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Numer: 11066
Dział: Języki obce

The use of video materials for the practice and development of listening skills

What additional types of information does video material make available to the language learner? What are the advantages of using video material for the practice and development of listening skills?
Each user of the language possesses different language abilities. The person can listen to the radio, speak on the phone, read newspapers or write letters. However, to perform certain actions he/she should be able to acquire some language skills. Jeremy Harmer identifies four major skills which he further divides into two groups: receptive skills (listening and reading) and productive skills (speaking and writing) (16-17). Even though they belong to different groups of language skills, listening and speaking are closely connected. It is impossible to develop speaking skills unless one develops listening skills. In order to communicate successfully with others, students must understand what is being said to them. The teacher’s job is to prepare the students for listening to and understanding spoken English because this ability is essential for communication. Therefore, the students should be exposed as often as possible to English spoken at natural speed. Listening to spoken English is an important way of acquiring the language for the students ‘pick up’ structures and vocabulary just as they would ‘pick up’ their own language. When the students live in an English speaking country they are constantly exposed to English sounds which makes it easier for them to master the listening skills. Thus, the teacher of English who is responsible for teaching listening skills to students in the classroom environment should create opportunities for the students to listen to English spoken at a natural speed. Jeremy Harmer claims that students ‘need to hear the language used so that they can both imitate the pronunciation and also subconsciously acquire some of its sounds and patterns [...] students should be given as much exposure to people speaking the language correctly as possible’ (22).
In his book Teach English – A Training Course for Teachers Adrian Doff singles out two ways in which people listen in real life. One of them is ‘casual listening’. This takes place when we listen with no particular purpose in mind, often without much concentration, e.g. listening to the radio while chatting to a friend. We usually listen very closely only to information that particularly interests us. After ‘casual listening’ we usually do not remember much of what we heard. The other type of listening Doff mentions is called ‘focused listening’. This takes place when we listen for a particular purpose. In this kind of listening we listen more closely but still we do not listen to everything we hear with equal concentration. We usually know beforehand what we are listening for and we concentrate on the most important and essential points of information (17-18). David Nunan, in Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom, also reports two types of listening: reciprocal ‘where there is the opportunity for the listener to interact with the speaker, and to negotiate the content of the interaction’ and nonreciprocal, which involves ‘listening to the radio or a formal lecture where the transfer of information is in one direction only – from the speaker to the listener’ (12). In order to be able to face the complexity of listening successfully one should learn the skill of identifying spoken signals from other surrounding sounds and segmenting the stream of speech into words. In addition to the mentioned skills the listener should also possess a wide range of non-linguistic knowledge and skills, like the social and cultural knowledge and an appropriate purpose for listening.
In her book Teaching Listening Comprehension Penny Ur gives main factors which influence listening in real life. Some of them would be mentioned here. The first one is ‘purpose and expectation’ – she claims that we listen for certain key phrases or words but in order to do so we must have a purpose in listening to something, otherwise we shall not listen at all, let alone understand. ‘Heard discourse which corresponds closely to what the listener expects and needs to hear is far more likely to be accurately perceived and understood than that which is unexpected, irrelevant or unhelpful’ (4). The other very important factor is ‘the visibility of the speaker’- it is usual that in real-life listening situation, towards which the teacher wishes to train his/her students, the speaker is present. Ur claims that one of the drawbacks of using audio recordings is depriving the students of the ability to see the speaker, his facial expression and movements which may provide the students with some aids to comprehension. However, by using the recordings the teacher still provides the students with some valuable expose to a far greater range of different voices and accents, moods, registers and background effects (4-5). The other one Ur mentions is ‘environmental clues’ – where ‘Apart from the speaker himself – his facial expression, posture, eye direction, proximity, gesture, tone of voice – a real life listening situation is normally rich in environmental clues as to the content and implications of what is said’ (5). Ur continues that visual clues and the general surroundings contribute valuable background information about the situation, speakers and general atmosphere. Even though they do not provide information about the actual topic of discourse they contribute all additional information which helps the listener to comprehend the sense of what is said if he/she understands at least some of the language. Anderson and Lynch, in Listening, also claim that ‘we listen for a purpose [...] Since we have non-linguistic purposes in listening, it follows that listening effectively also involves non-linguistic skills’ (4). They also claim that listening is an active process and should never be regarded as passive. According to Anderson and Lynch the listener has to use various type of knowledge and apply what he/she knows to what he/she hears. Only then can the listener try to find out what the speaker wanted to say (6). In addition to these, they also state that the relationship between the first language and the second language listening comprehension and the process of understanding of the first and the second language ‘are fundamentally the same, apart from specific additional L2 problems’ and that ‘the available research points to similarities, rather than differences, between L1 and L2 listening comprehension process’ (21).
