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An evaluation of listening task complexity in the coursebook new headway pre intermediate to the non english major students at hanoi university of industry

VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI
UNIVERSITY OF LANGUAGES AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
FACULTY OF POST – GRADUATE STUDIES
*********************

BÙI PHƢƠNG THẢO

AN EVALUATION OF LISTENING TASK COMPLEXITY IN THE
COURSEBOOK NEW HEADWAY PRE- INTERMEDIATE TO THE NONENGLISH MAJOR STUDENTS AT HANOI UNIVERSITY OF INDUSTRY

( Đánh giá sự phức tạp của các hoạt động nghe trong giáo trình New Headway
Pre- intermediate dành cho sinh viên không chuyên Tiếng Anh tại trƣờng Đại
học Công nghiệp Hà Nội)

M.A Minor Program Thesis (Type I)

Field: English Teaching Methodology
Code: 60140111

Hanoi - 2016



VIETNAM NATIONAL UNIVERSITY, HANOI
UNIVERSITY OF LANGUAGES AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES
FACULTY OF POST – GRADUATE STUDIES
*********************

BÙI PHƢƠNG THẢO

AN EVALUATION OF LISTENING TASK COMPLEXITY IN THE
COURSEBOOK NEW HEADWAY PRE- INTERMEDIATE TO THE NONENGLISH MAJOR STUDENTS AT HANOI UNIVERSITY OF INDUSTRY

(Đánh giá sự phức tạp của các hoạt động nghe trong giáo trình New Headway
Pre- intermediate dành cho sinh viên không chuyên Tiếng Anh tại trƣờng Đại
học Công nghiệp Hà Nội)

M.A Minor Program Thesis (Type I)

Field

: English Teaching Methodology

Code

: 60140111

Supervisor: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Phan Van Que

Hanoi - 2016


DECLARATION
I hereby declare that this thesis is my own work and effort and that it has not
been submitted to any other university or institution wholly or partially.

Hanoi, January 2016
Bùi Phương Thảo

i



ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
First and foremost, I am deeply indebted to my supervisor, Assoc. Dr. Phan
Van Que, for his precious advice, academic guidance and support. Without his
invaluable assistance, this thesis would not have been fulfilled.
I would also like to express my sincere thanks to all lecturers and the staff of
the Faculty of Post Graduate Studies, University of Languages and International
Studies, Vietnam National University for their useful lessons and materials which
are of great values to my thesis.
I am appreciative of all my colleagues, and the non- major English students
at Hanoi University of Industry for their precious cooperation in giving valuable
information.
Last but not least, I find myself in debt to my dear family, and my friends
who are always supporting me with their considerations and encouragement.

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ABSTRACT
This study was conducted to obtain knowledge about the evaluation of
listening task complexity in the coursebook New Headway Pre- intermediate used
for non- major English students at Hanoi University of Industry (HaUI) from the
perspectives of the users of the material (i.e. non- major English students and their
listening teachers). It took into consideration the needs in listening tasks of the
target students in order to suggest changes for the improvements for teaching
listening skill to non- major English students at HaUI.
The participants included 100 students chosen randomly among non- English
major students at HaUI and 20 teachers who were in charge of teaching English for
non- major English students. Two survey questionnaires were employed to discover
the participants‟ perspectives of the students‟ needs in listening tasks and how
listening tasks met these needs. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used
to analyse data obtained from the aforementioned data collection instruments.
The findings of the research provided insight into the needs in listening tasks
of non- major English students at HaUI as well as how listening task complexity in
the textbook New Headway Pre- intermediate was evaluated in the students and
teachers‟ viewpoints. It can be clearly seen from the results of the study that
listening to English was a challenge to the students. The results indicated that
listening task complexity generally met the students‟ needs. However, there was a
need to improve some elements of listening tasks such as provided vocabularies,
listening topics, three stages in listening, the speed and length of listening texts,
format of responses, etc. to better meet the Ss‟ needs. Based on the findings of the
study, some recommendations for listening tasks in the coursebook were suggested.

