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英語聽力訓練在遠距教學上之探討  

2009-10-14 08:33:04|  分类: 远程英语 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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 Reflections on a Newly-designed On-line English Course

 

楊純暖

Yang Chun-nuan

中華技術學院共同科英語講師

Lecture of China Institute of Technology

 

摘   要

    隨著e世代的來臨,網路遠距教學已成為時下教學課程注入一脈新血,本文藉設計與錄製校內e-learning英語聽說補救教學之課程,闡述聽說能力,尤以聽力訓練在英語學習中所佔的重要角色及錄製相關課程該有的考量及建議

 

ABSTRACT

  With its speedy and practical functions, the innovative use of computers and the Internet has become indispensable, even in the educational field. So-called on-line courses, like new blood, have fast been integrated into teaching materials. The following presentation, through a self-designed e-learning course to enhance ESL basic-level students’ language competence, pinpoints mainly why it is important to improve basic skills, especially in listening comprehension, and the considerations and limitations needed to be noticed in its production.

key words:on-line course, e-learning, ESL

1、Introduction

    Over the past few decades, the increased utilization of computers, like an overwhelming tornado, has been sweeping every nook and cranny of the world. Anyone who knows how to access the Internet finds he can hardly escape from this international force. This is especially so of those technical geeks and professionals who totally involve themselves in deeper research and development. Nowadays, even in the educational field, there is an urgent need to incorporate new blood into our materials for language teaching and learning. As a college English teacher, I am highly privileged in assisting my school by designing a model to help students enhance their basic language skills, especially listening and speaking. In this article, the writer tries to focus on the following points: (1) Why is it important to improve listening and speaking skills? (2) What are the students’ main problems and difficulties in learning a language? (3) Will an on-line English course be effective in enhancing their listening and speaking skills? (4) What suggestions can be given to pinpoint the improvement of a self-designed Intranet on-line English program?

    Not until recently, did the enhancement of listening skills gain its own right in the field of language teaching and learning. For a long time, people regarded it as a passive skill and only gave it occasional attention. However, its research was revived following the theory that “comprehensible input is an important factor in second language acquisition, and comprehension-before production approach can facilitate language acquisition particularly in the early stages” (David Nunan 2002). As this field evolved, special attention began to shift and instructional materials which targeted aural comprehension grew from a handful of texts - Morley, 1972, Plaister, 1972, Under-wood, 1973, Marley and Moulding 1979, to an abundance found in the market today. (Joan Morley 1999) Such is the case in “Teaching English as a Second Language” in Taiwan. We have long adopted the grammar-translation method in teaching English, with the teacher at the front, being the center of attention of the class. The teacher, being a “dominator”, instead of a ‘facilitator’, pours out what he knows to the students using large amounts of his own native language, instead of the target language. As a result, most students encounter great difficulties when addressed in the target language, not to mention when communicating with foreigners. It is no wonder that they soon lose confidence and interest in their pursuit of learning a foreign language. As research has demonstrated, this basic skill underlies all in the cognitive and communicative processes of language learning. As language teachers we cannot help but recognize these two features which account for the importance of well-structured attention to aural comprehension:

   1.”Proficiency in listening comprehension makes a central contribution to the learner’s overall development of competency in the second/foreign language”.

   2. “The systematic development of listening comprehension is of critical importance not only as input for learning to speak the language, but also as a premier skill in its own right.” (Morley, 1996)

    No one will doubt the magic that having good listening skills and the ability to understand what is being said enables one to become fully confident in language communication with others. Unlike reading, one does not have the chance to adjust the pace of speech, to listen again or to check an unknown word. The need to understand what one hears on the spot makes it even more crucial to develop the ability to listen well.

    Listening to the second language well is a very active skill, which leads to another premier skill---the acquisition of speaking ability. In fact, basic problems with speaking can be related to poor listening skills or strategies, pronunciation difficulties, and a lack of vocabulary or grammatical inaccuracies.   

