Common Challenges with Listening for ESL Students

Listening is always a challenge as students acquire any language. Both teachers and students know that it takes time to developing comprehension when listening to a second language.

This post will explain some of the common obstacles to listening for ESL students. Generally, some common roadblocks includes the following.

  • Slang
  • Contractions
  • Rate of Delivery
  • Emphasis in speech
  • Clustering
  • Repetition
  • Interaction

Slang

Slang or colloquial language is a major pain for language learners. There are so many ways that we communicate in English that does not meet the prescribed “textbook” way. This can leave ESL learners completely lost as to what is going on.

A simple example would be to say “what’s up”. Even the most austere English teacher knows what this means but this is in no way formal English. For someone new to English it would be confusing at least initially.

Contractions

Contractions are unique form of slang or colloquialism that is more readily accept as standard English. A challenge with contractions is there omission of information. With this missing information there can be confusion.

An example would be “don’t” or “shouldn’t”. Other more complicated contractions can include “djeetyet” for “did you eat yet”. These common phrase leave out or do not pronounce important information.

Rate of Delivery 

When listening to someone in a second language it always seems too fast. The speed at which we speak our own language is always too swift for someone learning it.

Pausing at times during the delivery is one way to allow comprehension with actually slowing the speed at which one speaks. The main way to overcome this is to learn to listening faster if this makes any sense.

Emphasis in Speech

In many languages there are complex rules for understanding which vowels to stress, which do not make sense to a non-native speaker. In fact, native speakers do not always agree on the vowels to stress. English speakers have been arguing or how to pronounce potato and tomato for ages.

Another aspect is the intonation. The inflection in many languages can change when asking a question, a statement, or being bored, angry or some other emotion. These little nuances of language as difficult to replicate and understand.

Clustering

Clustering is the ability to break language down into phrases. This helps in capturing the core of a language and is not easy to do. Language learners normally try to remember everything which leads to them understanding nothing.

For the teacher,  the students need help in determining what is essential information and what is not. This takes practice and demonstrations of what is considered critical and not in listening comprehension.

Repetition

Repetition is closely related to clustering and involves the redundant use of words and phrases. Constantly re-sharing the same information can become confusing for students. An example would be someone saying “you know” and  “you see what I’m saying.” This information is not critical to understanding most conversations and can throw of the comprehension of a language learner.

Interaction

Interaction has to do with a language learner understanding how to negotiate a conversation. This means being able to participate in a discussion, ask questions, and provide feedback.

The ultimate goal of listening is to speak. Developing  interactive skills is yet another challenge to listening as students must develop participatory skills.

Conclusion

The challenges mentioned here are intended to help teachers to be able to identify what may be impeding their students from growing in their ability to listen. Naturally, this is not exhaustive list but serves as a brief survey.

 

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