DIFFICULTIES AND STRATEGIES IN

LISTENING COMPREHENSION (TRINH
VINH HIEN 03AV4)

INTRODUCTION

Listening plays a vital role in daily lives. People listen for different
purposes such as entertainment, academic purposes or obtaining
necessary information. As for foreign language learning, listening is
of paramount important since it provides the language input (Rost
1994:141-142). Without understanding input appropriately, learning
simply can not get any improvement. In addition, without listening
skill, no communication can be achieved (Cross, 1998). As for that,
language learners, especially those who learn English as a foreign
language in a non-native setting, find it difficult to acquire good
listening skill. This small project is an attempt to identify problems
faced by first year-English major students at Lac Hong University.
This research would concentrate on these matters below:
The way student self-study on their own
The most common problems they encounter
The strategies which help them to get over and succeed in
listening
I hope that my research would bring students advantages and
development to their listening skill.

LITERATURE REVIEW
♦♦♦

Listening plays an important role in second language instruction for
several reasons (Rost, 1994). If you cannot hear it well you will find it
hard to communicate or perhaps you cannot pass your listening
examination for instance. In fact, students often take the wrong way
when listening and this leads them to the poor result. It should be
noted that the learner’s perception of their listening problem and
strategies can affect their comprehension both positively and
negatively (Wenden, 1986). Thus, in order to help students get
improved with their listening skill, it is needed finding out their
listening problems which cause difficulties to them. According to
Yagang (1994), the problems in listening were accompanied with the

new terminology and concept. vocabulary and pronunciation (Higgins. listening is considered the most challenging subject. II. The research available on second-language listening comprehension is insufficient. Comparing with other skills. The problems were believed to cause by the speech rate. they have no background knowledge about what they are listening. a numbers of research have been carried out to pick out the problem in listening.four following factors: the message. difficulty in focusing and the physical environment. This results in poor listening skill when they become English major. As Nguyen Ngoan stated in his article “listening to VOA: advantages. uninteresting and too long listening which makes the students feel strange. Similarly. Aims of the study This research attempts to explore ways employed by students while doing their won listening. The last one is assumed to be about the sound connections and intonation spoken by native speakers with different accents. The second problem is believed to rise from the unfamiliar. First of all. Sources of study . 1995). the students find it hard to understand proper names as they have never heard about it before. where students spent seven years in English language learning. As for that. discouraged and bored of what they are hearing. Justification Listening is almost ignored in both secondary and high school. I am doing this research not only to help students in our university with better listening but also to contribute a small part to enrich the listening research which has been done so far. As compared with other language skill. the speaker. Richards (1985:189) stated that:” there is little direct research on second language listening comprehension”. III. Goh (1997:161) said that “there are fewer insights about the process of listening and the way it is learnt”. the listener and the physical setting. problems and solutions” the students have to face these three problems. Furthermore. In other words. BACKGROUND OF THE RESEARCH I. It also aims to find out difficulties as well as to provide some recommendation for improvement. As Flowerdew & Miller (1996) assumed that the problems of the students were for the speed of delivery. Therefore low scores in listening are unavoidable.

questionnaires considered more reliable ways since they are anonymous and this encourages greater honesty (Cohen 2000:269). cheap and easy to answer. Questionnaires. Students’ learning style Fifty English major from different classes in the faculty of foreign language in Lac Hong University participated in this research. Questionnaire included closed and open-ended questions. Defining Listening Listening. To find out their listening experience as well as the time students spend on self-study. as Howatt and Dakin (1974) define. is the ability to identify and understand what others are saying. they experience such problems. Weir & Roberts 1994). in Nunan’s words. Here is the result from questionnaires. V. The purpose for mixing of both closed and open-ended responses is that the former is easier to collate and analyze and the responses to the later will provide more flexibility so that the respondent can give more accurate answer The participants consist of 50 freshmen of English department at Lac Hong University. questionnaire was employed for this study. They are good ways for collecting information (Cohen & Manion 1989. Table 1: Students’ learning style . students are asked to put a tick for their best answer. Moreover. As they are in the first year of academic. are more amenable to quantification. Methodology In terms of the method. With appropriate strategies. his grammar and his vocabulary and grasping his meaning FINDING AND DISCUSSION I. they will have built up their listening skill by the time. It is this stage that students should be equipped with variety of techniques right from their early listening. Article Books Questionnaire IV. This involves understanding a speaker’s accent and pronunciation.