2、How the On-line course starts

    As mentioned above, students in Taiwan face many obstacles in language learning. For them, English really is a very important international language, and it may well be an official language in the near future. The authorities concerned advocate the need and importance of learning English as soon as possible. Educational institutions and other organizations all set required standards for either graduation from school or for securing good jobs. However, with a lack of exposure to the target language in school (it is not enough to have only two to three teaching hours per week), inadequate practice after school, and most importantly- their own attitude towards learning, the English ability of Taiwanese students is far from satisfactory. Nowadays, due to the global spread of English, the demand for effective English language teaching is higher than ever and the challenges will be even greater. Educators and experienced teachers tend to develop their own theories of teaching and firmly believe that future teaching materials will be quite different, or at the least, will provide bigger and better breakthroughs. Teaching materials should have the following traits and characteristics: (1) A great combination of information technology and education. (2) The ability for students to adjust their pace of study according to their own level, to match their individual goals for learning. (3) Supplying students with systematic learning and build students’ confidence efficiently. (4) Providing teachers with the best teaching resources, saving precious time in the search for necessary information. (5) Providing access to self-study for people of all ages.(6) The best audio and video effects to draw on students’ attention, helping them to become fully immersed in the fun of learning – enjoying the feeling of achievement. (7) The materials themselves, unlike a professional tutor, to be used at a student’s disposal at any time--- day or night.

 

3、An Overview of this Self-designed On-line Course

    Under these circumstances, adding technology to teacher-preparation programs, like a ship in full sail, got off to a good start. For language teachers, the acquisition and enhancement of language proficiency is their first priority .For this reason, an on-line English course was designed to increase learning and improve teaching. Since this program was mainly designed as a remedial course for students who had failed their required test as a result of deficiency in listening comprehension, the great responsibility fell on me-- to clear up the garden so that the seeds could sprout and grow again!

4、Difficulties in Listening for ESL Learners

    Listening is a very demanding process, not only because of the complexity of the process itself, but also due to factors that characterize the listener, the speaker, the content of the message, and any visual support that accompanies the message (Brown & Yule, 1983)

    In addition to some language independent factors which cause problems in understanding spoken English (tiredness, nervousness, not being in the mood to receive any information, lack of attention, disturbance due to background noises, unfamiliarity with the topic), misunderstanding may still result from a combination of language specific factors such as the accent of speakers, intonation of patterns, stress, unfamiliar words, idioms, colloquialism, words used in informal style and speed.

    Students in Taiwan, influenced by all kinds of factors are defined at best as “listeners of limited ability”. According to Michael Rost, they are (1) able to understand limited styles of speech that are intelligible to well-educated native listeners in the target community and are most often not successful or appropriate in attempts to seek clarification when speech is unintelligible; (2) not able to understand unfamiliar abstract concepts expressed in the TL without considerable non-linguistic support; usually requiring repetition or re-explanation or multiple clarification exchanges; (3) usually unable to understand enough of the linguistic/pragmatic input to infer the gist of the communicative event, hence displaying a limited range of listener responses.

    If this is the case for most students in Taiwan, then what kind of listening task should be set up for those students who are even worse? What should be taken into account when designing materials for listening development?

5、Input

As Michael Rost pointed out, the task should provide a ’problem source’ that is interesting enough to engage the learners, and rich enough in linguistic and ideational content to allow different learners to apply skills and strategies at their own level of competence, and to project learning outcomes onto significant issues of learning. Texts that are projective onto larger cultural issues and important personal issues for the learners are likely to be of most value. In addition, tasks should use appropriate input material, whether from the teacher or other speakers, or from recorded audio or video sources, in consideration of learner attention, motivation, and prior context, rather than only in terms of “linguistic difficulty”.

6、Format

Considering this as the first concern, the contents for this basic on-line course are discretely designed to first enhance students’ aural skills and then oral skills. Topics are relevant to their daily life and focus on their primary concerns, so that listeners may engage their interest in this program. Besides, vivid and colorful animated pictures are added not only as eye-catching visual aids but also as helpful, motivating strategies to lead to more successful learning results. Instructional materials come in the form of structured dialogs, vocabulary items, phrases, grammar focus and listening activities that are taught in a progressive way. Both English native speakers and Chinese English teachers cooperate to create authentic language exchange. Last, but not the least, is the great incorporation of this well-designed course with technology- the so- called “on-line course” or “e-learning”.