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LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
CFL

College of Foreign Languages

HaUI

Hanoi University of Industry

MA

Master of Arts

NA

Needs analysis

SLA

Second language approach

TBLT

Task- based language teaching

Ts

Teachers

Ss

Students

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LIST OF TABLES AND FIGURES
Table 1: Robinson‟ model of task complexity
Table 2: Skehan‟s model of task complexity
Figure 3.1: Students‟ listening needs in terms of code complexity
Figure 3.2: Students‟ listening needs in terms of cognitive complexity
Figure 3.3: Students‟ listening needs in terms of communicative stress
Figure 3.4: Ss‟ evaluation on listening task complexity in terms of code complexity
Figure 3.5: Ts‟ evaluation on listening task complexity in terms of code complexity
Figure 3.6: Ss‟ evaluation on listening task complexity in terms of cognitive
complexity
Figure 3.7: Ts‟ evaluation on listening task complexity in terms of cognitive
complexity
Figure 3.8: Ss‟ evaluation on listening task complexity in terms of communicative
stress
Figure 3.9: Ts‟ evaluation on listening task complexity in terms of communicative
stress

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TABLE OF CONTENT
PART I: INTRODUCTION ........................................................................................1
1. Rational for the thesis ..........................................................................................1
2. Aims of the study .................................................................................................1
3. Scope of the study ................................................................................................2
4. Significance of the study .....................................................................................2
5. Methods of the study ...........................................................................................2
6. Design of the study ..............................................................................................2
PART II: DEVELOPMENT .......................................................................................4
CHAPTER 1: LITERATURE REVIEW ....................................................................4
1.1. Task and task- based language teaching ...........................................................4
1.1.1.

Real – world tasks .....................................................................................4

1.1.2.

Pedagogic tasks .........................................................................................4

1.1.3.

Significance of task- based language teaching .........................................5

1.2.

Task complexity ...........................................................................................6

1.2.1.

Definition of task complexity ...................................................................6

1.2.2.

Significance of determining task complexity ...........................................6

1.2.3.

Models to determine task complexity.......................................................7

1.2.4.

Skenhan‟s model of task complexity ......................................................10

1.3.

Listening tasks and teaching listening tasks ...............................................12

1.3.1.

Definition of listening comprehension ...................................................12

1.3.2.

Potential problems in learning listening comprehension ........................13

1.3.3.

Three stages in listening tasks ................................................................14

1.4.

Needs analysis ( NA) in language teaching ...............................................15

1.5.

Summary ....................................................................................................17

CHAPTER 2: METHODOLOGY ............................................................................18
2.1. Current situation of teaching and learning English listening at Hanoi
University of Industry. ...........................................................................................18
2.1.1. The context of the study ..............................................................................18


2.1.2. The material description ..............................................................................19
2.2. The study.........................................................................................................19
2.2.1. Research questions.......................................................................................19
2.2.2. Participants...................................................................................................20
2.2.3. Data collection instrument ...........................................................................20
2.2.3.1. Questionnaires .......................................................................................20
2.2.3.2. Interviews ..............................................................................................21
2.2.4. Methods of data analysis .............................................................................22
2.2.4.1. Quantitative method ..............................................................................22
2.2.4.2. Qualitative method ................................................................................22
2.2.4.3. Data collection and analysis procedure .................................................22
CHAPTER 3: FINDINGS AND DISCUSSIONS ...................................................23
3.1. Questionnaire findings ....................................................................................23
3.1.1. Students‟ need in listening task ...................................................................23
3.1.1.1 Students‟ needs in listening tasks related to code complexity ...............23
3.1.1.2. Students‟ listening needs in listening tasks related to cognitive
complexity ..........................................................................................................24
3.1.1.3. Students‟ needs in listening tasks related to communicative stress ......26
3.1.2. Evaluation of listening task complexity in the course book ........................27
3.1.2.1. Evaluation of listening task complexity in terms of code complexity ..27
3.1.2.2. Evaluation of listening task complexity in terms of cognitive
complexity ..........................................................................................................29
3.1.2.3. Evaluation of listening task complexity in terms of communicative
stress ...................................................................................................................31
3.1.3. Teachers‟ opinions on the book‟ changes in order to better meet their
students‟ needs .......................................................................................................33
3.2. Interview findings ...........................................................................................34
3.2.1. Students‟ needs in listening tasks ................................................................34


3.2.2. Students‟ opinions on listening tasks‟ changes in order to better meet their
needs ......................................................................................................................34
3.3. Discussion findings .........................................................................................35
3.3.1. Students‟ needs in listening tasks ................................................................35
3.3.2. Evaluation of listening task complexity in the course book New Headway
Pre intermediate for non- Engish major at HaUI as perceived by the Ss and Ts ..36
PART III: CONCLUSION ........................................................................................38
1. Conclusion of the study .....................................................................................38
2.