there is little chance for them to discover the key words which give them clues to understand the listening text. This means that the listening is actually an obstacle to students. c. students seem to spend very little time on practicing at home 73.5% choose to ignore the word and keep on listening.4 % feel depressed and can not listen anymore. d.2% of the students said that they would go through the questions and guess what the topic about. experience and background knowledge to comprehend the text.2% (never). However. students listen to songs (63. many language learners tend to integrate their linguistic competence. Listening word by word or listening for detail. It is reasonable enough for this first stage of listening. the task instruction should be prior to read under any circumstances. In fact. it takes times and effort. Self- study is such a way to succeed in listening. From this. a good listener will not listen to all the words of the listening task. e: options for each question What students do before listening partially has impacts on their comprehension of the listening text. b. In contrast. Table 2: Students’ strategies in listening Q: question a. The good outcome would result if students realize and adopt strategies through their practice. d. news in English (57.5% (rarely). the students can not approach to any improvement or good result in listening comprehension.4% try to guess its meaning and 47. is very important to get the main ideas. new words are such matters that prevent students from understanding the text. For their improvement.1% of students taking this first step. In listening comprehension.6% agreed that they listen to word by word. e: options for each question The table above shows that 89. When encountering a new word.5% of students failed their listening tests. Once they try to comprehend every single word. much practicing would result nothing if the students can not infer the strategies from each listening task. As they read them. 84. as they think. we can see that lacking of vocabulary could be a barrier to students. However. According to the data which has been collected. to possess a good listening skill.2%). b. However. . just 10. 42. instead of listening to every word in their first language. Without much self practicing. c. In addition. There are just 42.Q: questions from questionnaire a. most participants in my research consisting of 73.6% (sometimes). 10. 5. As Hedge (2000:237) pointed out that. tapes and disks of the syllabus in University (43. they know what they are supposed to do and how to deal with that.4%). They may skip any part of it and just focus on the information that they need for their answer.9%).

1% 10. we skim over parts of the message and pay attention to relevant parts only.8% 26. students are asked to put their answer on as scale of frequency ranging from never to always. However. In this way. .4% words or phrases Recognizing main 21. as Berman (2003) thought.8% 47.8% 36. Brown (1992). prediction question is such a useful way for comprehension improvement. Creating predictions questions. In addition.3% (often & always). would maintain the students’ focus on their tasks.6% 36. According to Hasan (2000). They do not focus on any particular cues which help them predict what is going to be talked about. maps. the prediction brings about a number of advantages to students in their listening comprehension. Problems in learning listening To identify problems. For instance. the answers to these prepared questions in the pre-listening stage could be the actual main ideas of the listening task. namely problems from the listeners and listening materials and equipment. Besides.5% 31. In fact. making questions relating to the listening topic would keep students motivated and improve their comprehension.8% 36. 1. cues are provided indirectly that well-trained or experienced listener could recognize it naturally. There would be no worry if these questions do not match the next points in the listening task. the title of the task can help learners to guess the points coming next. Thus sentences are not processed word by word and the focus is placed on the ideas behind these words and how these ideas are linked together to draw conclusions. in every listening task. Problems are classified into two different categories. prediction can be made by photos. the problem is believed to cause by the habit of listening to word by word.4% prediction what the speaker talk about Guessing unknown 15. II.8% points Table 3: Statistics about problems from the listeners The first problem students have is predicting what the speaker is going to say with 68. Furthermore. Problems from the listeners Problems Never Some often always times Making 36.In our first language. charts or anything that provided in the listening.

