Speaking versus Listening: Which is more Difficult to Master?
Jul 21, 2010 Speaking/Listening 4676 Views
Speaking and listening skills are closely intertwined. Obviously, in any form of verbal communication, one party engages in speaking while the other does the listening or vice versa. However, the link between perception (listening) and production (speaking) is still not entirely clear. Listening can be seen as a more difficult skill to master than speaking.
It is believed that it is not necessary that learners with good listening comprehension have better pronunciation than learners with poor listening skills. In this respect, Celce-Murcia and others (1996) see that it is true in some cases that a learner who can not recognize the distinction between words that contain similar sounds such as correct and collect may still be taught to produce such distinction in speaking. Nevertheless, some learners who are able to distinguish such sounds may not be able to produce the same difference systematically. This might be due to the lack of knowledge about the English suprasegmentals such as stress and intonation besides to the segmentals- vowels and constants.
Listening also poses more difficulties than speaking. This can be seen in the instance provided by Brown (2001) about the three people on a train in England that they all speak English; however, when one of the travelers asked the question "Is this Wemberly station?" the second interpreted it as "Is it Wednesday?" and he answered "it's Thursday." which was interpreted by the third as the word thirsty. The reasons behind why can listening comprehension be difficult even for students who have studied English for many year are, perhaps, that most of the language-teaching energy is devoted to instruction in mastering English conversation. Also, most language learners have the tendency to pay more attention to speaking rather than listening. Moreover, listening comprehension consists of a complicated process. Accordingly, Brown (2001) proposed different eight processes that are involved in listening comprehension which occur in extremely rapid succession. He stated that (2001, p. 250)"After the initial reception of sound, the hearer begins to perform at least seven other major operations on that set of sound waves."
There are some factors that second language learners need to pay special attention to as they strongly influence the processing of speech either in listening or speaking, and can even block comprehension if they are not attended to, i.e. they can make both the listening process as well as the speaking process difficult. These factors are clustering, redundancy, reduced forms, performance variables, colloquial language, rate delivery, stress, rhythm, and intonation (Brown, 2001).
To sum up, I believe the inclusion of the segmentals and suprasegmental features of language in the teaching process automatically means that speaking should come first because speaking is the perfect way to put these concepts into self-practice. Therefore, speaking exercises should precede listening exercises. According to Shakhbagova (2008: xvii) "Learners retain new skills better when they produce them than when they simply hear them."
Brown, H. D. (2001). Teaching by Principles: An interactive approach to language pedagogy. White Plains, NY: Pearson Education Company.
Shakhbagova, J. (2008). Correcting errors in pronunciation. Los Angeles: Figueroa Press.