Approaches to Teaching Listening Skills.

Among the other four skills, listening is the one that has been mostly forgotten and neglected in second language classrooms.

Teachers don’t pay much attention to this skill and teach it carelessly. In the field of language teaching and learning, proficiency has tended to be viewed as the ability of speaking and writing in language in question. Listening and reading skills are in the second position. One reason for this situation might be the demanding characteristic of the listening skill. Listening has gained new importance in language classrooms after spreading IT technology-based information in society in Iran. Moreover it should be mentioned that most of the students’ class time is devoted to the listening. Despite this, we often take importance of listening for granted, and it is the most overlooked skill among other skills. In natural order of learning any language, listening stands at first rank. Without any reception one can not produce anything. Though, if a teacher wants to have fluent and productive students, he/she should pay much and necessary attention to teaching listening skill.


Some of the teachers believe that speaking should be actively discouraged. One of the reasons of emphasizing listening and delaying speaking is based on an opinion. Those who give importance to speaking view the language as a product and think that language is a behavior and speaking is the manifestation of this learning or happening.

On the contrary, there are approaches that gave more importance to listening Nation, Newton (2009). in this approach of language learning , listening is at the center. All of the information necessary for building up the knowledge for using language comes from receptive skills: listening, and reading. When the knowledge of language in this regard is built the learner can write and speak. In other words, with out any input, the outcome or output should be nothing.

Gray and Gray (1981) described the benefits of delaying speaking and concentrating on listening. These benefits include the following:

  1. The learner is not overloaded by having to focus on two or more skills at the same time-a cognitive benefit.
  2. Speed of coverage -receptive knowledge grows faster than productive knowledge.
  3. It is easy to move very quickly to realistic communicative listening activities.
  4. Learners will not feel shy or worried about their language classes. Having to speak a foreign language, particularly when you know very little, can be a frightening experience.
  5. Listening activities are well studied to independent learning through listening to readings.

Critics believe that producing a language is not sufficient for learning. In language learning substantial quantities of receptive activity should be included in the mind for future use. To speak communicatively and to convey and understand the meaning, one should have a previous language knowledge and information in his/her mind.


Models of listening

Traditionally listening was viewed as a passive skill through which the listener or hearer received information sent by message senders. More recently listening is viewed as an active and interpretive process by which the message is not fixed but is made or created by participants. 

Types of listening

According to Nation and Newton (2009) there are two types of listening:

  1. One-way listening-typically associated with the transfer of information.
  2. Two-listening- typically associated with maintaining social relations.

As it is understood, in the first type of listening one can listen to monologues which are one-way productions without any pause and stop to clarification.

While in two-way listening both sides of interaction are active in a natural sounding dialogue.

Listening process

One of the listening processes is a bottom-up one. In this process, the message goes from the parts to the whole by piece. In this process, the listener uses information which is already present in data.

The other process in listening is top-down process. As Nation and Newton (2009) state this process involves the listener in inferencing. The listener goes from whole to parts. Listeners’ previous knowledge or the information and his /her content of schemata help him/her to predict what the message will be.

According to the above mentioned processes, listening is not a single skill but as a variety of sub-skills (Nation, Newton, 2009). So listening comprehension is a top-down approach which focuses on meaning and need much care and attention.

Problems with traditional model

There are a lot of problems with traditional models of teaching listening skills. In old methods of teaching the responsibility of learning were not upon the shoulders of the students. Teachers set goals. Chose material and control the equipments. There were little room for students preferences. “the fact that the teacher still tends to choose the material becomes even harder to justify now that a wide range of spoken language is available to students outside the language classroom through a satellite TV and the internet” (Goodith White, 2006). some of the teachers of this model , and learners are regarded as passive over-hearers rather than active participants in the listening process. They are often listening to audio or video tape which they can not stop. In order to clarify and solve the comprehension problems, it is necessary for them to integrate or interact with the speakers. In real life situations, listeners play an active and important role in dialogues and speech acts. They show interest, ask questions, ask for repetitions, and cause the speakers to modify some parts.


Some ways of improving the teaching of listening

It seems clear that the way of teaching listening needs to be modified and changed. In order to engage the students in the subject and make them active in the learning process some of the traditional problems of regarding models of teaching listening should be avoided. It is better to allow students to:

  1. choose what they listen to
  2. make their own listening text
  3. control their equipment
  4.  give the instructions
  5. design their own listening task
  6. reflect on their problems in listening (White,2006).

Goals for teaching and learning listening

White (1998) states the listening skill goals as:

-understanding short utterances on a literal semantic level

-understanding interactive discourse

-understanding the functional/illocutionary force of an utterance

-interpreting utterances in terms of the situation

-resolving comprehension problems by seeking help from the speaker

-remembering input, monitoring, and evaluating how well one is understanding.


I tried to persuade the readers through these pages that the methodology for teaching listening needs to be changed. All aspects of listening skills should be covered and lead to true competence in listening within a communicative competence framework. Suggestion is to deal with the listening in a more task-based area of attention and authenticity of listening materials needs to be at the centre of attention. Students and listeners should be encouraged to take more responsibility for developing their listening ability.