the speakers may use synonyms. moreover. Some listeners thought that meaning resides within the unfamiliar words so they need a huge amount of vocabulary. consequently) informs us the reason and the result of a fact or an action. Problems from the listening material . Different markers with particular expressions keep listeners catch up to the turning points of the task. As a matter of fact. furthermore.6% of the students can not recognize the main points in a listening because they concentrate too much on listening to word by word. On facing a new word. Repetition is supposed to be the signal of main points. When a word or phrase is repeated for several times. Here are some techniques for references: The first and most basic strategy is to use the clues which are the words or phrases coming after the unknown words. due to the fact that. In addition. As in his books “advance listening strategies” (Berman. there are clues suggested by Berman (2000) to identify the main points in listening. Thus they can not identify the key words or the content words of the listening tasks. Nevertheless. Discourse marker is considered to be the bridge that leads to the points. It is such a natural thing that the speakers often signal the main points with discourse markers. This is mostly the points of the listening. Important points. What students should do is to pay attention to the speed and the intonation of the speaker and identify the points. antonyms or appositives to explain the words. 89. The speed of the speech also supplies cues for catching the main points. students have to make sure that they do not spend much time on guessing the unfamiliar word or they will miss the speaker’s next point. such as main ideas. in the streaming of listening students would notice that sometimes the speaker speaks a bit slower and clearer than he did before. 2. the natural talk is very fast to second language learners so it makes up some trouble to the non-native speaker. 2000). Emphasis is a natural factor in speaking so speaker also emphasizes to signal the most significant ideas. However. It is the chance for students to capture the necessary information in a listening text.The second problem is the limitation of vocabulary power. failure will be an inevitable result. possibly it covers the important points. as a result. etc) announces a modification or an addition to an idea while marker of cause and sequence (because. If students can not obtain any main points. Unimportant points or small details are usually spoken more quickly. Marker of addition (in addition. 2003) assumed that: Pace is the speed of speech.4% of the participants suffer from incomplete comprehension. they tend to find out the meaning rather than infer it from the context (Hasan. The third problem is recognizing the main points in listening comprehension. Nevertheless. 73. are usually spoken more slowly and clearly.

2% 31. Students have been exposed themselves to materials which are designed for teaching and listening purposes. students need much more exposing to different kinds of accents.6% 15.5% 36.5% 68.4% 31. a daily conversation or a political issue which confuse the listener.9% Speed of speech 31. .2% (sometimes) and 36.8% 73. Therefore. if learners listen to French people speaking English. 63.1% 47. they will face problems in understanding other accents. For instance.8% 36. they can get used to listening to the variety of topics without any difficulties. it is the real language or authentic material that causes a great difficulty to students.6% 47.6% 52.2% Different accents 21. If listeners are exposed to standard British or American accents. These conversations may include words. For this linguistic feature. it is likely a business report. The result from table 2 demonstrates that 47.5% Authentic material 10.6% 31.4% and 31. They are totally strange to them so it is such a hard job to listen when the message is full of terminology.8% Linking words 10.8% (often and always) of the students have problems with topics which are unfamiliar to them. variety of accents causes difficulties to students in listening comprehension since they do not have much exposure to different accents.4% 31.7% Ungrammatical 52. The listening material may contain a variety of fields in life or society.5% of the students experience this kind of problem. Besides.5% Long listening 15. According to table 2. The solution is to ask the students to practice as much as they can on these various materials. Yagang (1994) assert that the listeners have tendency to get familiar with the accents which they mostly listen.1% 47.1% Colloquial words 10.8% 52. For instance.6% Table 4: Statistics about problems from listening material Table 4 shows that unfamiliar topic sometimes bring about a problem in listening comprehension. phrases or terms unfamiliar to listeners.4% 21.8% 15. they will feel hard to understand him or her as they speak English in a native French intonation.Problems Never Sometimes Often Always Unfamiliar topics 63.5% 15.6% 5.4% sentences Hesitation 21.

Yagang (1994) also find out that in conversation. Thus. as Yagang (1994) think. this limits the understanding of the listeners. the adding something or reducing something to a sentence seems to confuse the students. Hasan. if students listen to an informal conversation. they get used to the written words that organized orderly in a textbook. the linguistic features are language barrier to learners. These kinds of features may be encountered when the message is spoken at such a rapid speed mood that the sentences uttered can not be spoken word by word. Therefore. In informal talk. expressions and even slang which absolutely hardly bring the students any concepts about them. to some extent. students often try to unlock the meaning by analysis of sentence structure. speakers may omit parts of a sentence or add something redundant. On the other hand. Normally. Hence. difficulties stern from the ungrammatical sentences or the message is spoken with much hesitation. are difficulties which listener often face while listening. Furthermore. McCarthy (1990:15) points out that it takes native speakers years to acquire an acceptable knowledge of collocation. students find it hard to recognize separate words. the language in these materials. Another problem in listening is the elision of a sound or exactly a syllable in a word. Heron and Seavy (1991) highlight the importance of authentic material for their great improvement in listening comprehension since authentic material related closely to the lives and language variety. . The liaison. Unfamiliar structure would be confusion to them. The real language includes colloquial words. they do not know what they are listening to . students in our university mostly learn English with non-native teachers. 78. cited in (Vogely. whether it is a habit or not. the linking of the first word and the word coming right after which begins with a vowel. it is for sure that it is much harder than listening to a formal conversation used mostly in English classroom. in the stream of speech. students cannot recognize the words that they hear. Also.9% of students think they suffer from this problem. In addition. Thus.7% of the students to be the most common obstruction in listening since the students are used to hearing each separate word by unit in a sentence and slow stream of listening. Consequently. In fact. Unlike the recordings in the ESL classroom. ungrammatical structure is used due to the nervousness and hesitation of the speakers. there are 47.Therefore. is claimed by 73.4% of students who face this problem. they misunderstand the linking words or they have no idea of the meaning delivered. Therefore. have been simplified and contained less colloquial English. Liaison and elision. Consequently. 1994) agrees that difficulty in listening comprehension is partly due to the structure component of the text. As for that. the informal conversation consists of a number of words that sounds weird to students.

