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Emma Halliday LSA 2
Helping Learners Listen to
Broadcast News.
Word Count: 2489

Submission Date: 28th June 2015

Centre Number: 10239

Emma Halliday LSA 2. Helping Learners Understand Broadcast News.


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Types of Listening.

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Bottom-Up and Top-Down Sub-Skills.

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Analysis of Bottom-Up Sub-Skills.

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Analysis of Top-Down Sub-Skills.

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Students Problems and Teaching Solutions.



Emma Halliday LSA 2. Helping Learners Understand Broadcast News.


Many students ask for guidance on how to practise their listening outside
of class. With the rise in volume of news media online and on TV, listening
to the news seems like good advice. Students have easy access to
authentic, current material, a variety of topics, types of discourse and
accents; something which course books often lack. Although challenging,
this kind of listening gives students information about world events, the
target culture and brings the world into the classroom.
There is a growing acknowledgement that students need to be made
consciously aware of the sub-skills proficient listeners exploit when
listening in different situations. The scope of this essay is to consider the
specific sub-skills listeners use when viewing broadcast news and help
learners replicate these processes in L2 listening.

Types of Listening
Emma Halliday LSA 2. Helping Learners Understand Broadcast News.


There has been growing recognition that we do not listen to all types of
information in the same way; we don’t process all discourse as though it
were equally interesting or worthy of being remembered (Richards C. ,
1990). One news watcher may watch the Six O’clock News every night to
decide if there is something of interest. This type of low level monitoring
only requires the listener to have a general understanding of the text. If
they then detect a story which has some particular relevance, they will
pay much closer attention.
Proficient listeners employ a range of micro processes to skim over bits of
a message they don’t feel are vital to their purposes and pay closer
attention to the parts that are most pertinent (Vandergrift, 2012). Theories
of how we do this have centred around two main processes. Listeners use
their linguistic knowledge to decode individual sounds, words and
structures (Nunan, 1998). Starting with the smallest units; listeners
gradually put them together until they understand the content of the
message. This is known as bottom-up processing.
In contrast, top-down processing focuses on how listeners use the
knowledge they already have of a topic, situation, and the context to
interpret what they hear and anticipate what will come next. The role of
background knowledge, otherwise known as schemata, is now regarded as
one of the most significant factors affecting comprehension (Bdlokcuoglu,
2014). Schema includes general world knowledge, sociocultural
knowledge and knowledge of discourse structures.
Listening to the news is a dynamic process whereby competent listeners
employ both linguistic and schematic knowledge to make sense of the
text. When a breaking story interrupts the usual flow of news listeners rely
more heavily on bottom-up processing; conversely if a news reader has an
unfamiliar accent and the listener isn’t able to decode individual lexis they
would use their background knowledge to guess the most probable words
to fill in these gaps (Lund, 1991). Successful comprehension involves an
interaction of top-down and bottom-up processing.

Emma Halliday LSA 2. Helping Learners Understand Broadcast News.


Bottom-Up and Top-Down Sub-skills used to Listen to the News.
Various researches have tried to identify the micro processes or sub-skills
proficient listeners employ to decode a message. The table has been
adapted form Richards (Richards 1983), and shows the sub-skills most
applicable to broadcast news.
Bottom –Up sub skills
Discriminate between
Recognise word divisions,
prominent word and deal with
features of connected speech.
Recognise key words in
Recognise key transitions in a
Use knowledge of word order
patterns to identify constituents
in utterance.
Recognise grammatical relations
between key elements in
Recognise the function of
intonation in sentences.

Top- Down sub skills
Use images to predict news content
infer the topic of a story.
Use key words to construct the
schema of a story.
Infer the outcome of an event.
Infer unstated details of a situation.
Infer the sequence of a series of
Infer comparisons.

Distinguish between facts and

Emma Halliday LSA 2. Helping Learners Understand Broadcast News.


Bottom-Up Sub Skills
BBC World News I’m Phillipa Thomas, here are today’s headlines.

/biːbiːsiː /wɜːdnuːz/ aɪm/ /fɪlɪpə tɒməs/ /heərətədeɪz/

In this utterance listeners will use their bottom-up processing skills to:

Recognise the utterance /wɜːdnuːz/ as “world news” despite the
elision of /l/.
recognise that /heərətədeɪz/ are three separate words.
pick out the prominent content words that carry the meaning.
put together the individual phonemes of the presenter’s name.
use their knowledge of word order patterns to establish a name will
follow: /aɪm/
use their grammatical knowledge to work out that the /z/ sound
corresponds to the possessive ‘s.
be familiar with the distinctive rhythm of news introductions.
recognise the whole chunk of language and its function to introduce
news headlines.