What are the implications of all these for listening comprehension and practicing language skills in the foreign language classroom? The teacher should try to incorporate all the characteristics of real-life listening into the classroom practice. It would be perfect if the heard discourse could be accompanied by some environmental, visual clues. They can be represented by various visuals, like pictures or the like. However, video materials seem to be the perfect choice for the foreign language classroom. Films or video programmes can provide students with enjoyable listening, especially because they are usually associated by students with pleasurable recreation. As Penny Ur states, ‘they are an excellent medium for giving students some entertaining and useful listening practice’ (67). The major advantage of video tapes is that students, usually, see the speakers and can have the visual context for what is being said. Thus, the factors which influence listening skills in real life, which were already mentioned, can be met in the English classroom: the visibility of the speaker, the presence of environmental clues and, thanks to the use of certain techniques, purpose and expectation.
Many video materials, prepared specially for the use in an English classroom, have appeared in the last years. Margaret Allan classifies them in accordance to the role they can serve in an English classroom: ‘presenting language; presenting the country and its culture; telling stories; presenting topics’ (19). Video materials make many additional type of information available to the language learner and thus, they can help with the effective learning of listening skills. Video makes full use of ‘environmental clues’ and ‘the visibility of the speaker’. By exploiting the visual the teacher may introduce the real life elements into the classroom. This could be considered a great advantage, especially for the visual type students, for they may feel more secure while listening to foreign sounds which are accompanied by visual aids. ‘Listeners benefit from further help in the form of visual support material that is designed to assist their interpretation of what they hear [...] Since the medium of videotape provides access to more information than is the case with audiotape [...] video material will offer the language learner greater support’ (Anderson and Lynch, 58). The student’s confidence may help to build his/her competence in listening comprehension. Margaret Allan claims there are ‘different ways you can transmit a message to another human being: by waving, nodding, [...] frowning, slamming the door, moving away from someone who sits beside you, pointing, raising your eyebrows. All of this is in addition to, and often accompanying, speech’ (66-67). The gestures, smiles, as well as the background all carry some clues which can help the learners to deduce what is being said and guess the characters’ feelings even if the students do not understand all the words and utterances which are being said. In real life communication the speakers apart from verbal interaction (speech) also engage other, non-verbal elements. ‘With video we have the opportunity, if we want to take it, of paying attention to the visual as well’ and these are: ‘gestures, facial expression, eye contact, posture, proximity, appearance, setting’ (Allan, 68). In her book Teaching English with Video Margaret Allan gives a thorough explanation of the above mentioned additional type of information: visual aids. According to her many gestures and facial expressions are similar and tend to occur in various cultures. Thus, they may be quite easily understood by the foreign language learners and may give them some support in their development of listening skills. However, the eye contact, posture (body language) or proximity (social norms for the distance people stand or sit from each other) may differ depending on cultural norms. Appearance can, though, tell the learners a lot about the people engaged in the conversation. Even if they come from a different country, there are certain clothes or personal belongings which became symbolic of a group or a nation, e.g. a kilt, and may be easily recognized by the language learners thus, adding information about the interlocutors. Also the setting may provide many clues as to the content of the conversation. The learners may have certain expectations of how people should behave in certain physical surroundings, e.g. a shop or a church, and this may help to get the message. Allan calls the last two visual elements ‘extralinguistic elements’ (69). The student’s knowledge of the world and the aid of extralinguistic context may certainly add to the development of listening comprehension. One of the arguments for introduction of the video material which includes learnt gesture is the fact that they are used, in some cultures, in the same way the language is learnt and so, the teaching of the learnt gestures could help with mastering listening skills. However, ‘it is not always easy to predict just what problems a particular group of learners is likely to have with any materials. This is perhaps even more the case with interpretation of visuals’ (Allan, 71). Yet, thanks to video materials, which present the second language learners with the target language culture, the students may learn not only about a linguistic system but may become familiar with the foreign cultural system. ‘Gaps in our knowledge of the L2 culture, of the associations and references available to native users, can present obstacles to comprehension’ (Anderson and Lynch, 35). By giving the visual support, the video may help to avoid the obstacles.
