This chapter will focus on outlining theoretical framework which will be used in this study. It will further explore in literature which are related to the subject matter under inquiry. Literature is a secondary source of information which provides theoretical foundation to the challenges confronted by secondary school learners in learning English listening comprehension. This chapter will look at some of the published literature and unpublished literature which focused on the challenges confronted by senior secondary school learners in learning English listening comprehension. It also reviews literature that suggested solutions which can be put in place to overcome the challenges faced by learners in English listening comprehension.
2.2 Theoretical framework
This study will be grounded in Piaget cognitive development psychological theory (Piaget, 1979). Piaget’s theory consists of three principles which are of importance in the cognitive development of learners which are: schemas, assimilation and accommodation. Piaget’s cognitive development psychological theory highlight that learning listening comprehension concern the effects of the learner’s background information in the brain (existing schema) on the comprehension discussion in English as a Second Language. The function of background information in listening comprehension has been formalized as a schema. According to Piaget the schema principle offers the insight that prior learned knowledge proffers a significant function in English listening comprehension process. Accommodation and assimilation work together as a nested enterprise to modify the learners’ cognitive development to enhance acquisition of knowledge during the process of learning.
A fundamental notion of the schema principle indicates that any information spoken by the speaker does not carry meaning by itself unless the cognitive schema of the learners have background information of the issue being discussed by the speakers. The central foundation of the notion of schema is that individual learners can understand listening comprehension material by making use of previous knowledge learned to generate an expected demands of the question which are being asked in the examinations. This theory is relevant to this current study because excelling in listening comprehension generally depends on the interaction between the listening comprehension material which were previously taught and what the learner can bring to the materials (Chiang & Dunkel, 1992). The schemas knowledge is what was internalised by learners in their long term- memory about a particular situations and much of the previous learned script concerning listening comprehension are organised around the scripts, that is to say stored memory for usual incident that happens in exact circumstances. Piaget asserts that script useful in comprehend the required inputs relating to the teaching and learning of listening comprehension among learners. The implication of this theory to this current study is that the knowledge of the previous background information stored in the schema allows learners to anticipate the will hear from the speech, create expectations of what they are about to hear from listening comprehension and to deduce the exact meaning from the part of speech if it is incompletely understood by the learner.
Piaget (1977) asserts that assimilation of information into the existing schema provide a fertile ground in acquire knowledge which will used by learners when they encounters a new situation. Gass, (1997) argues that understanding words, sentences and the entire speech involves a lot of things rather than just focusing on linguistic knowledge. Hence, the researcher noted that insufficient background information about English listening comprehension culminate learners to misunderstand the listening comprehension material. Rubin (1994) noted that, learners’ background information on listening comprehension makes it easy for learners to capture the audio information. The internalization of background knowledge should be easier learners to process a given speech which they have prior knowledge and experience compared to unfamiliar subject matter. It is paramount to take note that when learners are met with new information regarding another new listening audio from other countries which they do not have basic knowledge and ideas, the implication is that, the learners will misunderstand the audio and they fail to answer the listening comprehension questions correctly.
Accommodation is another important principle of Piaget’s theory which is useful in modifying the existing learners in learners’ cognitive minds and development. Additionally, Klein, (1995) argues that the obvious reason why a particular content schema of learners fails to exist in listening comprehension is that the learners’ schema is cultural specific and is not part of a particular learner’s background knowledge. According to Bjorklund, (2000) once accommodation has occurred, the learners will assimilate the stimulus and this time as the existing structure has been transformed. English second language users have different degree and content; this greatly culminates learners to extra challenges in learning listening comprehension. The process of modifying the schema through accommodation enhances learners to acquire new information to offer an adaptation in listening comprehension. The extent to which learners are competent to combine different listening comprehension inputs with the prior acquired schema determines how successful the English learners will be in listening comprehension. The implication of this theory is relevant because the linking information and the existing schema assists learners to make sense of the listening audio very quickly (Shrum ; Glisan, 1999).
2.3 Challenges encountered in learning listening comprehension.
There are many challenges which may hinder the learning of listening comprehension by senior secondary school learners. The purpose is to identify these challenges and then come up with possible solutions to improve circumvent these challenges. Following are some of the challenges which impede the learning of English listening comprehension.
2.3.1 Quality of audio materials
AzmiBingol, Celik, Yidliz, ;Tugrul Mart (2014) posits that in some classes the materials used by English teachers are not high quality. The quality of sound system can impact the understanding of learners’ listening. If the recorded material is of poor quality it implies that the encoding of the correct information will be compromised. Additionally, Seferoglu & Uzakgoren (2004) postulates that some other listening comprehension problems are related to the kind of listening materials. Thus, unclear sound resulting from poor quality equipment can interfere with the learner’s comprehension. Poor quality recordings may lead to lose of concentration in listening and difficulty in listening comprehension accordingly. It is of paramount important to note that the quality of recoded material play a pivotal role in listening comprehension. If the materials used are of poor quality there are high chances of failure; for example using unclear audio sounds implies that the learners may fail to hear everything asked and at the end fails to answer the listening comprehension question.
