Listening strategies and processes of Chinese learners of English : a case study of intermediate learners in Taiwan
This study is a first attempt to explore how non-participant Chinese listener-learners in an EFL context interpret native English speakers' spontaneous conversation. It was designed to incorporate the theoretical models of how secondlforeign language learners derive meaning out of aural stimuli from the point of view of psycholinguistics as well as from a socio-pragmatic perspective. The study begins by identifying the relative contribution of the factors affecting the understanding of English oral input and diagnosing possible causes of poor listening comprehension. It then proceeds to investigate the individual's use of specific strategies so as to identify the most effective strategies for good listening. Finally, this study aims to develop a listening comprehension model, which will not only help to clarify the interpretative processes of Chinese EFL students, but also enable EFL teachers to focus their teaching strategies. The research subjects were fifteen students from two freshman classes of the Department of Civil Engineering and of the Department of Computer and Information Engineering at Chung Yuan Christian University in Taiwan. They grew up and were educated in Taiwan. They were screened by the National Taiwan Universities/Colleges Entrance Exam and considered to be intellectually and cognitively equivalent. They have good first-language listening and reading skills, and are diagnosed as having normal hearing, based on the medical records on file in the Chung Yuan Christian University Health Clinic. As to the findings on factors affecting listening comprehension, linguistic factors, including syntactic cues, semantic cues and semantic-syntactic cues in the text, are not equally important to the learners' understanding process. The learners' ability to catch the semantic cues is highly correlated with their overall listening comprehension performance; their ability to catch the semantic-syntactic cues is moderately correlated with the overall listening comprehension performance; their knowledge of grammar and vocabulary is wealdy correlated with their overall listening comprehension performance. Extra-linguistic factors, including visual, vocal, and contextual support, the speech rate of the speaker, and the repetition of text, play a crucial role in terms of differentiating listening proficiency levels even among advanced learners of English as a foreign language. As to the findings on the strategies of the learners in listening comprehension, the results indicate that there is a significant difference in strategy use between betterlistening groups and poor-listening groups. The highest-ranking group demonstrates higher frequencies of use of the three major categories of strategies (i.e. linguistic, cognitive and extra-linguistic), as well as soliciting more individual strategies. The findings also suggest that TESOL educators should help learners become more conscious of the importance and the development of more cognitively demanding strategies after they have some mastery of linguistic knowledge. Furthermore, the learners' positive attitude towards foreign language acquisition cannot be ignored in attaining a better performance with respect to listening comprehension. Based on the strategies and processes identified in this study, a non-linear listening model, with three levels appropriate for Chinese EFL learners, was developed. The first level consists of such elements as identifying the lexical, syntactic, semantic and contextual cues in the linguistic information and activating background knowledge and previous experiences related to the topic of the text. This level contributes to the formation of idea units and the construction of the sequence of the events, which constitute the elements of the second level. The second level, in turn, has an influence on the composition of a mental image about what is being said. This mental image implies understanding, which is the element of the highest level. Regression analysis is employed to calculate the correlations and weighting between elements and levels. The analyses throughout this model suggest that a higher speed to activate schematic knowledge and the ability to grasp a greater number of idea units are the two most predominant parameters for good listening. An inability or inexperience in sequencing the events from the text would lead a failure in the utmost understanding of the text. Based on the findings, pedagogical implications for language learning were revealed. The following five ideas are promulgated for future research in foreign language teaching. 1. More attention to be paid to sequence construction in listening problems of L2 learners. 2. Similar research on other populations or by using different genres of listening testing materials would strengthen the validation of the proposed model of listening strategies and processes of foreign language learners in an EFL context. 3. More research to be conducted in the investigation of the effects of cognitivedemanding strategies on EFL listening proficiency. 4. A listening strategy shift from Li to L2 would be an interesting area for future in-depth study. 5. Finally, a confirmatory study with a larger sample size is suggested to verify the model proposed in this study.