When creating this on-line program, there are a variety of key concepts that need to be taken into account, in addition to the content itself. Once the foundations of the e-program are established, it is necessary to develop standards of quality. On-line courses to enhance students’ listening competence, for instance, must consider the following: (1) How long is the course? (2) How is the content presented to the learner? (3) How does the e-course sequence itself with the different learning blocks of material? (4) Is the material relevant and adaptable to the level of the learner? Listening courses should have a specific time limit for the potential audience, in case they get easily bored. Course designers must also consider if the native speaker of the target language is professional with accurate, natural accent and whether he/she can produce the language in an authentic and meaningful way? It is important that both instructors be well prepared and able to coordinate with each other in organizing and presenting the course material. Everything must be in logical order that is both “theoretically and pedagogically sound”. More importantly, the two instructors must make sure they have the technical support and technical requirements necessary to host an efficient on-line course for language learners. (Christine Canning-Wilson 2000)

7、Other Considerations

(1)   The e-teacher must decide what approach he/she should take, for example, task-based learning or self-directed learning? In an asynchronous e-course, unlike in the traditional classroom, where teachers can monitor the students work completion personally, the instructors should consider what methodologies he/she can utilize to help their students better their language skills, how to encourage them to develop listening strategies, and how to guide them to transfer successfully their listening skills to the world beyond the on-line classroom.

(2)   On-line teachers should also think of the emotional make-up of the students who will not have any physical contact with other students enrolled in the course. False beginning and beginning level students easily give up in their quest in language learning. How to get these students involved in the course and to maintain motivation is a great challenge to both teachers and students. When designing the post-listening activity, the curriculum, if it is a distributive model (uni-directional from the material designer to the learner), should consist of listening passages with multiple choice fill-in-the-gap questions, where the answers are automatically assessed to avoid the risk of causing embarrassment or intimidation.

(3)   Since assessment drives instruction, it is essential to offer honest evaluation, constructive feedback and to listen to observers and participants when evaluating an on-line course. (Christine Canning-Wilson, 2000) Working from a backward course design enabled us to structure learning tasks to the needs of individual students while moving toward our goals and objectives. From the students’ perspective, the most valuable lesson is the necessity of understanding one’s own learning style in order to regulate and monitor one’s own learning (Bonita L. Wilcox & Linda C. Wojnar)

8、Limitations

Looking back over this on-line course, I must admit that it is challenging and painstaking, but a great job really worth trying. To those students who used this on-line course in the self-study center, during their free time, I found that through a questionnaire they all performed well in their listening comprehension tests- except for those students who completely refused to enter the self-study center. Since it is an intranet on-line English program for school use, there are still a lot of limitations when producing it: (1) In an asynchronous e-course, especially a course designed for listening and speaking, there is great limitation in the interaction between teachers and students. It is difficult to monitor the students’ reactions and performance. (2) An e-course is a great combination of video and audio aids to help students learn a foreign language more efficiently. It caters to different learning styles. The auditory learners can listen to audios more than once, while visual learners can benefit from the visual input. Slow learners can spend more time with the material while more advanced learners can progress at their own speed. Nevertheless, the “one-way ‘distributive model” cannot reach the required standards. Students’ may see the teachers, but they cannot clearly see their facial expressions, gestures or observe the body language of a situation, or whether the speaker is hesitant or not about a particular subject. (3) The instructors and students have to face the occasional technical problems that may detract from the quality of the program, which might push some students into ending his or her involvement in the learning process.

9、Conclusion

Once the obstacles are conquered or the limitations ironed out, maybe the scope of e-course can be enlarged into a synchronous one, with more teachers contributing their wisdom and energy, and with more authentic, natural language being added. In this way, students can be motivated to make their first step and to brush up on their listening skills on a regular basis. After all, it is a challenge that demands both the teachers’ and the learners’ attention, because of the critical role that listening plays, not only in communication, but also in the acquisition of language. Technology itself should never be used just because it is accessible. It must be used when it truly enhances and enriches our language learning experience.

 

References

1. Bonita L. Wilcox & Linda C. Wojnar 2000 Best Practice Goes Online Reading-Online

2. Brown, G. & Yule, G.. 1983 Teaching the Spoken Language Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

3. Christine Canning-Wilson. 2000 E-learning with the E-teacher: Considerations for On-line Course Design. The Weekly Column Article 42

4. Christine Meloni 1998 The Internet in the classroom- A Valuable Tool and Resource for ESL/EFL Teachers ESL Magazine

5. Joan Morley 1999 Current Perspectives On Improving Aural Comprehension

ESL Magazine

6. Michael Rost 1990 Listening in Language learning  New York & London: Longman

7. Ming Yee Carissa Young 1997 A serial Ordering of Listening Comprehension Strategies by Advanced ESL learners in Hong Kong Asian Journal of English LanguageTeaching Vol.7, PP35-53

8. David Nunan 2002 Listening in a second Language Selected Papers from the Eleventh International Symposium on English Teaching/Fourth Pan Asian Conference pp120-129

9. Shawn moote 2002 Evaluation Considerations for On-line ESL Courses The Internet TESOL Journal Vol. VIII

 

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