Factors That Affect Listening Comprehension

Written by carmen paduraru
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Factors That Affect Listening Comprehension
Listening comprehension can be affected by a variety of factors. (James Woodson/Photodisc/Getty Images)

English language learners often say listening is easier than speaking and they may be right to think that because listening is a receptive skill, not a production one. Listening involves factors that can affect comprehension, sometimes in circumstances that they cannot control; when they listen to the radio, they cannot tell the speaker to slow down, to repeat or explain things for them, so it depends on their language proficiency to understand what he is talking about.

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Clustering and Redundancy

Clustering refers to people's predisposition for breaking down speech into smaller groups of words. English language learners need to learn how to pick up manageable clusters of words and not try to take in several sentences or to understand every single word in an utterance.

Redundancy is another element that affects listening comprehension. Rephrasing, repetitions, elaborations and insertion of repetitive words like "you know" or "right?" can distract the listener from the content of the message. Learners need to acknowledge that these repetitions actually work to their advantage, as they give them more time to process the real information.

Reduction and Colloquialism

Reduction is natural to native speakers, that's why learners of English may find it difficult to "catch" the sense of the words even during a normal speech process. Assimilation and elision ("Djeetyet?" for "Did you eat yet?"), elliptical answers ("Where are you going?" "Home." for "I'm going home.") or contractions ("I'll" for "I will") are as hard to understand as the idioms and colloquial elements that native-English speakers normally use; some examples may be the very frequent forms 'wanna," "gonna'" or "y'all."

Variables and Speed

Except for lectures or speeches that are planned forms of speaking discourse, natural spoken language has several elements that change the message unintentionally. Learners should be able, with practice, to ignore them and to focus on the real content. Hesitations, pauses, false starts and self-corrections are variables that native speakers are used to hearing and can separate from the message.

Rate of delivery of the message is another element that affects a proper listening comprehension. While a native speaker believes he is speaking at a normal speed, language learners think they speak too fast, especially because they need more time to "weed out" variables while paying attention to the message as it flows.

Prosody and Interaction

Stress, rhythm and intonation are prosodic elements. The way words are stressed differ from other languages and the rhythm in English might not resemble the learner's first language, so he will find it difficult to master. Intonation may also differ; learners should become familiar with discriminating between the rising pitch ("Ready?") and the falling pitch ("Yes.").

Lack of interaction is another negative element that affects listening comprehension. Even if, as a principle, listening does not require speaking, interaction can help learners practice negotiation, taking turns, starting, maintaining and ending a conversation. (See Ref. 1, p. 306-307)

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