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Listening comprehension

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Last updated 26 October 2012 15:28 by NZTecAdmin

Listening shares many characteristics with reading, particularly in relation to comprehension. Vandergrift (2006) explains this in detail.

Both require receptive language processing, which involves decoding and comprehension. Thus, both processes use two basic knowledge sources, language knowledge and world knowledge (eg, topic, text structure, schema and culture) for purposes of comprehension. Like reading, listening also entails two major processes, top-down and bottom-up, in applying such knowledge to the input during comprehension.

However, listening does differ from reading and arguably could be considered to be more demanding. Vandergrift (2006) explains the reasons why.

First, listeners must pay attention to the sounds, which often can be indistinct, and to the prosodic features of stress and intonation that carry important information. Second, listening takes place in real time and is ephemeral; the listener does not have the option of reviewing the information presented and has little control over the rate of speech. Third, speech is often unplanned and can exhibit hesitations, false starts, pauses and short idea units. Fourth, listening is more context-sensitive than reading ...

The majority of most adults’ listening is done “in the moment”. This means that listeners may not be able to review what they hear, although they may ask the speaker (where present) for help when meaning breaks down. The exceptions include all forms of recorded speech that allow for replaying.

Active listeners attend to oral information, clarify a purpose for listening and use listening strategies appropriate to that purpose. The comprehension strategies that listeners use are very similar to those used by readers. They include making connections with the speaker and between ideas, identifying and responding to the main ideas, summarising information and inferring information that has not been made explicit. Active listeners monitor their comprehension, using and adjusting strategies to overcome barriers or obstacles.

The variability of social, cultural and emotional contexts adds to the complexity of any listening task, particularly for adults who are not fluent in English. The listening strand includes the idea that these strategies are flexible and can be adapted in response to the cognitive demand of a particular task.23

Listeners develop strategies for negotiating meaning with speakers. Initially, such strategies may be at a formulaic level (“I don’t understand”). Later they extend to more sophisticated ways of communicating what the listener has understood and what further clarification or information they may require.

23 Vandergrift, 2006.


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