A study conducted by Buck, (2001) indicated that when listeners hear an unfamiliar accent such as Indian English for the first time after studying only American English will encounter critical difficulties in listening. This will certainly interrupt the whole listening comprehension process and at the same time an unfamiliar accent makes comprehension impossible for the listeners. Unfamiliar accents both native and non-native can cause serious problems in listening comprehension and familiarity with an accent helps learners’ listening comprehension. Different accents pose some difficulties in listening comprehension as some learners are not exposed to a variety of accents. Learners can find it difficult to draw the meaning of a statement in the comprehension so as the spellings. The other serious problem of listening comprehension was expressed by Bloomfield et al. (2010) and Walker (2014) and is related to the pronunciation of words that is different from the way they appear in print. Many learners find it difficult to write correct spellings in listening comprehension mainly because they will be trying to write a word as heard from the audio. Most of the Namibian learners face challenges in pronunciation so if they hear a word like light they will write right instead because they interchange ‘r’ with ‘l’. This is really a challenge for most Namibian learners especially those in the Northern parts of the country.
2.3.3 Background knowledge
More to that, Anderson & Lynch (2003) emptied that, lack of background knowledge causes difficulties in listening comprehension. They indicated that language is a means used by community to express their culture beliefs, opinions, lifestyle, ideas, facts and rules. For instance if an English second language speaking learners are not aware of different aspect of English first language culture, they would have problems with listening comprehension. Saville-troike (2006) argued that it is predicted that lack of prior linguistic knowledge forcibly and unconsciously exists in English second language listener for meaning interpretation. Saville-troike further highlighted that it is knowledge of language of English second language learners that is often not sufficient to comprehend a spoken input that is to say schema or background knowledge is crucial and very important for comprehending. This is also supported by Hasan (2000) who has suggested that associating newly heard information with prior knowledge is a powerful and very frequently used way to guess the meaning of a listening passage.
2.3.4 Length and speed of listening task
In addition, Azmi Bingol, Celik, Yidliz, & Tugrul Mart (2014) highlighted that the level of learners can have a significant role when they listen to long parts and keep all information in their mind. It is very difficult for lower level learners to listen more than three minutes long and complete the listening tasks. Short listening passages make easy listening comprehension for learners and reduce their tiredness. According to Underwood (1989), speed can make listening passage difficult. If the speakers speak too fast learners may have serious problems to understand second language words. In this situation, listeners are not able to control the speed of speakers and this can create critical problems with listening comprehension. This challenge is worsened by the fact that learners cannot control the speed of the speech and cannot have words repeated as teachers decide what and when to repeat listening texts. Some learners may fail to capture words due to some noise and this distorts the meaning of the text to learners. Failure to deduce the word’s contextual meaning will be a problem since learners do not have the control as to which parts to repeat and when to repeat. Thus, the speed and length of a speech have an impact on learners’ performance in English listening comprehension.
2.3.5 Perception, Parsing (processing) and Utilisation.
In a study by Vandergrift (2003) listening difficulties related to comprehension problems experienced by learners were based on the three phases of comprehension, namely perception, parsing (processing) and utilisation. During the perception phase, listeners had difficulties with the speed of text, inability to recognise familiar words, neglecting the next part of a text while concentrating on meaning, an inability to chunk streams of speech, missing the beginning of texts, concentrating too hard or were unable to concentrate in the process. During the parsing phase, listeners had problems in that they tended to pay more attention to individual words rather than segments of words, were unable to hold chunks of meaning in memory or they forgot quickly what they heard. They also indicated an inability to form a mental representation from what they heard or they were unable to understand subsequent parts because of earlier problems. During the utilisation phase, listeners struggled with understanding words but not the message, and they were confused about key ideas in the message.
In addition to the above mentioned factors, Lawtie (2008), identifies three levels in which different factors affect listening comprehension. Level one (literal level); the learner hears, receives and attends to the information. A number of factors are associated with this level. The first relates to physical factors, such as loss of hearing, limited attention span, lack of ability to sit still and noise levels that can block or distort incoming messages (Hargie, 2011). The second relates to factors in the physical environment such as seating arrangements, lighting, listener comfort or distance between the listener and speaker. The third set of factors are related to the emotional and psychological factors and, finally, second or foreign language proficiency.
Level two or the interpretive level (Lawtie, 2008) is characterised by the way in which the listener processes the incoming stimuli; the interpretation also depends on the listener’s prior knowledge of the topic and the language of the speaker which is also based on the context of the listening situation. This level is also referred to as the process of storing information in the listener’s memory for future retrieval. According to Hargie (2011), complex or abstract information may be difficult to link with prior knowledge or previous experiences which make it difficult to reach understanding.
Level three or critical level: refers to a time in which the listener evaluates, judges, reacts and responds to the incoming message. In other words, at this level the listener uses his or her critical thinking ability to interpret and judge the speaker’s ideas. At this stage, according to Lawtie (2008), the learners evaluate, make judgements and interpretations in order to get a clear understanding of the speaker’s message. Four factors influence the ability of the listener at this level. The first is related to the perception of the 50 listener with respect to the importance and value of the message; the second are attitudes and opinions of the listener towards the source or the message; the third is related to the failure of the listener to connect the incoming new idea with prior knowledge; and, lastly, learners have a problem in processing the oral language in a meaningful way (Lawtie, 2008). In addition, Hargie (2011) states that listeners’ personal biases and prejudices may make them assume that they know what the speaker is going to say which may lead to misunderstanding.