Listening plays a vital role in daily life. People listen for different purposes like communication, information, academic purposes, entertainment …In addition, without listening skill, no communication can be achieved. However, according to some previous researches, such as Rixon’ one (1993), those who learn English as a foreign language, especially in a non-native setting, find it difficult to acquire good listening skill.
The listening problems involved hearing the sounds, understanding intonation and stress, coping with redundancy and noise, predicting, comprehending colloquial vocabulary, fatigue, understanding different accents, using visual and aural environmental clues (Ur, ! 990). To investigate thoroughly this matter, in this project, listening skill of second-year English major students researched to point out the attitude of students towards learning listening, which difficulties they often face when listening English and the reasons for these problems.
This research would concentrate only on problems in term of redundancy, vocabulary and accents when students study listening English. Materials and Methods In order to gather the data for our study, a monolingual questionnaire (Appendix) was developed because of its advantages. For example, questionnaires are considered as reliable ways for collecting information since they are anonymous and this encourages greater honesty. Furthermore, they are also cheap and easy to answer. Our questionnaire was created including 9 closed items. Two first questions investigate whether listening skill is a hindrance for second-year English major students.
The next three questions ask students what problems they often face when studying listening English. And the four last ones probe what the reasons for their difficulties are. Second-year English Department students at Hanoi University were the subjects of our research. 50 students from different classes were all selected on voluntary basic. Most of them are female and the age range is 20-21. These participants were chosen because all of them may experience such problems. We started administering the project in Hanoi University in March, 2010.
All the participants were summoned to one class room. 50 questionnaires were sent to 50 subjects. Before they answered the questions, all the queries were responded and participants then progressed to completing the questionnaire. All the handouts were collected after 30 minutes. Results and discussion I. Evaluation of second-year English major students’ listening skill As illustrated in this column chart, studying listening is a really big obstacle for second-year English major students. The number of students who answered listening skill was hard was 60% and very difficult was 10%.
This figure was approximately six times as much as the percentage of students (12%) who thought listening English just was a trivial matter. Obviously, the large number of sophomores who are lack of confidence in their own abilities of listening proves their modest level at listening. II. Problems of academic listening facing second-year English major students The investigation into the difficulties which second-year English major students often encounter when studying listening shows that most of them have problems with redundancy, colloquial vocabulary and different accents.
As shown in table 1, it is clear that most of the sophomores agree that redundancy was a hindrance for them when listening. Redundancy includes such thing as repetition, paraphrases, self-correction, and the use of words such as “I mean”, “well”… A learner listener is often unable to profit from such redundancy by becoming aware that not every new sentence or phrase contains new information and that there is extra time available for comprehending. Instead, they will feel interfered and distracted. This was proved by the data recorded.
Among 50 students questioned, 43 ones said they always or sometimes faced problem with coping with redundancy. Whereas just 5 respondents answered redundancy rarely made them confused and 2 participants did not consider it a problem when studying listening. It appears to be in congruent with Ur’s finding (1990). She wrote in her book that a lot of foreign-language learners had problem with redundancy when listening English because they thought it was compulsory to comprehend everything, even absolutely unessential words and then they were thrown off balance if meeting any unknown words.
Furthermore, colloquial vocabulary is a language barrier to second-year English majors too. It is claimed by 86% of the students (43) to be one of the most common drawbacks in listening. 38 ones answered they sometimes encountered the problem with colloquial vocabulary and 5 participants always had trouble with that. Only 7 respondents hardly or never met the problem with colloquial vocabulary. In explanation, a lot of vocabulary used in colloquial speech may already be known by foreign listeners but this does not mean that they are familiar with them, especially those who have been confined to classroom learning environment.
This conclusion agrees with Ur’s study (1990). She noted that when colloquial vocabulary occurred in fast stream of listening, even if listening learners had learned that word yet but not been familiar with it, it was still difficult to be recognized. Moreover, the variety of accents also makes it difficult for sophomores to listen since they do not have much exposure to different accents. For instance, if learners listen to French people speaking English, they will feel hard to understand him or her because these speakers often speak English in a native French intonation.
