Listening as comprehension is the traditional way of thinking about the nature of listening. Indeed, in most methodology manuals listening and listening comprehension are synonymous. This view of listening is based on the assumption that the main function of listening in second language learning is to facilitate understanding of spoken discourse. We will examine this view of listening in some detail before considering a complementary view of listening – listening as acquisition. This latter view of listening considers how listening can provide input that triggers the further development of second-language proficiency.
Two different kinds of processes are involved in understanding spoken discourse. These are often referred to as bottom-up and top-down processing. Bottom-up processing refers to using the incoming input as the basis for understanding the message. Comprehension begins with the received data that is analyzed as successive levels of organization – sounds, words, clauses, sentences, texts – until meaning is derived. Comprehension is viewed as a process of decoding. The listener’s lexical and grammatical competence in a language provides the basis for bottom-up processing. The input is scanned for familiar words, and grammatical knowledge is used to work out the relationship between elements of sentences.
Top-down processing, on the other hand, refers to the use of background knowledge in understanding the meaning of a message. Whereas bottom-up processing goes from language to meaning, top-down processing goes from meaning to language. The background knowledge required for top-down processing may be previous knowledge about the topic of discourse, situational or contextual knowledge, or knowledge in the form of “schemata” or “scripts” – plans about the overall structure of events and the relationships between them.
In real-world listening, both bottom-up and top-down processing generally occur together. The extent to which one or the other dominates depends on the listener’s familiarity with the topic and content of a text, the density of information in a text, the text type, and the listener’s purpose in listening. For example, an experienced cook might listen to a radio chef describing a recipe for cooking chicken to compare the chef’s recipe with her own. She has precise schema to apply to the task and listens to register similarities and differences. She makes more use of top-down processing. However, a novice cook listening to the same program might listen with much greater attention trying to identify each step in order to write down the recipe. Here, far more bottom-up processing is needed.
Types of spoken language In monologues, when one speaker uses spoken language for any length of time, as in speeches, lectures, readings, news broadcasts, and the like, the hearer must process long stretches of speech without interruption—the stream of speech will go on whether or not the hearer comprehends. Planned, as opposed to unplanned, monologues differ considerably in their discourse structures. Planned monologues (such as speeches and other prewritten material) usually manifest little redundancy and are therefore relatively difficult to comprehend. Unplanned monologues (impromptu lectures and long “stories” in conversations, for example) exhibit more redundancy, which makes for ease in comprehension, but the presence of more performance variables and other hesitations can either help or hinder comprehension. While Dialogues involve two or more speakers and can be subdivided into those exchanges that promote social relationships (interpersonal) and those for which the purpose is to convey prepositional or factual information (transactional). In each case, participants may have a good deal of shared knowledge (background information, schemata); therefore, the familiarity of the interlocutors will produce conversations with more assumptions, implications, and other meanings hidden between the lines. In conversations between or among participants who are unfamiliar with each other, references and meanings have to be made more explicit to assure effective comprehension. When such references are not explicit, misunderstandings can easily follow.
Systematically presenting (1) listening for main ideas, (2) listening for details, and (3) listening and making inferences helps students develop a sense of why they listen and which skill to use to listen better. Teachers can build skills by asking students to focus on their reason for listening each time they listen. This is a form of strategy training. Strategies are clearly a way to ease the burden of listening and should be taught. However, the problem with a lot of strategy training is that there are so many strategies. There are literally books full of them. One approach is to choose a select number of strategies and to teach them repeatedly. The idea of knowing the purpose of listening is a very effective first strategy to teach because it helps students organize and reflect on their learning. (Mally and Chamot, 1990).
In summary, listening is a complex activity, and we can help students comprehend what they hear.
Brown, H. D. (2007). Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy. San Francisco State University: Pearson Longman.
Brown Steven. (2006). Teaching Listening. Cambridge University Press.
Richards Jack C. (2008). Teaching Listening and Speaking. Cambridge University Press.
Title : Teaching Listening
Name : Riza Syahputra
Semester/Unit : VI/4
NIM : 140900369
Number of Words : 851
 Jack C. Richards, Teaching Listening and Speaking (Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 3
 Ibid; p. 4
 Ibid; p. 7
 Ibid; p.10
 H. Douglas Brown, TEACHING by PRINCIPLES An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy (San Francisco State, 2007), p. 47-48
 Steven Brown, Teaching Listening (Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 6
 Ibid; p. 4