic features enhance comprehension by an increased use of top-down processes that can compensate for missing comprehension of linguistic components (cf. Seo 2002). Nevertheless, not all researchers agree with the positive evaluation of visual components. In 2001 Coniam conducted a study in which half of the students listened to an audio version of a discussion and the other half watched the video version. 80 percent of the students who were confronted with the video felt that the visual input had not enhanced comprehension but had rather distracted them (cf. Coniam 2001). Although basic reasoning might suggest that non-linguistic features were always beneficial for the comprehension process, the distraction offered by visual support and prior knowledge wrongly used to a misinterpretation of pictures due to the generalizations developed from prior knowledge might have a significantly negative effect on understanding meaning.

Furthermore, videos differ extremely in their content, in information density, in proportion of emotions playing an essential role and in the type and importance of pictures that are shown. Since Coniam used an educational discussion for his study, the effect of visual support in a movie scene or another videotext, for which the meaning of emotions is crucial for comprehension, might be completely different.

All these considerations must be taken into account when it comes to assessing listening comprehension. Not only does the teacher have to decide whether it is beneficiary to provide the test takers with visual support but also must he design the test according to the needs of a listening comprehension that is determined not only by linguistic knowledge but also by the ability to interpret visual components. This paper investigates how the effect of providing visual components varies in respect to video type and what difficulties lay in designing test for the assessment of the comprehension of a visual text.

2. The theoretical background of listening comprehension

2.1 Mental processes

In the field of psycholinguistics listening comprehension consists of several complex mental processes which take place in the speech areas of the brain. For teachers it is quite important to be aware of these processes in order to construct suitable training sequences for the learners and to avoid excessive demand in tests.

The sequence of the mental processes taking place in the brain during the stage of speech processing is described by means procedure. The process begins with the auditory analysis. It starts right after the speech sounds had reached the middle ear. The listener recognizes the speech sounds as certain speech signals. During that stage the text type is already determined. The auditory analysis is followed by the phonological analysis. In the course of this process the listener recognizes phonemes, syllables and words in the “Lautkontinuum”. The lexical - syntactical analysis is subsequent to the phonological analysis. In this part of the mental process the sense of a sentence is constructed. In order to be successful in fulfilling this task the listener needs to be acquainted with syntactical knowledge as well as lexical and topic related topic.

The closing of the mental processes taking place in the brain during listening comprehension is built by recognizing the conclusion. Finally the listener recognizes the conclusion of the text by reducing the sentences to their main statements (Haß 2006: 74-5).

2.2 Components of listening comprehension

Indeed, listening comprehension is a kind of process which is regarded as a process of a highly complex cooperation between several different components. The auditory component includes the perception of acoustic waves and the phonological component makes sure that the listener recognizes the word in his mind according to its phonetic representation. Moreover there is the grammatical and syntactical component as well as the semantic component. In case of a combination of listening and visual comprehension, nonverbal elements like body language, mimic and gesture become important means of information conveyer. (Haß 2006: 75)

2.3 Parameters of spoken texts and requirements for decoding

In addition, the fact that the listener has to be able to create a meaningful image of the existing speech situation in this mind also plays a major role. Who talks to whom, what are they talking about, when, why, for which purpose, for what reason and what is the relationship between the speakers? It is essential that the listener is aware of these parameters which are considered as quite important tools for fulfilling the task of decoding the content of a spoken text.

The decryption of a spoken language is only possible if certain criteria are fulfilled. If the listener wants to succeed in decoding a spoken language, he needs to be acquainted with topic related knowledge as well as topic related language knowledge. Therefore teachers have to provide their students with appropriate skills in order to be successful in decoding the spoken text. First of all students have to be familiar with the topic of the text. Therefore you have to provide them with topic related pre knowledge. The listeners have to be able to imagine the speech situation as well as retaining chunks for short periods. They have to be aware of how to interpret statements and predications as well as how to determine different text types. If the chosen text contains certain elements like dialect, you have to make the students familiar with them.

There is an uncountable amount of further skills required to be successful in decoding texts but this list is too long to be quoted here. Finally this list makes clear that the process of listening comprehension is determined as an active process with a high degree of complexity (Haß 2006:75-80; Buck 2001: 56-7).