This is believed to be the most efficient way when students face with a long listening task. if the listening text is too long. Actually. In addition. and learners may miss the rest of the text when there is a lapse in concentration. This will not bring out good result.1% . The question here is that how students can write down what they hear as quickly as they could so that they will not miss the other ideas. (Hasan. However.The long listening text is supposed to be an obstacle to students in listening claimed by 84. the note-taking is not easy for students. It is supposed that students should write down the main point. they should develop their own characters or symbols. if the students do the listening for a long time. they will be under pressure. This will help students to remember the main points or the precise information. This may be attributed to the short memory span for the target language. the listener or the speaker but also come from the environment surrounding the students.2% (sometimes and often). good note taker use shorthand when they take note. good note taker do not write down every word or try to take note in neat sentences. Besides. they use symbols to represent words or ideas. Here are some of the symbols: > is more than w/ with < is less than w/o without = is equal to b/c because # is different K thousand Increase / per/ out of Reduce @ each or at ♀ Female ♂ male 3.3% 31. Problems Never Sometimes Often always Noise 5. The length of time students listen may cause memory problems or even fatigue and this would distract listeners’ attention from grasping the meaning of the text. 2000: 143) The skill of note-taking seems to be the most useful way when students have to face a long task in listening. Furthermore. Most students find it hard to take note while listening for they are not trained with this skill.6% 63. As Berman (2003) says: Effective note-taking requires that you records information quickly. To do this. the listener is required the skill of note-taking. instead they write only key words and phrases. Problems result from physical settings Not only the difficulties come from the message. In other words.

A good cassette recorder or a CD player may give them the better rather than that of the old one. This interrupts the students from hearing and focusing on the task. they should spend much more time on practicing. RECOMMENDATION This research of mine has finished finding the common problems which the students in the faculty of foreign language have to experience in listening comprehension. they are distracted by the noise no matter how hard they try to focus on the task. in listening comprehension. a number of strategies are also suggested to help them with better listening.1% of students have to face the problem of noises.8% quality Poor 21.1% 52. The problem also comes from the poor quality of the tapes or disks. First.8% 15. the background knowledge will be enriched as well as the skill. it is the best place for students to do the listening in the laboratory room. the students should know to . This somehow will bring out the better result for the noises outside can not get through the lab room. For an example. In addition. Hence.3% 36. Otherwise. I conclude with these ideas: Firstly to the students. Based on the fact and figure. For example. They should listen to a variety of topics in order to get familiar with them.6% 26. If the listening task is carried out with noises around.3% equipments Table 5: Statistics about problems from physical setting Table 5 shows that there are 63. The poor equipment is somehow an obstacle to students in listening. it is for sure they will not have a good result in listening.Poor tape 47. To confirm what have been written above and my ideas about the solution to improve the listening skill of the students. the cassette may be recorded while there are noises around or the cassette is used for such a long time so the quality is worn out. the noise makes a complex of sounds instead of the solo recording being played.