The result from table 1 demonstrated that 94% of the students (47) experienced this kind of problem whereas only 6% of participants (3) reported that different accents were not their trouble. From this data, it can be seen that second-year English major students seemed to be not capable of understanding various accents. This finding is in accordance with what Ur (1990) has found out. According to Ur, “many foreign-language learners who are used to be the accent of their own teacher are surprised and dismayed when they find they have difficulty understanding someone else” (p. 0). III. Some reasons explaining the problems of second-year English major students As shown before from column chart 1, listening is actually an obstacle to students. In fact, to get good listening skill, it takes much time and efforts. However, many students seem to spend little time practicing at home. The data shows that second-year English major students’ level of listening depends on the frequency of studying listening. Of 3 respondents who were good at listening, all of them answered that they always studied listening.
On the contrary, of 47 students admitted to be at fair or poor level, 9 ones rarely studied listening and even among 32 people who said that they sometimes learned, 9 was still weak at this subject. This number indicates that the infrequency of studying can be one of the reasons that cause sophomores difficulties in listening. From table 3, it is obvious that most of the students who have problems with pronunciation encounter difficulties when studying listening. Of 47 students admitted to be fair or poor at listening skill, 38 replied that they were fair or weak at ronunciation too. Unlike, 2 out of 3 respondents who reported to be good at listening also claimed that they were good at articulation. So weakness at pronunciation might be another reason that made second-year English major confused when listening. Ur (1990) also proclaimed in her book that “It is certainly that if he learns to pronounce the sounds accurately himself, it will be much easier for him to hear them correctly when said by someone else” (p. 12). Furthermore, stress is very important for comprehension.
Also, intonation patterns are significant not just for interpreting such straightforward elements as questions, statements, emphasis but more subtle messages like praises or insults … However, paying attention to stress and intonation when listening was still not the habit of second-year English major students. Among 50 participants, 2 ones replied that they were good at listening skill and always paid attention to stress and intonation when they studied listening. Meanwhile, 22 respondents who rarely or never concentrated on stress and intonation got fair or poor results in listening.
It signified that not focusing on stress and intonation brought students bad results in studying listening. This conclusion is similar to Ur’s finding (1990). She found that the English system of stress, intonation and rhythm can stop listeners from comprehending spoken English. Another significant issue is the lack of background knowledge. General background knowledge (knowledge of culture, knowledge of the topic under discussion and general world knowledge of current affairs, art, politics, literature …) helps language learners make guesses about what they hear or read. Nevertheless, many students still do not concentrate on this area.
As the pie chart shows, just 15% of the sophomores proclaimed they were confident with their good background knowledge. Of 85% left, 45% of the second-year English majors were at fair degree and 40% admitted to be poor at background knowledge. It appeared that weakness at students’ listening skill can be caused by the limited background knowledge. This opinion was strongly confirmed by Anderson and Lynch (1993). They demonstrated that background knowledge is vital and “Gaps in our knowledge of the culture, of the association and references available to native users, can present obstacles to comprehension” (p. 5). Conclusion To sum up, the small-scale investigation shows some considerable points related to listening skill of second-year English major students. In general, most of them seem to have problems with listening. The most common difficulties collected by learners are redundancy, colloquial vocabulary and different accents. One of the reasons for their problems is the time they spend studying themselves is too little to improve listening skill. Moreover, difficulties are also caused by the weakness in pronunciation, stress and intonation.
Another factor is students’ limited background knowledge. It is highly recommended that to acquire an acceptable listening skill, students themselves should listen to the variety of materials and find out effective listening learning style. Simultaneously, learners had better improve theirs speaking skill and background knowledge by practicing and reading more. These are suggestions to solve the problems as well as to upgrade English listening skill for second-year English major students in Hanoi University. Hopefully, the findings we get from this project will help learners with better listening.