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Listening comprehension skill



Listening comprehension is the receptive skill in the oral mode. When we speak of listening what we really mean is listening and understanding what we hear.


In our first language, we have all the skills and background knowledge we need to understand what we hear, so we probably aren't even aware of how complex a process it is. Here we will briefly describe some of what is involved in learning to understand what we hear in a second language.

Listening Situations

There are two kinds of listening situations in which we find ourselves:

  • interactive, and
  • non-interactive.

Interactive listening situations include face-to-face conversations and telephone calls, in which we are alternately listening and speaking, and in which we have a chance to ask for clarification, repetition, or slower speech from our conversation partner. Some non-interactive listening situations are listening to the radio, TV, films, lectures, or sermons. In such situations we usually don't have the opportunity to ask for clarification, slower speech or repetition.


Richards (1983, cited in Omaggio, 1986, p. 126) proposes that the following are the micro-skills involved in understanding what someone says to us. The listener has to:

  • retain chunks of language in short-term memory

  • discriminate among the distinctive sounds in the new language

  • recognize stress and rhythm patterns, tone patterns, intonational contours.
  • recognize reduced forms of words
  • distinguish word boundaries
  • recognize typical word-order patterns
  • recognize vocabulary
  • detect key words, such as those identifying topics and ideas
  • guess meaning from context
  • recognize grammatical word classes
  • recognize basic syntactic patterns
  • recognize cohesive devices
  • detect sentence constituents, such as subject, verb, object, prepositions, and the like

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