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Summary report of a study investigating issues of concern to the effective teaching of listening skills to beginning students of Japanese as a Foreign Language (JFL)

Mike Danaher
Associate Lecturer in Japanese Language
Faculty of Arts, Central Queensland University
This article is a summary of an investigation into issues which affect the teaching and learning of listening skills within the study of JFL. It reports results of four data gathering instruments applied to a cohort of Central Queensland undergraduate students of Japanese, and to a selected number of Japanese language teachers from Central Queensland primary and secondary schools. These instruments include survey questionnaires, extended, semi-structured interviews and listening comprehension examination results. The article concludes with several recommendations for enhancing the delivery of listening skills instruction and practice for undergraduate, secondary and primary students.


The importance of this study into the development of effective listening skills is borne out by the need to be able to produce competent communicators in the Japanese language. In Australia's contemporary economic climate, with the well publicised 'push' into Asia, it is valuable vocationally to be able to communicate competently in the Japanese language. The skills of listening and speaking play an important role in language learners becoming competent face to face communicators.

Project Aims

The project had the following aims:
  1. To provide detailed information as a basis for generating a number of appropriate approaches to teaching listening comprehension within JFL.

  2. To investigate problems and concerns which undergraduate students of Japanese have with and about acquiring sound listening skills.

  3. To investigate problems and concerns which school teachers of Japanese have with and about effectively teaching listening skills.

  4. To identify and explain issues of concern to the effective teaching of listening skills to beginning students of JFL.

  5. To highlight important findings from current research in the field of listening skills development within JFL in order that these findings may be applied to everyday teaching.

Guiding assumptions

The study has the following guiding assumptions:
  1. The macro skill of listening within foreign language learning is the most important skill for beginning students, in order to prepare them for speaking and later on for reading and writing. Moreover, within the parameters of the communicative approach to foreign language teaching, more is demanded of the skill of listening than the other skills.

  2. There are a number of important issues (many of them still unresolved) facing both teachers and learners of JFL in terms of achieving effective listening skills development in the target language.

  3. In order to improve the listening skills of their students, teachers need to consider using resources (such as authentic listening texts, native speaker assistants, and teacher-talk in the target language) more frequently and more critically.

  4. Undergraduate students of JFL can offer significant insights and suggestions to teachers and curriculum design personnel about what is important, and their ideas should therefore be considered for inclusion in the listening components of Japanese language courses.

Related literature

Listening comprehension has become the foundation of a number of theories of second language acquisition (SLA) that focus on the beginning levels of second language proficiency (Asher, 1969; James, 1984; Krashen et al, 1984; Winitz, 1981). The primary assumption underlying these theories is that large amounts of listening practice before speaking or reading may prepare the learners to acquire a second language with greater efficiency than if they were taught all the skills simultaneously. Another assumption is that language acquisition is an implicit process in which linguistic rules are internalised by extensive exposure to authentic texts and particularly to comprehensible input that provides an appropriate level of challenge to the listener (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990, p.129).

In terms of researchers specifically in the area of JFL, Tohsaku (1988) has found that if listening skills are developed first that will lead in turn to the development of speaking skills. Okazaki (1988) recommends teaching listening by giving students the same comprehensible input as they would encounter in real life. Okazaki also says listening comprehension activities can and should be used as language learning experiences in themselves. Mikado and Matsumoto (1988) have made suggestions for improving the reliability of listening comprehension tests. They suggest increasing the number of questions and introducing more multiple choice items. As well, questions should be taken from all parts of the text, not just from one area.

The findings from the investigation tend to support the above theories and research concerning second language acquisition.

Research methodology

The following is a summary of the data collection techniques which were used in the study. The basic type of research that was adopted was opinion polling. According to Mauch and Birch (1989), opinion polling involves having the behaviours, beliefs, or intentions of specified groups of persons determined, reported, and interpreted. The specified groups of persons for this study were JFL students and teachers, and the opinion polling essentially provided an attitude inventory of these groups.

There were a small number of important delimitations and limitations of the study.

