English has become an extremely popular language world-wide over a period of many years. It is seen as a bridge that helps people from different nations come closer to each other. Understanding its role, the Vietnamese Government and people consider the English language as an essential means to integrate into the world as well as to enhance the economy, education, foreign relationships, health care system, etc. in Vietnam. More than ever, the demand and requirements for English speaking proficiency among people are increasing. Therefore, the Government of Vietnam has developed a number of programs to popularize English and at the same time finds ways to improve the quality of English language learning and teaching. In 2008, the Ministry of Education and Training of Vietnam started the National Foreign Languages Project entitled "Teaching and Learning Foreign Languages in the National Education System, Period 2008-2020” which is aimed at making English compulsory in the school curriculum, teaching English for 3rd graders, thus by the year 2020 most Vietnamese students graduating from secondary, vocational schools, colleges and universities will be able to use a foreign language confidently (Nguyen, 2008).
To achieve this objective, a Vietnam language proficiency framework which consists of six levels compatible with the Common European Framework of Reference was developed. Students at upper secondary school are required to achieve B1 level after graduation and accordingly they must satisfy requirements of language skills utilization in the real world. Among four language skills, listening comprehension is considered as a crucial factor in language acquisition. According to Feyten (1991), in daily communication, people spend 45% of time in listening, 30% in speaking, 16% in reading and 9% in writing. Cornaway (1982) also states that listening has been regarded as the most frequently used language skill in the classroom. Thus it plays an even more important role in one's academic success than reading skill or academic aptitude. These indicators show that listening accounts for an important part in communication and obviously decides the success and effectiveness of information comprehension and exchange.
In recent years, there have been big changes in English teaching methodology focusing on teaching communicative skills for students. Listening is recognized as a critical means in communication and acquisition of language, however, it remains one of the least understood skills in language learning (Morley, 1991). The importance of reading and writing skills are still emphasized over listening and speaking skills. In spite of students' mastering English grammar and vocabulary, they still have a difficult time in understanding spoken English. Many students come to listening activities not only with little knowledge of the listening process, but also with serious misunderstanding about what will make them successful in listening. As a result, they pay little attention to listening lessons in the classroom.
In addition, it is obvious that the current English textbooks for students put an emphasis on listening comprehension, but listening texts seem not to be adequate and relevant to B1 level of Common European Framework. Therefore, according to requirements of National Foreign Language Project 2020, achieving B1 level seems to be impossible for high school graduates if there are no feasible solutions, supplementary materials and strategies to foster their listening skills and prepare them as active listeners in language learning. It is these significant deficiencies that have motivated the teachers direct and design supplementary listening materials to target CEFR-B1 Level for for students in order to help them improve their listening ability so that they cannot only achieve B1 level of CEFR upon graduation but also become more confident in real communication.
In this period of integration into the world, the improvement of English language communicative skills in general and listening skills in particular is an urgent need for high school students that must be achieved for success to occur. In order to meet this goal, the design of supplementary listening materials for students to target CERF B1-level is a practical necessity to help students enhance their listening comprehension ability and equip them with necessary skills for the school-leaving exam. Besides, several pedagogical implications for language teachers, students and school administrators are suggested.
Developing listening skills of foreign language learners is not a simple task. It requires great effort continuously from language teachers. Students at high schools are required to achieve the B1-level after graduation and accordingly they must satisfy requirements of language skills in use in real contexts. In order to help students become effective and active listeners, the teachers’ role is crucial. Below are several suggestions for language teachers in designing and using supplementary listening materials to facilitate the developments of students’ listening skills effectively.
- One of the first things a teacher should do is to find out what students understand about the listening process, their expectations of teachers to deal with listening difficulties, and their needs in the practice of listening. This could be done by conducting a survey or through discussion in class. In this way, teachers may gain a comprehensive understanding about students’ perceptions of learning listening, listening difficulties, and their real learning needs. Only when these issues are understood and addressed can the process of teaching listening become more and more effective.
- Motivation in language learning is an important factor that teachers should take into account in order to be able to stimulate their students. It is found in listening comprehension that without motivation learners have great difficulty in coping with the demands that listening requires. Therefore, teachers should prepare different interesting activities in pre-listening to engage students to take part in the listening lesson. Especially, introducing topics that are familiar to students and relevant to their personal experience can capture their interest in learning listening.
- Teachers should select the most appropriate strategies for presenting the lesson; for example, using top-down and bottom-up strategies. Top-down approaches include activities related to students’ background knowledge or a schema for what they will be listening to, whereas bottom-up approaches include listening for specific details, recognizing cognates or word-order patterns. At the same time, they should help learners become aware of and regulate these strategies to improve listening comprehension and enhance overall language learning success.
- It will be a much more useful way to enhance students’ understanding the spoken text if authentic materials are used in listening class instead of following the textbooks. Learners should be allowed to hear as much of the target language as possible. For example, a radio announcement or a slightly adapted movie in the target language in class not only helps students become familiar with different accents and with a realistic of speed of delivery, both of which are considered as obstacles in listening, but also motivates them to learn the language better. However, the level of difficulty of authentic materials to teach listening or to design supplementary materials should be taken into consideration so that authentic materials are able to be relevant to students’ levels.
- Along with the existing textbooks in the national curriculum, teachers should encourage students to practice listening at home with supplementary materials which target CEFR B1-level in order to build up their listening skills. The more students practice listening, the more their listening ability is developed.
- Testing is also an integral factor in the process of teaching listening. After 3 units in the curriculum, teachers should have students sit a listening test. In this way, teachers can help students assess at what level their listening abilities are so that they can set up their goals for the next test time. What is more, testing listening is one of the effective ways to arouse students’ motivation to make progress in the learning of listening.
To learn the listening skill effectively, students need to carry out the basic steps as follows:
First of all, students need to choose authentic materials which are easy and close to their daily life to listen to. They may feel a great deal of pride when they are able to comprehend something in the target language. For little difficult materials, students should listen many times. Day by day, they may find these materials no longer so difficult and be able to comprehend more difficult materials. Using this incremental way of learning, students’ listening ability will be improved, and it will be easier for them to communicate with native speakers.
Secondly, students need to be oriented and consulted in choosing interesting materials to practice listening. Establishing the purpose for listening and activating background knowledge of the topic can help students predict and anticipate the contents and identify appropriate listening strategies.
Finally, students should select top-down and bottom-up strategies appropriate to the listening tasks and use them flexibly and interactively. Students’ comprehension improves and their confidence increases when they use these strategies simultaneously to construct the meaning of the message.
For school administrators
The research results showed that school administrators play a very important role in the improvement of the quality of teaching and learning the listening comprehension skill so that students can achieve B1-level upon graduation. Below are some suggestions for school administrators:
First, besides the existing textbooks required in the common curriculum, school administrators should allow teachers to use the CEFR materials to teach in the listening lessons as linking teaching to the CEFR is a very effective way of achieving the given goals. In addition, these materials will not only provide students with authentic sources to practice listening but also help them become confident in the real life situations outside the classroom.
Next, in order to support the process of teaching and learning the listening skill effectively, the school should provide teaching facilities and modern teaching aids. Especially, a language laboratory should be equipped with a collection of audio and video tapes to enable students to improve their listening skill, and students of all classes are able to access to the lab.
Finally, teachers development is one of the vital factors to the success of teaching and learning a foreign language. Therefore, the school administrators should create ample opportunities for teachers to develop their both proficiency and methodology.
Nguyễn Thị Thu Thủy