Many people think of listening as a skill that requires no thought or effort. As such, listening comprehension skill is often overlooked in teaching and learning. However, what many people do not realize that listening is one of the very fundamental skills in language learning, in addition to speaking, reading, and writing. Young children first develop their listening skills and take in the speech they hear before they develop other skills such as cognition, speaking, reading and communication.
Here are 7 problems children face in learning comprehension practice that parents or even educators have overlooked, and my tips to overcome them.
1. Speed of delivery
For most listening comprehension tests and practices, kids cannot control the speed of delivery. Speed of speech is a key factor in the understanding of the listening material, and many language learning sites/software provide the option of playing back words and sentences at a slower speed. It is best if learners are able to control the speed of speech or conversations in the listening comprehension practice.
2. Repeating of words and phrases
In a standard listening comprehension passage, listeners cannot always choose to have words repeated. While each passage is specifically designed to assess your child’s ability, this can be a serious problem in learning situations. Sometimes learners need specific words or phrases repeated for better understanding, but in most classroom situations only the teacher can decide what and when to repeat listening passages. It is also difficult for the teachers to judge whether or not the students have understood any particular section of what they have heard.
3. Limited vocabulary
The limitation of vocabulary is what educators need to pay attention to when giving out listening comprehension exercises. Listeners will tend to stop and think about the meaning of the word that they do not understand and thus they will miss the next part of the speech or listening material. In listening comprehension practice, allow your child or student ample time to repeat the passage and help them understand the meaning of new words.
4. Recognizing speech signals
Younger or weaker listeners may have difficulty recognizing speech signals which indicate that the speaker is moving from one point to another. In formal listening comprehension passages, signals such as “next”, “then”, or “secondly” are comparatively more evident than in informal passages (e.g. dialogue), where speech signals are often vague or dropped. In such cases, allowing a longer pause in between parts of the passage will help.
5. Lack of contextual knowledge
Sharing mutual knowledge and common context makes communication easier. If listeners lack background knowledge of the listening material, they may have difficulties understand the purpose of the passage even if they can grasp its superficial meaning. For example, a listening comprehension passage about Thanksgiving will be rather daunting for a Singaporean child. Therefore, using appropriate or relevant materials for listening practice is important for young beginners.
6. Length of listening materials
Kids, especially younger ones, have short attention spans. In listening comprehension, children may lose concentration easily if the listening material or passage is too long. For beginner learners, listening material of 1.5 minutes to 2 minutes is optimal. In addition, concentration is easier when learners find the topic of the material interesting.
7. Habit of understanding every word
Kids and learners whose first language is not English (or any subject in question) tend to have established certain learning habits, such as a wish to understand every new word they come across. This will become a hurdle for them in listening comprehension. They tend to become worried if they fail to understand a particular word or phrase and they may get so discouraged that they abandon the entire passage completely. Hence, it is important for them to understand that tolerance of vagueness and incompleteness of understanding is necessary.
In addition to the above, here are some general pointers for helping your child practice listening skills:
- Repetition of passages is encouraged
- Use graphical or even video cues. In fact, schools in Singapore are already using graphical cues in the majority of primary school listening comprehension tests.
- Use authentic and real-life material instead of composed/pedagogical material
- Use speech or passages that learners that will be interesting to learners
- Due to the complex nature of listening comprehension, passages representing a variety of situations where listening is required will further enhance the learners’ listening skills.
- Improve your kids` learning skills by letting them listen to educational CDs.