2.4 Determination of text difficulty

As already mentioned above the volition of students to understand the spoken text plays a major role in being successful in listening comprehension. If students are unable to cope with the spoken text, they will lose their motivation to understand it. Therefore it is essential for the teacher to choose a text which fits in its difficulty into the abilities of the learners. There are certain aspects that need to be considered when choosing a text. First of all the difficulty of a topic has to be taken into consideration. For students it is much more difficult to follow a text about a rather unknown or uninteresting topic than following a text about a topic that fits into their interests. Moreover it is important to choose a text of a suitable length. As a teacher you always have to be aware of the following fact: The longer the spoken text is, the more difficult it gets for the students to get the necessary information. Next in line teachers have to take into consideration aspects like the speed of the spoken text as well as forms of dialects. It is important that the text is spoken in proper English as if there is any form of dialect included, students will not be able to cope with the text in an appropriate way anymore. Additional aspects like the number of speakers involved in the text as well as background noises and the appearance of low-frequency vocabulary have to be considered, too (Haß 2006: 77-8; Jung 2006: 128).

2.5 Designing listening comprehension tests: problems and task variety

2.5.1 General problems of assessing listening comprehension Preparations: finding a suitable text and equipment issues

One of the basic difficulties of teaching and assessing listening comprehension lies in finding a text that is suitable for the proficiency level of the respective class. Selecting spoken texts requires by far more time and consideration than the selection of written texts.

The various reasons lie in the nature of spoken texts: spoken texts are less available than written texts, since spoken texts are simply harder to preserve. However, in the recent years the rise of technology made it easier for teachers to get access to spoken texts: broadcasting companies, the movie industry, and most of the time the Internet provides the teacher with a rich variety. Nevertheless, apart from texts particularly designed for teaching purposes, idiomatic texts are usually created for native speakers and therefore have a rather high difficulty level which is not suitable for less proficient learners of L2. Therefore, the teacher has to take strategies into account in order to prepare the students for the listening session and make comprehension easier for them. Possible ways are building on the students’ pre-knowledge or providing topic-related pre-information that brings the topic into their focus and to makes them sensible for it. Moreover the teacher can if viable provide the students with specific vocabulary that is not to be expected to belong to the general variety of familiar vocabulary. That method can be usefully incorporated in larger teaching units that concentrate on compiling e.g. culture-related topics. Choosing a topic that awakens the interest of majority of students naturally increases test results positively due to motivation and attention levels (cf. Buck 2001: 169-70).

Apart from finding a suitable text, the second step of administering the text to the test takers requires further attention. The validity of a test can only be maintained if the test-takers are not provided with a bad sound-quality. Unclear spoken language mixed with background noises provides a test situation that is almost impossible to cope with in particular for low-proficient language learners. Therefore, the teacher has to ensure equally good acoustics for all test-takers what often takes a lot of time and effort. Language proficiency as a combination of different abilities

Not only creating a test situation but also designing listening comprehension tasks is a challenging activity since there are only few formats that test the listening comprehension skill in itself. Apart from few task types that fall into the category of total physical response (TPR), most task formats require the students to make use of a listening ability in combination with their reading, writing or speaking ability. Thus, the teacher should keep in mind that it is always the performance on a task that is evaluated and not the listening comprehension in itself.

However, particularly in upper classes this combination of different language skills is desirable in order to achieve a diversified language proficiency that allows the students to link their abilities. Nevertheless, for learners with low language proficiency and in particular for beginners, the teacher should design the tasks in a way that does not prevent students from performing well in a test after a successful listening comprehension session. Therefore, the questions must be designed in a way that requires the students to concentrate on other language abilities while listening comprehension makes up only a negligible part for answering. The inevitability of testing remembrance capacity

Moreover, in order to create fair tasks that test the listening comprehension as accurate as possible the teacher must be aware of remembrance capacity. This ability is frequently tested unintentionally as a secondary effect in listening comprehension questions. Requiring students to list numerous ideas and aspects or asking them to know exact words, numbers or names are types of assessing listening comprehension that should be avoided except for situations in which the teacher has explicitly asked for it before listening to a record (cf. Jung 2006: 128). The difficulty of determining correct answers

Another problem occurs in the process of correcting. Usually the teacher gets as many different answers to a question as the number of students that took the test.


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The Role of Visual Components in Teaching and Assessing Listening Comprehension
University of Regensburg  (Institut für Didaktik Englisch)
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role, visual, components, teaching, assessing, listening, comprehension
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Anonymous, 2011, The Role of Visual Components in Teaching and Assessing Listening Comprehension, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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