Emma Halliday LSA 2. Helping Learners Understand Broadcast News.


Top-down Sub-Skills
Content Knowledge

Union members have voted in favour of a tube strike.

When a listener hears this headline they will use their top-down
processing skills to match what they hear with what they already know
about strike action, the locality and the London Tube system. They will use
the news footage to make hypothesis about content confirming or
rejecting these predictions as they listen. They will use their previous
experience of strikes to anticipate the type of lexis that will be used, to
guess words, to compare it to other similar strikes, infer possible travel
disruption or political repercussions.
As the story unfolds, the audience is assumed to already have the backstory, fitting together the sequence of events and inferring unstated
information. Trade union members, rail privatisation, and strikers hold
loaded meanings to a British listener. This shared cultural knowledge will
allow a British listener to follow the story much more easily than their
American counterpart.
Discourse Knowledge
Discourse patterns within news programmes are extremely complex,
switching quickly between monologues and dialogues, scripted and
spontaneous speech, in the studio and on location (Montgomory, 2007).
Listeners use their knowledge of news signposting to predict and prepare
themselves for a change in speech type. When a native speaker hears the
phrase “here are today’s headlines,” they prepare for a fast, scripted
monologue with a summary of the main news items.
Expert listeners use their knowledge of the genre and format to orientate
themselves to different parts of the programme. A football enthusiast
knows that sport news often comes at the end of the programme and that
Emma Halliday LSA 2. Helping Learners Understand Broadcast News.


starts with premiership football followed by first and then second division.
If the listener is only interested in her football results she only has to pay
close attention to the end of the programme.
Critical Listening and Media Literacy
Today there is an-ever expanding variety of broadcast news available and
a growing need for listeners to be media literate (Torres & Mercado ,
2006). They must be able to critically assess the news they consume.
Proficient listeners are able to analyse news content. They can effectively
evaluate arguments and infer bias. They are able to identify
sensationalism and loaded language in news programmes, assessing the
overall impact this has on the report.
Students Problems and Teaching Solutions
Problem 1
I’ve found Arabic students in the early stages of learning have a tendency
to try and understand every word of a text. When students don’t achieve
this, it can lead to a feeling of failure. This is a particular problem in mono
-lingual environments. This could be because students are only exposed to
graded listening material. It’s graded by the course book, their teacher or
by other students who can translate, if there is a breakdown in listening
comprehension. I’ve noticed students studying in English speaking
environments have a much higher tolerance of ambiguity as they are
surrounded by a high volume of incomprehensible material. Rost states
that L2 listeners must learn to cope with “genuine” speech and
“authentic” listening situations (Rost, 2002).
Aim: Build students’ confidence in listening to authentic news material.
Develop students’ ability to use visual clues to predict news content.

Pre teach weather vocabulary and symbols used on forecasts.
Students watch a weather forecast, without the audio and while
watching write down 6 words they think they will hear on the
Tell them we are going to play listening bingo, students circle a word
from their list if they hear it when they listen.
Students watch and listen and circle.
The winner is the student who heard the most words from their

Emma Halliday LSA 2. Helping Learners Understand Broadcast News.


Evaluation: I use this activity with low level learners and I’ve found this is
often their first exposure to authentic spoken English on the TV. The task
is very achievable, low pressure and fun. As Tennant argues, at lower
levels, listening tasks should focus on helping students feel competent
and believe in their ability (Tennant, 2011). This is a good prediction
activity even at higher levels, especially for students who are
apprehensive about their listening ability. Students can watch footage of a
news story and do the same activity.

Problem 2
Research has shown insufficient background knowledge can severely
hinder comprehension (Bell, 2003). My students in Libya faced a number
of particular challenges listening to broadcast news. While politically
engaged, looking to learn about the world through the news, students
often struggled to comprehend content due to very limited world
knowledge. This was probably a result of an isolationist anti-western,
rhetoric built into education and media institutions in the country.
Aim: Students will learn about history and politics of Scotland. Students
listen and respond to news interviews on the Scottish referendum.

Give students a map of the whole UK and ask them to try and draw
the borders of all four countries.
Live listening. Tell students the history of the UK over the last 1000
years with the aid of different maps, showing changing borders and
occupations. Introduce the debate around Scottish Independence.
Ask and answer any student questions.
Students work together to think of possible advantages and
disadvantages of Scottish Independence for Scotland.
Students watch 6 vox pox interviews from the news in which
members of the public give their opinion on the debate. Students
listen and say whether each person is for or against independence.