Recommendation to improve listening tasks in the book ..............................39

3.

Limitations and suggestions for further studies .............................................40

REFERENCES ..........................................................................................................41


PART I: INTRODUCTION
1. Rational for the thesis
Task - based language teaching (TBLT) has gained favor over the last two
decades, both in second language pedagogy and in studies on second language
acquisition. Tasks in TBLT vary in terms of their complexity and the language they
elicit. Therefore, one of the major challenges facing those concerned with gauging
the influence of task characteristics and performance conditions on candidate
performance is how to determine the complexity of tasks (Elder et al. 2002).
At Hanoi university of Industry, there are a lot of teaching methods and
TBLT is applied in teaching and learning English. English language has been taught
for non-major English students based on the coursebook New Headway Pre intermediate (the third edition by Liz, John Soar & Sylvia Wheeldon) for a long
time. From the researcher‟s observation and professional experience as a teacher of
English, it can be found that the students, especially the non-English major students
often have a lot of difficulties in doing listening tasks. They find the listening tasks
somehow complex to accomplish. Consequently, students seem to get bored to learn
listening component. However, no research has been done to evaluate the
complexity of listening tasks in this textbook. Thus, it urges the researchers to
conduct a research on the topic: “An evaluation of listening task complexity in the
coursebook New headway Pre- intermediate to the non- English major students at
Hanoi university of Industry” with an expectation to make a small contribution
towards improving the quality of teaching and learning listening skill at HaUI with
listening tasks in the course book New headway Pre- intermediate.
2. Aims of the study
New Headway Pre- intermediate course book is used for the second year
students during two semesters or thirty weeks. Each unit is instructed in nine or ten
periods of teaching and learning. The listening component is studied in one or two
periods, including three or four tasks. The research aims to both evaluate the
complexity of listening tasks in the course book and determine whether the

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complexity of listening tasks are suitable for teaching listening in the situation.
More specifically, this study seeks to examine the following research questions.
1. What are the non- major English students‟ needs when doing listening
tasks at HaUI?
2. To what extent does the complexity of the current listening tasks in New
Headway Pre- intermediate meet their needs from perspectives of teachers
and students at HaUI?
3. Scope of the study
Due to the small scale of the study as well as the limitation of time, this study
only focuses on evaluating the complexity of listening tasks in the coursebook New
Headway Pre- intermediate for non- major English students at HaUI from the
perspectives of the users of these materials (e.g. the students and teachers taking
part in teaching and learning with New Headway Pre intermediate in school year
2015-2016.)
4. Significance of the study
The findings of the thesis may serve as useful information not only for the
researcher, the course book designers but also for the teaching staff and the nonmajor English students at HaUI. It is also hoped that the thesis will make great
contributions towards the development of the listening learning at HaUI.
5. Methods of the study
To achieve the aims stated, both quantitative and qualitative methods were
used. The data collected for the study come from two survey questionnaires (of 100
non- major English students at HaUI who have just finished studying New
Headway Pre- intermediate ,and 20 teachers who have taught non- major English
students using the coursebook) and interviews from 10 random ones among 100
students.
6. Design of the study
Part I: Introduction presents the rationale, aims, scope, significance and
methodology of the study

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Part II: Development - consists of three chapters:
Chapter 1: Literature review – The first part provides some theoretical
background about task- based language teaching, including definition of task and
significance of task- based language teaching. The next one is theory of task
complexity including some definitions of task complexity, significance of
determining task complexity and the model of task complexity with the factors
affecting task complexity. Some theory of listening is reviewed in the third part.
And the last one is need analysis in language teaching and learning.
Chapter 2: Methodology - in this chapter, the introduction of research
method including research questions, data collection instruments are presented.
Chapter 3: The study - shows the procedure of carrying on the research and
presents the data analysis result from survey questionnaires, interviews.
Part III: Conclusion, which is the last chapter, followed by references is the
summary of the whole study. The limitation of the study and suggestion for further
study are also recommended.

