By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
In a previous posting, Learning to Listen, I shared some important lessons I had learned from a presentation I attended at TESOL 2013. One of my biggest takeaways from that presentation was that I needed to do a much better job of incorporating bottom-up listening skill building in my ESL classes. According to research conducted by Goh (2000) the vast majority of students’ difficulties with listening were related to bottom-up skills. Moreover, Tsui and Fullilove (1998) found that less skilled listeners rely on bottom-up strategies to such a degree that their listening comprehension suffers. Therefore, all our students, but especially those who struggle with listening comprehension, benefit from more practice that develops their bottom-up listening skills.
So, what are bottom-up listening, or decoding, skills? Well, it means “using the information we have about sounds, word meanings, and discourse markers, like first, then and after that, to assemble our understanding of what we read or hear one step at a time.” (Brown, 2011, page 19) According to experts like Goh (2000), Field (2008), and Vandergrift and Goh (2012), some of the biggest problems students have with listening include the inability to segment speech into manageable chunks, to recognize individual words, even ones they easily recognize in print, in streams of speech, and to comprehend English spoken at a natural rate.
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