g.apply suitable strategies to each kind of listening text in order to get the best result. To acquire an acceptable listening skill. there are three stages: pre- listening. Now. e. he or she will advise their students with the syllabus they can self-study at home. this research of mine does not focus on how teachers carry out their lesson but it is a chance to understand more about the student’s problems. Oh. the skill of students will not be improved the best without teachers. Another thing is. e. students themselves should have much more exposure to variety of listening. As (Willis. Teachers play such a significant in building up their skill. references. the teachers show his students the ways in each stage of listening comprehension. speaker’s attitude or intention CONCLUSION To conclude. Here are the most common problems collected from the learners: the time they spend on studying themselves is too little to improve the skill. which give clues to meaning and social setting. g such as and which. they should learn the tips or . while-listening and post-listening. By each lesson. pronouns. listening is vital not only in language learning but also in daily communication. g. summarizing) ● recognizing discourse markers. However. ● understanding inferred information. Furthermore. However. the students seem to have problems with listening. ● recognizing cohesive devices e. rejecting irrelevant information ● retaining relevant points (note-taking. Finally. Generally. 1981) suggested that here are the micro skills that needed in an enable listener: ● predicting what people are going to talk about ● guessing unknown words or phrases without panicking ● using one’s won knowledge of the subject to help one understand ● identify relevant points. Simultaneously. etc. including link words. The problems are also caused from the listening material and physical settings. etc. ● understanding different intonation patterns and uses of stress. the inappropriate strategies of learner would be a hindrance for their listening comprehension. In short. Well. etc.

Teachers play an important role in teaching learners strategies and how to apply them into the listening task. These are suggestion to solve the problems as well as to upgrade the listening skill for students in Lac Hong University. I would really appreciate if you spare your valuable time to fill in this questionnaire. 1. Have you ever failed your listening test? (tick out the best answer) □ Never □ Once □ Twice □ Three times □ More than three 2. How often do you self-study listening at home? (tick out the best answer) □ Never □ Rarely □ Sometimes □ Often 3. What do you do before listening? (you can tick more than one) □ Go through the questions and guess what the topic is about . Hopefully. This aims to find out the problems that most students face when listening.strategies through each of their learning themselves. How do you self-study at home? (you can tick more than one) □ Listen to English songs □ Listen to tapes or disks of the syllabus in university □ Listen to news in English □ Other 4. APPENDIX *** I am doing a small project entitled “difficulties and strategies inlistening”. the findings I get from this project contribute a small part to help you with better listening.

What do you do while you are listening for the first time? (tick out the best answer) □ Listen to word by word □ Listen for the detail information □ Focus on the new words Other: ____________________________________________ 6. How often do you encounter these following problems? ( put a tick in the appropriate column) Problems Never Some often always times Making prediction what the speaker talks about Guessing unknown words while listening Unfamiliar topics Lacking of background knowledge Speed of speech Recognizing main points Linking words Authentic material Ungrammatical sentences Different accents .□ Nothing to do just ready to listen □ Guess the content of the listening □ Ask about the new words □ Read the task instruction 5. What do you do if you can not understand words or phrases while listening?( tick out the best answer) □ Ignore it and keep on listening □ Try to guess its meaning □ Feel depressed and can not listen anymore 7.

T. London: Longman Press. Teach English. DC: English Language Programs Divisions.M. Listening strategy guide. (1994) Listening. Learners’ perceptions of listening comprehension problems. Weir. Teaching and Learning in the language classroom.D. L. Listening to Spoken English. Goh. (2000). (1981). (1994). I. (1986). J. (2003). (1992). Student perceptions. Dyed international Inc Brown. Metacognitive awareness and second language listeners. USIA . What do second language learners know about their language learning? A second look at retrospective account.Foreign Language Annals 24. Higgins. (1995) Facilitating listening in second language classrooms through the manipulation of temporal variables. G. Willis. Culture and Curriculum. C. J. (1997). A. L & Manim. 137-153. Cohen. Hasan. Washington. (1998). Rost. M. and Seay. Oxford: Blackwell Wenden.361–9. In T. M. 186–205. Oxford: Oxford University Press Flowerdew. University of Kent at Canterbury. and Miller.C. (1996).Colloquial words Hesitation Long listening text Noises Poor tape quality The poor equipments References Berman. Kral (ed. (1994) Listening: Problems and solutions. Croom Helm Cross. London: Longman Yagang.ELT Journal 51 (4). J. Unpublished doctoral thesis. J. Language. Hedge. 13. F. C & Robert. London: Longman. problems and strategies in second language lecture comprehension RELC Journal 23 (2). Teaching English through English. A. Research methods in Education. D (1998). 487–95. 60–80. Evaluation in ELT. L.Applied Linguistics 7 (2). (2000).)Teacher Development: Making the Right Moves. (1991) The effect of authentic aural texts on student listening comprehension in the foreign language classroom. Oxford University Press Herron.