The visual signs can help with understanding the verbal message. However, they should be well chosen and adjusted to the level of the language learners. Jeremy Harmer states that ‘A close link between what the picture tells you and what the sound conveys is important for elementary level students. They need all the help they can get in following a language they don’t know at all well. For more advanced students, on the other hand, you may be looking for material where the pictures give less support and the comprehension challenge is correspondingly greater’ (23). At the basic stage of learning video’s main role is to provide the language learners with realistic examples of language in use. The presented situations should be simple but happening outside the classroom. The teacher should try to fulfill the ‘purpose and expectation’ factor. This means that he/she should use video material ‘which provides as much visual support as possible and situations where the language is highly predictable’ (Allan, 73). Thanks to the use of video materials the learners have a possibility to listen to the language as it is used in real world and they gain confidence in coping with real life listening situations. Allan also claims that with students at an intermediate level video gains the new role. It can ‘provide variety, interest and stimulation’ and it ‘is a good medium with which to move [the students] away from the beginner’s preoccupation with individual words to an attempt to follow the general drift of the message’ (73). At the advanced level students can be presented with the authentic video materials which were designed for native speakers of English. Such materials provide the language learners with the real life type of listening experience and the students can build up their listening and comprehension skills.
As was stated before, there are various purposes for which video material could be used. The video drama in which the language learners can see the actors or speakers whose facial expressions usually give clues to their spoken message is not the only type used by the teachers to help in developing listening skills. The other type, quite often used in the classroom, is a documentary. The students cannot see the person who is speaking. ‘In linguistic terms, the commentary displays features of written language rather than spoken language. The soundtrack voice comments on the scenes which are presented visually and adds further information. It does more than simply tell the viewers what they are looking at’ (Dawson, 5). With the use of such a video material the teacher may practice ‘focused listening’, mentioned by Doff, that is, listening for a particular purpose. However, the factor of ‘purpose and expectation’, mentioned by Ur, has to be fulfilled for the listening to be successful. The students should be prepared for the viewing, they should be encouraged to make predictions about what they are going to hear and see. Such a preparation will certainly help in their comprehension of the commentary to the video. Apart from practicing listening comprehension the students also have a chance to gain new information about the country that speaks the language they are studying and its culture. Video materials can also serve as the source of information on how to behave and lead the conversation in specific situations, e.g. business presentations or discussions. Thanks to the recorded video material the learners who study English for specific purposes can not only listen to but also look at ‘records [of] real discussions between real people working in a factory, the travel industry and an office’ (Allan, 21).
In the visual aided comprehension the target language is presented in a well-contextualised setting where the learner sees and hears the target language in use at the same time. Combining of the two elements to make the meaning clear for the students of a foreign language is a great advantage of videos. The target language phrases are presented in communicative situations, which contain enough visual clues to leave the learner to focus on listening. This reinforces the point that we need both components, hearing and seeing, for successful comprehension. Printed material may give the learners little information about how the language is spoken. Not only is it important to know how language is spoken, but learners must also be made aware of the appropriate register, and accompanying paralinguistic and non-linguistic features, which the video can be used to demonstrate to great effect. Video material combines visual and audio stimuli, provides context for learning. It usually shows facial expression and other body language appropriate to the dialogue taking place thus presenting the visual context. What is more, video is a powerful tool in helping English language learners to improve their language skills for learners tend to learn more when their interest is engaged. Due to the fact that films are popular and have universal appeal across cultures, not only do they provide the students with the current language usage but they also make the lessons more interesting and help to increase the learner’s motivation. The listening skills can be practiced and developed by the use of various techniques, like: freeze frame, sound only, jigsaw viewing, repeated viewing or silent viewing followed by the activities which would confirm students’ expectations. ‘The technique has [...] advantages for listening [...]: the students’ expectations and interest are aroused, and they have a definite purpose for listening’ (Harmer, 215).
It should be well understood by all teachers that, as Michael Rost claims, ‘listening is an active process’ which ‘plays an active part in language learning’ (3).To become good listeners, students have to be able to distinguish not only the linguistic clues like sounds or words, but also all paralinguistic cues like intonation and stress, as well as non-linguistic cues like gestures and background information. In an English classroom there should always be a place for using video materials since they make all the additional, paralinguistic and non-linguistic, information available to the students. They are also interesting and as Rost states ‘it is vitally important for the listener to become engaged in the process of listening and develop a desire to understand’ (5). The video can help the learners to become independent listeners by giving them an opportunity of the contact with ‘real life’ listening experience in the classroom conditions.

opracowała mgr Izabela Mucha


Allan, Margaret. Teaching English with Video. Burnt Mill, Harlow Essex: Longman, 1985

Anderson, Anne and Tony Lynch. Listening. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988

Dawson, Nick. Introducing Great Britain. ‘Teacher’s Notes and Workbook Answer Key’. Burnt Mill, Harlow Essex:Longman ELT VIDEO, 1991

Doff, Adrian. Teach English – A Training Course for Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991

Harmer, Jeremy. The Practice of English Language Teaching. London and New York: Longman, 1991

Nunan, David. Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1989

Rost, Michael. Listening in Action. Hemel Hempstead Hertfordshire: Prentice Hall, 1991

Ur, Penny. Teaching Listening Comprehension. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984

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