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PART II: DEVELOPMENT
CHAPTER 1: LITERATURE REVIEW
1.1. Task and task- based language teaching
1.1.1. Real – world tasks
Michael Long (1985, p.19) provides a definition of task in its everyday
meaning: “a piece of work undertaken for oneself or for others, freely or for some
reward. Thus, examples of task include painting a fence, making an airline
reservation, borrowing a library book, taking a driving test, typing a letter,
weighing a patient, sorting letters, taking a hotel reservation, writing a cheque,
finding a street destination and helping someone across a road. In other words, by
„task‟ is meant a hundred and one things people do in everyday life, at work, at
play, and in between. Tasks are the things people will tell you they do if you ask
them, and they are not applied linguists.”
In this sense, the concept of task is used when discussing human skills
performance models. Crookes (1986, p. 32) supposed that “It has been shown that
the category „task‟, as used by researchers generally, is widely applicable and has
psychological reality. Much, if not most, of human activity, whether in employment
or in the classroom can be seen a series of tasks – some having a communicative
aspect, others not”.
1.1.2. Pedagogic tasks
Skehan (1998, p. 95) identifies a series of defining traits most researchers
would agree on when conceptualizing a task: “a task is an activity in which
meaning is primary; there is some kind of communication problem to solve; there is
some sort of relationship to comparable real-world activities; task completion has
some priority; the assessment of the task is in terms of outcome”.
According to Bygate (2001), however, tasks are susceptible to pedagogic
intervention; tasks can be influenced by learner choice and can be potentially
reinterpreted by learners. Bygate (2001) also pointed out that tasks may have a static,
controllable nature if used for research, and they may include more dynamic and

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extended qualities if they are used for teaching purposes. Tasks are clearly
„sequenceable‟ both in practice and theory, although there currently exist
considerable doubts as to the validity of the criteria by which tasks can be ordered.
That is why they pointed out that it may be necessary to clarify the definition of task
under different circumstances, who to determine the tasks‟ goals and how to
sequence tasks.
In brief, tasks can also be manipulated for different empirical purposes
and to test different theoretical constructs in both classroom and experimental
settings. In this way, researchers usually propose a series of operationalizations
that may affect either their internal structure, their interactional design, or the
conditions under which they are performed in order to test and measure their
effects on learners‟ comprehension, production, or learning.
1.1.3. Significance of task- based language teaching
Recently, there has been an increasing interest in TBLT. The application of
TBLT comes from different reasons. Skehan (1998a, p.95) pointed out that "as
an approach to instruction, TBLT is theoretically defensible and practically
feasible. The assumption here, then, is the fact that transacting tasks will engage
naturalistic acquisitional mechanisms, cause the underlying interlanguage system
to be stretched, and drive development forward". Elsewhere, Skehan

(2002,

p.293) suggested that a task-based approach is generally based on language use,
that the language learning problem is how learners, from such use, develop a
system of rules, and that individualization is an important aspect of the learning
situation.
From different perspective, Ellis (2003) listed three arguments in favor of
task-based syllabi. According to him, "the rationale for task-based syllabuses that
has been advocated by SLA researchers draws on a variety of arguments. First, it is
based on the theoretical view that instruction needs to be compatible with the
cognitive processes involved in L2 acquisition. Second, the importance of
learner 'engagement' is emphasized. And third, tasks serve as a suitable unit for

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specifying learners' needs and thus for designing specific purpose courses".
1.2.

Task complexity

1.2.1. Definition of task complexity
Robinson (2001b) argues that task complexity is the result of the
attentional,

memory,

reasoning,

and

other information processing demands

imposed by the structure of the task to the language learner. Robinson (2007,
p.210) regards task complexity as differences in intrinsic cognitive processing
demands of tasks which will explain within-learner variation in successfully
completing any two tasks (such as doing simple addition versus calculus, or doing
the simple versus complex intentional reasoning task).
Ellis (2003, p.351) believes that task complexity is the extent to which a
particular task is inherently easy or difficult.
1.2.2. Significance of determining task complexity
It is a widely accepted idea that research into complexity of second language
tasks is necessary to pedagogical decisions regarding the grading and sequencing of
tasks for the purposes of syllabus design (Gilabert, 2005, 2007; Long2007;
Rahimpour 1997, 1999, 2008; Robinson, 1995a, 2001b, 2003b, 2005a, 2007a,
2007a; Robinson and Gilabert, 2007; Van Den Branden, 2006). Skehan (1998a,
1998b) reiterates that knowledge of task difficulty provides the teacher or syllabus
designer with information about the level of challenge that a task is likely to
contain, a level which the teacher will then have to match his or her knowledge
with that of the students who will do the task. Skehan( 1998) also provides rationale
for estimating task difficulty: "the rationale for estimating task difficulty is twofold,
firstly, tasks of appropriate difficulty are likely to be more motivating for learners as
they feel that they are required to meet reasonable challenges, and secondly,
considering that attentional capacities are limited, tasks of appropriate difficulty
mean that learners will be able to overcome the difficulties put upon their
attentional resources".

