Listening is one of the most pivotal skills that language learners need to improve, and thanks to technological tools such as MP3/4 players, websites such as YouTube, and companies producing language learning software such as TELLMEMORE, language learners as well as teachers have almost no difficulty in accessing listening materials, whether authentic or created for language learning purposes. Today’s teachers and students, with no doubt, are luckier than the ones in the past when it comes to listening, not to mention reading and other skills.
Research on language learners’ listening skill in L2 has looked into various aspects of listening such as speed of delivery, note-taking, and background knowledge. East and King (2012), in their article, investigates whether slowing down the tempo of IELTS-type listening materials will have any effect on the participants’ performance on the tasks given and their perceptions regarding the difficulty of these tasks. With this aim in mind,
The authors worked with 120 intermediate-level (B1 level on the Common European Framework) English language learners in New Zealand. The participants were divided into four groups considering the results of initial listening test based on the published materials of the IELTS examination and delivered once at normal speed:
a) normal speed (control group)
b) tempo reduced by 15%
c) tempo reduced by 22.5%
d) tempo reduced by 30%.
The same listening test materials were used in all these four groups. The independent variable was the speed of delivery and the dependent variable was the scores that each group had at the end of the test. In the control group, no change has been made to the speed; however, in the other groups, the listening materials were slowed down by using Audacity. The participants were also asked to provide responses to the questionnaire on the speed and the test difficult of the listening materials.
The results showed that all the experimental groups performed significantly better than the control group. However, there was no difference among the experimental groups. In other words, slowing the speed of the listening materials did affect the performance, but the degree of slowing speed (-15%, 22.5%, -30%) did not lead to any significant difference in performance. Moreover, the responses provided to the questionnaire showed that the participants in the experimental groups perceived the test less difficult. As stated by the authors, the study provided contradictory results regarding the review of the studies discussed in the literature review of the article and indicated that the speed of a listening test greatly influenced the test results and the participants’ perceptions.
I thought as much when I read the results since my own experience and the discussions that I hold with my students clearly show that although the level of the students and their listening habits play a great role in their performance on this kind of test, the speed of delivery of any listening material will naturally affect their performance. However, as also mentioned in the article, there remains a question: Since high stakes language exams such as TOEFL and IELTS include authentic listening materials; that is, speed of delivery is by no way slowed down or changed, will it be a good strategy to expose our students to listening materials whose speed or tempo is slowed down? For beginner students, the answer will most probably be ‘yes’, but what about students of higher levels?
By the way, I have included some links to popular websites that aim to provide learners of English with ample practice in listening.
http://www.eslvideo.com/ For those who are willing to create quizzes using YouTube Videos.
East, M., & King, C. (2012). L2 learners’ engagement with high stakes listening tests: Does technology have a beneficial role to play? CALICO Journal, 29(2), 208-223.