Delimitations

One delimitation was the study's concentration on the reported perceptions of students and teachers of their strengths and weaknesses in regard to their learning and teaching of listening. As this study was concerned more with generating knowledge than implementing wholesale changes, perceptions would seem acceptable data to collect.

A further delimitation is that the study surveyed only the JFL students at Central Queensland University, and surveyed only JFL teachers in Central Queensland. Therefore it was a localised study but one which has implications for the wider community.

Limitations

A significant limitation of the study is that a higher rate of return of questionnaires that eventuated was expected from the JFL teachers in Central Queensland schools.

As with all self-reports, one must keep alert for possible self deceptions in what the interviewees say. For one thing, in interviews of this kind we hear not what people actually did, but only what they thought they did.

Data gathering instruments

The study gathered data by means of three kinds of instruments, namely: survey questionnaires, semi-structured interviews, and analyses of listening comprehension examinations.

Survey of students

A questionnaire was administered to undergraduate JFL students at the Rockhampton and Mackay campuses of Central Queensland University. It was intended to establish a broad range of student perceptions about listening which would yield a context for interpreting the more restricted data produced by the interviews. Two different questionnaires were designed, one given to beginning students and the other given to more advanced students. Of the one hundred and seven students who received the questionnaire, forty-nine students responded.

Student interviews

The focus of the open-ended, semi-structured interview schedule was on finding out more about the listening strategies these students adopt in order to cope with listening in particular contexts. Eight beginning students from the Rockhampton campus participated in the interview schedule.

Survey of teachers

A questionnaire was administered to twenty JFL teachers from a selection of schools in the Central Queensland region. The questionnaire was intended to establish the ways in which listening skills are taught to JFL students. The twenty schools targeted were both primary and secondary, and both government and independent. The response rate was twenty per cent.

Analysis of examination results

The design and results of seventy-five listening comprehension examinations from first and second year JFL students at Central Queensland University were analysed. The intention was to see how students performed in a certain type of listening comprehension exercise, noting implications for the design.

Ethical procedures were followed in obtaining all the data.

Research findings

The issues which arose as being important to the learning and teaching of listening skills were as follows:
  1. Whether to teach listening as an isolated macro skill or to teach it integrally with speaking, reading, and writing.

  2. The importance of comprehensible input and the role it should play in the teaching of listening.

  3. The extent to which teachers should use authentic or near authentic materials and situations in teaching listening.

  4. The role of the latest technology and how it affects the teaching of second languages, and more specifically the teaching of listening.

  5. Whether learning outcomes are affected by instructional differences, and whether certain instructions, methods, and materials actually hinder the development of listening skills.

  6. How listening skills are assessed.
Substantive findings from the data analysis were as follows:

Students

  1. They had fairly poor perceptions of their listening skills in relation to their reading and writing skills.

  2. Their difficulties in listening were many and varied, and reinforced those difficulties which can be found in the literature.

  3. They said that simultaneous audio and visual activities were very beneficial to listening skills development.

  4. The majority of these students preferred listening comprehension tests to assess only their listening skills.

  5. The more advanced students applauded the use of authentic materials and felt that they were pedagogically superior to contrived materials.

Teachers

  1. The listening macro skill appeared to receive roughly equivalent time in teaching and equal weight in summative assessment, compared to the other macro skills.

  2. Some schools had access to assistance from native speakers and to language laboratories, while some did not.

  3. Teachers used authentic materials where possible but would like more to be available.

  4. Teachers seemed satisfied with how their syllabus made suggestions about teaching listening skills.
These findings have implications for all types of foreign language programs in Australia, not the least of which are immersion programs, which are becoming more widespread owing largely to government initiatives.

Recommendations from the study

The following recommendations are framed as suggestions for action that derive from the study.
  1. The teaching of listening skills should not be overlooked Moreover, listening should be taught actively both in conjunction with the other three macro skills and as an isolated skill. Ideally, listening should be integrated with active speech production because that is the context in which people listen most of the time.

