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Listening In The Language Classroom

reviewed by Barbara Muszynska, IH Wroclaw

Why bother with listening?

This book, as the title suggests, addresses the area of listening. The author provides convincing reasons as to why we need to revise our orthodox approach to the teaching of listening skills in the EFL classroom.

It is divided into six parts, all of which are well and clearly organised. The two first chapters cover current approaches to the teaching of listening. In Chapter 1, we find a brief history of the methodology of the listening lesson and in Chapter 2, we read about the critical look at current practice.

The last one was of great interest to me. The author suggests that we as teachers are too preoccupied with the notion of ‘comprehension’ and that’s why we focus on the ‘product’ not the ‘process’ of listening itself. Having read that I realized I’d never actually thought about that. I agree that sometimes we, as teachers, don’t put too much thought into teaching the listening skills.

However, when I read that teachers downgrade listening in class I felt rather sceptical and a bit defensive. But the more I read the more convinced I felt about that view. I feel that the author is right in saying that we face difficulties in teaching listening because it’s hard to achieve demonstrable results in class.

In the following part of the book, we read about practical innovations to change the dynamics of the listening lesson. Later on we find out about more possibilities to expand the range of listening types and tasks.

Part 3 of this book, presents two alternatives to current methodology. One treats listening lesson as a diagnostic exercise, using learner responses to identify arreas of difficulty and the other approach is prognostic, attempting to anticipate the problems that a learner might encounter.

Despite the criticism of the comprehension approach, the author admits that it definitely has an important part to play in the EFL classroom, especially that it allows frequent practice of all skills including listening. I liked the author’s justifications. All of them were written in clear and persuasive terms.

The next part provides the reader with examples of exercise types that aid a learner’s understanding of what s/he hears.

I think the fact that the book provides more than just theory is its great asset. Personally, I really liked the idea about giving listening for homework, so that practising the skill can be individualized. I’ve never done it, but it sounds encouraging. I think my Polish students would like that.

In part 5, the author considers the use of authentic materials with students and the use of compensatory strategies by learners so they can cope with everyday listening. The final chapter summarizes the proposals that have been made by the author.

This book will definitely be an asset to any teacher who wishes to consider new approaches to listening and encourage independent learning. It will be an asset to any teacher trainers’ library, as we all need to reflect more carefully on the relevance of listening and the ways in which it contributes to success in learning a language. One the other hand, if you’re new to teaching, you will not only find theoretical and practical background to listening but also a full glossary of listening-related terms as well as a guide to phonetics and phonology, which I’m sure you’ll find particularly useful. I highly recommend this book.

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