For many years, listening skills were neglected in language teaching. Teaching methods emphasized productive skills, and the relationship between receptive and productive skills was poorly understood. The first major approach which assigned a prominent role to the acquisition
comprehension was James Asher‘s (1977) Total Physical Response. Similarly
, the Natural Approach (see Krashen
& Terrell, 1983) recommended a ―silent period‖ during which
students listen to a large amount of comprehensible input. These approaches were the result of a number of studies that showed the importance of input in second language.
Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods (MJLTM)
Further pedagogical research refined the process of listening more. Rubin (1994) identified text, interlocutor, task, listener, and process characteristics as different contextual characteristics, which affect the speed and efficiency of processing aural language. For
example, the listeners‘ proficiency, memory, attention, affect, age, gender, background
schemata, and even disabilities in L1 are all among the factors affecting the process of listening (ibid.).The process of listening is very complex and eluding. To date, researchers have identified three major processes: 1- bottom-up 2- top-down 3- interactive (see Brown, 2001; Nunan,2002; Rost, 2001)Another issue of concern to the experts in the field is how to teach listening. The teachersin the classroom usually test listening rather than teach it (Field, 2002). So, testing listening is much easier than teaching it. However, teaching listening is of no concern to us in this paper. For more information in this regard, interested readers can consult Nunan (2002);Field (2002); Lam (2002) to name just a few. The issue of listening comprehension is more challenging to non-native learners. Non-
native listeners recognize only part of what they hear (Field‘s research suggests a much
smaller percentage than what we imagine), and have to make guesses that link pieces of texts together (Field, 2002). The input, which the listener receives, is one of the main
components of Bachman‘s (1990) test method framework. This input can have different
facets such as the format of the input and the nature of the language. The former, according to Bachman, consists of the channel of presentation (aural and visual), the mode of presentation (receptive), the form of presentation (language, non-language, both), the vehicle of presentation (live, canned, both), the language of presentation (native, target, both), the identification of problem (specific, general), and the degree of speed. The latter contains length, propositional content, organizational structure, and pragmatic characteristics. Each of these parts has some sub-parts, which are delineated in Bachman(1990). The vehicle of presentation as one of the formats of input is going to be investigated
in this research. The researcher examines whether ‗live‘ human input like a teacher or there searcher himself and ‗canned‘ human input, as in a tape recording or computer
recording have any impact on the performance of students in a listening comprehension test. Whether canned or live, successful listening comprehension as a receptive skill demands high working memory and attention on the part of the learners. Live and canned input data of this research study differ in some respects. For example, rate of delivery of input was different in the two vehicles. In fact, every language learner initially thinks that native speakers speak too fast. However, Richards (1983) points out that the number and length of pauses used by a speaker is more crucial to comprehension than sheer speed. In addition to the rate of delivery, reduced forms evident in the canned form might pose significant difficulty for classroom learners, who may have been exposed to full forms of the English language (Brown, 2001: 253)
Significance of the Study
The results of the research can be useful for any language teacher in the field. They can decide whether in the 21st century listening comprehension as one of the major skills is paid homage or not. Moreover, they can decide whether non-native EFL teachers in countries like Iran can substitute their voice in the classroom for a native speaker‘s voice which is usually provided by tapes or computer systems as in recorded voices. It can also have consequences for future listening activities in the classrooms; that is, how to provide incentives for language learners to listen to their cassettes, CDs or everything possible while they are being provided with native like input. Before exploring the issue in this study, it is worth mentioning some works done with regard to listening comprehension and testing listening comprehension in the field.
Objectives of the Study
This study examines the effect of the vehicle of presentation (―live‖ and ―canned‖) on the EFL learner’s listening comprehension. To achieve this end, four classes of EFL learners of intermediate level in an established English language institute took a listening test. They were all studying at the same level. Two classes listened to the researcher reading the material for them while the other two groups listened to the taped passage via a computer. The researcher wanted to find out if there is any difference in the performance of the two groups. That is, does the vehicle of presentation affect the EFL learners‘ Listening performance?