Emma Halliday LSA 2. Helping Learners Understand Broadcast News.


After each interviewee pause and let students check their ideas
Ask students if any of the interviewees expressed the same ideas as
they did about the advantages/disadvantages of independence.
Ask students how they would vote if they were Scottish. Pair
students up with someone with opposite point of view and tell them
they have to try and convince each other to vote the same way as

Evaluation: I’ve found this topic based approach to be successful in
building factual and cultural background knowledge. The presence of
cultural references is something inherent in discourse and listeners’
background knowledge of target history and culture will help them
construct its meaning (Usó, 2006).
Listening isn’t a discrete skill it happens in conjunction with speaking,
writing and reading. Listeners will often read the ticker tape as they watch
the news or they will recall and respond by speaking to what they’ve seen.
This integrated approach acknowledges the overlap of skills (Orellana,
When teaching adults, the aim is often to encourage students to replicate
L1 listening skills in English. However, young learners are still developing
these skills in their own language. News is a genre they are probably
unfamiliar with in their own language. I’ve found BBC News-Round is an
excellent source of child friendly content. It introduces YLs to news
discourse and engages them in global issues and develops their critical
listening (Fisher, 2005). These listening skills can be applied in their L1.

Emma Halliday LSA 2. Helping Learners Understand Broadcast News.


Problem 3
In English prominence occurs at equal intervals regardless of how many
unstressed syllables in an utterance. The combination of high frequency
stressed content words, the preference in English for a stress-timed
rhythm and the necessity to transmit a high information load in a
restricted time, gives news discourse an extremely distinctive tempo. The
contrast between stressed and unstressed words is more marked in news
than in other genres.
One of the major issues students have is the perceived speed of news
discourse but it could be students’ unfamiliarity with the rhythm of news
discourse rather than its pace which causes difficulty. I’ve found Italian,
Spanish and Turkish and students find hearing unstressed words
particularly problematic; this is probably due to these languages being
Aim: Raise students’ awareness of the role of prominence in news to
transmit the most important information.

Choose a very short text of one or two sentences. Headlines are
good for this activity.

Emma Halliday LSA 2. Helping Learners Understand Broadcast News.


Students listen and write as many key words as they can.
In pairs/groups students share their ideas and try to reconstruct the
whole sentence using the words they heard and their grammatical
Teacher gives students the script and students compare their
answers to the actual utterance.
Students identify their problem areas.

Evaluation: The objective of this adaptation of a dictogloss is to
demonstrate the guesswork involved in listening (Wilson, 2003). This is
particularly important in news discourse. Proficient listeners pick out the
prominent words in an utterance and use linguistic knowledge to deduce
unstressed that may not have been actually heard.
This technique can be easily adapted to different levels of students. For
lower levels, students can be given the prominent words and they have to
listen and put them in order, before trying to deduce the unstressed
words. Students can be told how many words to listen for. At higher levels
students can listen to extended stretches of text.

Problem 4
When teaching CPE exam classes in Poland, I found that while students
comprehended almost the entire news programme, they often took the
information at face value. This could be because news programmes are
generally presented in class material as transactional; functioning to
communicate information from the speaker to the listener. While at higher
levels, students are expected to analyse newspaper discourse more
critically, I’ve found this isn’t true of broadcast news.
Aim: Students will be more aware of the loaded language in broadcast
news and its effect on the overall message. Students will decode meaning
and use of lexis using context and co-text.

Emma Halliday LSA 2. Helping Learners Understand Broadcast News.


Use two or three news reports from different channels covering the
same story. I’ve found BBC News, Al Jazeera English and France 24
to be good sources for these activities.
Give students words from two reports and ask them to define and
say if it has a positive, negative or neutral meaning.
Students to listen for the words in the reports and decide whether in
the context of the story the word is used positively, negatively.
Students check together. Students listen again; writing the words/
phrases preceding and following the target lexis. Students discuss
together how the co-text and context can influence the literal
meaning of a word.

Evaluation: Learners need to develop skills to become informed and
critical consumers of the information they receive (Carol & Cunningham
Florez, 1999). This is particularly important for students from countries
like China and Saudi, where there isn’t a tradition of media plurality. There
is also evidence to show a positive relationship between critical discourse
analysis and improved receptive skills (Hashemi, 2012). These skills
acquired in critical listening can also be applied to reading.

Emma Halliday LSA 2. Helping Learners Understand Broadcast News.



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Emma Halliday LSA 2. Helping Learners Understand Broadcast News.

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Emma Halliday LSA 2. Helping Learners Understand Broadcast News.


Emma Halliday LSA 2. Helping Learners Understand Broadcast News.