  2. Students need to become better acquainted with the processes of meta-listening. Teachers should consider enlightening students about the nature of listening generally and about the nature of listening comprehension in JFL specifically. This is based on the finding that students need guidance about how to learn to listen in a second language. As part of this guidance, teachers may also outline the difficulties and problems that learners are likely to encounter, and recommend ways that they might cope with these. For example, advice could be forthcoming about effective listening strategies for various listening situations, with students then practising the use of these strategies.

  3. Authentic listening texts should be made more readily available and be used more frequently. Also, a resource library for listening skills development should be provided which contains resources (including videos) which are graded in terms of difficulty, and which can be accessed by students both in and out of class time.

  4. There is definitely a role for native speakers in the classroom, in order to assist the teacher to teach listening comprehension. This is based largely on the assumption that what foreign language learners need most is contact with native speakers, and those opportunities should be provided if at all possible.

  5. Teachers should actively use listening activities and texts which involve simultaneous auditory and visual exposure.

  6. Teacher-talk in the target language should be actively employed as much as possible, in order to enhance listening skills and maximise the students' exposure to spoken Japanese. (According to Cook (1991), teacher-talk makes up around seventy per cent of classroom language. )

  7. In respect of assessment, it is better to assess only the listening skills in any given listening test, and as well to assess these listening skills in a variety of ways. For example, tests should not be confined to monologues or dialogues, nor should items of factual information alone be sought. Also the number of questions should be increased, and the listening comprehension examinations should be made progressively more difficult ( to take account of an expected improvement in skills).

  8. Vocabulary acquisition activities should be specifically used in class time, because these will help listening skills development indirectly.
In view of the research reported here, students themselves would be likely to applaud these suggestions.

Conclusion

This article has reported on the research methodology, findings, and recommendations of an investigation into issues which affect the teaching and learning of listening skills within the study of JFL. It shows that listening within foreign language learning is a complex skill, and that students are faced with a variety of difficulties in learning to listen for comprehension. It also shows that teachers are faced with pedagogical concerns, ranging from resource availability to how to teach listening effectively.

The suggested recommendations which were derived from the study attempt to assist both students and teachers of Japanese specifically, and of foreign languages generally, in meeting the challenge which listening in any foreign language brings.

References

Asher, J. (1969) 'The Total Physical Response Approach to Second Language Learning', Modern Language Journal, 53: 3-17.

Cook, V. (1991) Second Language Learning and Learning Teaching, Edward Arnold, London.

J ames, C. (1984) 'Are You Listening? The Practical Components of Listening Comprehension', Foreign Language Annals, 17: 129-133.

Krashen, S., Terrell, T.D., Ehrman, M.E. & Herzog, M. (1984) 'A Theoretical Base for Teaching Receptive Skills', Foreign Language Annals, 17: 261-275.

Mauch, J.E. & Birch, J.W. (1989) Guide to the Successful Thesis and Dissertation, Marcel Dekker, New York.

Mikado, J. & Matsushita, H (1988) 'A Method is Proposed for Listening Tests', Nihongo Kyoiku, 64: 122-143, untranslated.

Okazaki, H. (1988) 'Teaching Listening Comprehension Which Facilitates SLA: Paying Attention to Comprehensible Input', Nihongo Kyoiku, 64: 86-98, untranslated.

O'Malley, M. & Chamot, A. (1990) Learning Strategies in Second Language Acquisition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Tohsaku, Y. ( 1988) 'Teaching Methods and Materials for the Development of Listening Comprehension: Process Oriented Listening Practices', Nihongo Kyoiku, 64: 59-73, untranslated.

Winitz, H. (1981) The Comprehension Approach to Foreign Language, Newbury House Publishers, Inc. Rowley.

Please cite as: Danaher, M. (1994). Summary report of a study investigating issues of concern to the effective teaching of listening skills to beginning students of Japanese as a Foreign Language (JFL). Queensland Researcher, 10(2), 17-25. http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qr10/danaher.html


[ Contents Vol 10, 1994 ] [ QJER Home ]
Created 21 Aug 2005. Last revision: 21 Aug 2005.
URL: http://education.curtin.edu.au/iier/qjer/qr10/danaher.html