Shohamy and Inbar (1991) investigated the effect of both texts and question types on
participants‘ scores on listening comprehension tests. The researchers gave participants
three text types, a news broadcast, a lecture, and a consultative dialogue varying in the degree of oral features they contained, to 150 EFL learners in their last year of secondary school. Test takers listened to two different versions about the two topics and answered identical questions to enable comparison of performance on the different text types. The results of the study indicated that different types of texts located at different points
resulted in different test scores, so that the more ―listenable‖ texts were easier.
In another study, Buck (1991) argued how listening tests work through the verbal report methodology. Six participants were asked to provide the researcher with the irintrospection on four main areas: 1- the influence of the short-answer test method on the measurement of listening comprehension 2- whether test items can measure higher level cognitive processes 3- whether test items can measure how well listeners monitor the appropriacy of their interpretation 4- how question preview influences comprehension and test performance. The analysis of reports indicated a serious dilemma for language testers in that listening comprehension involves far more than the application of linguistic knowledge to produce a propositional representation of a text; rather it is an inferential process in which listeners attempt to construct an interpretation, which was meaningful based on their own assessment of the situation, knowledge, and experience
Chiang and Dunkel (1992) in their study investigated the listening comprehension of 388high-intermediate listening proficiency (HILP) and low-intermediate listening proficiency(LILP) Chinese students of English as a foreign language. The students listened to a lecturein four formats, i.e. familiar-unmodified, familiar-modified, unfamiliar-unmodified, and unfamiliar-modified. After the lecture, the EFL subjects took a multiple-choice exam testing recognition of information presented in the lecture and general knowledge off amiliar and unfamiliar topics. A significant interaction between speech modification(redundant vs. non-redundant speech) and listening proficiency (HILP vs. LILP) indicated that the HILP students benefited from speech modification, but the LILP students did not. A significant interaction between prior knowledge (familiar vs. unfamiliar topic) and test type (passage-independent vs. passage-dependent) was also found. For both the HILP and
LILP participants, prior knowledge had a significant impact on subject‘s memory for
information contained in the passage-independent test items on the comprehension test. The EFL subjects who listened to the familiar-topic lecture had higher passage-independent than passage-dependent scores.Sherman (1997) inspected the effect of question preview in listening comprehension tests.
In Sherman‘s study, 78 subjects took listening tests in four
different versions, one with questions before, one with questions after, one with questions between the two hearings, and one with no questions. All participants also completed questionnaires designed toelicit reactions to each version and a week later, wrote a free recall of what they had heard. The results obtained from the recall were inconclusive, but in the tests the version with questions between the two hearings produced significantly more correct answers. The questionnaires supported that the aforementioned version facilitated comprehension the most, but also showed a strong affective attachment to previewed questions. It was concluded that previewed questions seemed more helpful than they really were. Brindley (1998) in his review of research on assessment of L2 listening abilities looks at some testing issues and challenges (assessing higher-level skills, confounding of skills, assessing listening in oral interaction, authenticity), discusses assessment methods and techniques (test administration, item formats), and considers potential applications of new computers and video technology. Major, Fitzmaurice, Bunta, and Balasubramanian (2002) in another study described the extent to which native English speaking and ESL listeners performed better on a test when the speaker shared their native language. Four groups of 100 listeners, whose native languages were Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and standard American English, heard lectures presented in English by speakers with different native languages and answered questions based on the lectures. The results indicated that both native and non-native listeners scored lower significantly when they listened to non-native speakers of English; native speakers of Spanish got significantly higher scores when listening to Spanish-accented speech and native speakers of Chinese scored significantly lower when they were listening to speakers who shared their native language. Derwing and Munro (2001) assessed the appropriateness of the speech rate of narratives read by native English speakers and Mandarian learners of English.