Schemata for Listening Comprehension

Is it possible to teach students how to listen and understand a language? While a response to this question may not be available, it is possible to prepare students to aurally comprehend language in general. The basis of this teaching method is the development of schemata. Schemata is simply the link between all thoughts and concepts on a topic that we as humans possess. For example, we think of the word “house,” but this word does not exist in our brain in an isolated vacuum. Rather, along with house, we have an entire web of concepts connected to it that we understand. We know that: we live in a house, a house has rooms, the rooms have names, we do particular things in each room, house are located in particular places, certain people live in houses, etc. All of this information connected to the idea of a “house” is a schemata.

ArtOfListeningWhen teaching students to comprehend language, it is important to explicitly teach them to access their schemata on the topic that they are listening to. For instance, before listening to a recorded conversation, give students the general topic and have them brainstorm all of the possible words that they might hear when listening. Once this list is done, the students are ready to listen for what they expect to hear. In essence, this is what we do as actively learning adults when listening to a person speak another language. We hypothesize (passively and in a matter of seconds) about what words we might hear, then, when we hear them, we are reassured of what we expected to hear. This does not mean that we know that that our friend is going to say that he went to the store yesterday and bought a new coat, but as soon as he mentions yesterday we anticipate verbs in the past tense and when he mentions a type store we anticipate certain nouns.

This is a skill that many adults that are proficient in a second language do regularly and it is second nature. But, we must remember that this is a skill and it can be taught to students early on. Simple questions like, “What words do you think that you might hear?” help students to engage this process. When it is random speech, students get lost much more easily.

2 responses to “Schemata for Listening Comprehension

  1. Elliott

    Hi Joshua,
    I attended the core practices institute this weekend, 3/2018. I am so charged! Thank you for all your insight.
    As I look forward to trying to use authentic resources more effectively, I struggle with the best way to do that, especially listening. Do you have any ideas with regard to preparing the students for anticipating words and phrases, possible advice for how to help them with an ‘attack’ strategy they can practice to help them through a real-life situation with everything from accents to ambient noise distracting the message.
    Thank you again for a great workshop. My head is swimming but I feel more confident every time.

    • This all goes back to spontaneous and unrehearsed opportunities to speak. The less scaffolding students have the more they need to rely on communication strategies.

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