The teaching and learning of listening and vocabulary in EFL classes at a Chinese university
Listening is an important skill for second language learners of any language. To develop listening skills effectively, research suggests using a more process-oriented than product-oriented approach to teaching listening. That is, placing greater emphasis on developing learner awareness and strategic competence than on answering listening comprehension questions. The present study investigates how listening is taught by two teachers in the context of Chinese tertiary English foreign language (EFL) classes, where listening tends to be taught as a discreet skill. Another focus of the research is how the relationship between vocabulary and listening is understood and addressed in this context. While it is well known that vocabulary knowledge is needed for and can be learnt through listening, less is known about how the vocabulary support is provided and vocabulary knowledge is gained in such listening classes.
This research involved three main areas of investigation. The first area investigated the teaching of listening. It involved a content analysis of listening materials in the textbook (e.g., listening texts and listening activities), followed by classroom observations of listening instruction practices, and post-lesson interviews with the teachers and their learners about their beliefs about teaching and learning listening. Findings showed that a product-oriented approach dominated the textbook materials, the classroom practices and the beliefs of the teachers and learners.
The second area concerns the vocabulary demands of these listening classes. This involved a corpus-based analysis of the frequency and kinds of vocabulary in the textbook, followed by measurement of the learners’ vocabulary size (i.e., the Vocabulary Size Test by Nation & Beglar, 2007) and knowledge (i.e., a recognition task in the Yes/No format). The corpus analyses results showed that: (1) vocabulary knowledge of 3000-word families was required to comprehend the textbook; (2) high frequency vocabulary made up the majority of the words in the textbook. The VST results showed that, on average, the learners’ written receptive size ranged from 5000 to 7000-word families. The pre-lesson Yes/No task results showed that the students had difficulty recognizing a substantial number of the words they met in the textbook.
The third area investigated the nature of vocabulary support and vocabulary learning in the listening class. Firstly, an analysis of the teachers’ classroom practices from observation data relating to vocabulary was carried out. Secondly, interview data from the teachers was examined for evidence of their beliefs about vocabulary and listening. Thirdly, post-lesson interview data with learners and data from a post-test repeat of the vocabulary recognition task were examined to find out more about the learners’ perceptions of vocabulary in listening class and the vocabulary learning gains they made in these classes. Findings revealed that the learners relied on the glossaries to prepare for listening classes. They also expected vocabulary instruction from the teachers, so long as it did not distract from listening activity completion. Both teachers primarily used translation to provide vocabulary support, but differed markedly in the amount of vocabulary support they provided. In both classes, significant vocabulary gains were found in a comparison of the pre-and-post lesson Yes/No task results. The vocabulary-related episodes in the listening classes were a notable influence on these learning gains.
This research has pedagogical implications for the EFL listening classroom. The findings highlight the mutually reinforcing influences of textbook design and teacher beliefs on how listening is taught. These influences, in turn, shape how learners perceive the process of developing their L2 listening skills. With respect to vocabulary and listening, the findings also suggest that even where the lexical demands of listening appear to be well within the vocabulary level of the learners, there is considerable potential for vocabulary learning from listening classes. Teachers and learners alike are likely to benefit from systematically building on this potential. Future research could further investigate L2 learners’ behaviors and perceptions in the listening class, and examine their vocabulary knowledge in the spoken form.