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In par with the above arguments, Skehan (1998b, p.134) argues that: "If
the appropriate level of task difficulty is chosen, there is much greater likelihood
that noticing will occur, that balanced language performance will result, and that
spare attentional capacity can be channeled effectively". Researching in the
framework of the Cognition Hypothesis, Rahimpour (1997) is of the belief that
criteria for distinguishing the difficulty of second language tasks are an important
issue for SLA researchers, syllabus designers, and second language instructors who
are concerned with implementing task-based proposals for syllabus design. Like
other researchers working in the cognitive framework, Gilabert (2005) relates the
construct of task complexity to the syllabus design by stating that, "the concept of
task complexity was born from the need to establish criteria for sequencing tasks in
a syllabus from easy/simple to difficult/complex in a reasoned way that will foster
interlanguage development."
Apart from application in syllabus design, Robinson (1995a) rightly points
out that the emergent debate about task complexity promises to be an important site
for the development of comprehensive theories of second language acquisition.
Additionally, Robinson and Gilabert (2007) argue that research into the effects of
task complexity aims both at pedagogic applications of findings regarding the
effects of task design and sequencing decisions on learning and performance, and
also at the deeper understanding of the second language processing and learning
mechanisms that cause these effects.
To sum up, all the above statements highlight the significance of task
complexity in implementing task-based pedagogy.
1.2.3. Models to determine task complexity
Brindley (1987) suggested that the following factors will determine the
complexity of what the learner has to do:
 Relevance: Is the task meaningful and relevant to the learner?
 Complexity:
How many steps are involved in the task?

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How complex are the instruction?
What cognitive demands does the task make on the learner?
 Amount of context provided prior to the task:
How much prior knowledge of the world, the situation or the cultural context
is assumed in the way the task is framed?
 Processability of the language of the task:
Is the language that learners are expected to produce in line with their processing
ability?
 Amount of help available to the learner:
How much assistance can the learner get from the teacher, other learners, books or
other learning aids?
 Degree of grammatical accuracy/contextual appropriacy:
How 'standard' does the task require learners to be?
 Time available to the learner;
How long does the learner have to carry out the task?
Candlin (1987) proposed a set of criteria by which tasks might be selected and
graded. These are:
 Cognitive load: this concerns the general complexity of the content of the task,
including the naturalness of the sequence it may be required to follow.
 Communicative stress: more stressful tasks are seen as those which involve
pressure which comes from the interlocutor, either because s/he is a native speaker
or because of superior knowledge or proficiency.
 Particularity and generalizability: this concerns the clarity of the goal of the
task, as well as the norms of interpretation.
 Process continuity: this derives from the familiarity of the task as well as the
learner capacity to relate the task to tasks they are familiar with.
 Code complexity and interpretative density: the first concerns the complexity
of the linguistic code, while the latter is concerned with the complexity of the
operations which need to be carried out on such a code.
Candlin and Nunan (1987) have also suggested that activities can be graded
according to the general cognitive demands they make. Their scheme has four

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levels as follows:
 Attending and recognizing: the learner's ability to notice what kind of input he
or she is being confronted with.
 Making sense: the learner's ability to make sense of the input as a particular
example of language, determining, for example, what particular language it is, how
it is organized, how it is classified and patterned.
 Going beyond the information given: the learner's ability to hypothesize, infer,
and make judgments, for example, about the underlying meaning of the test.
 Transferring and generalizing: the learner's ability to extrapolate from any
particular texts of same type, genre, and purpose, or transferring the information
gained from and about a particular text to other texts that may be of other quiet
different structure, channel and purpose.
Robinson (2001A; 2001B; 2003A) proposes a three-dimensional model that
distinguishes between three different types of factors
Cognitive factor

Interactive factors

Difficulty factors

Task complexity

Task condition

Task difficulty

a, Resource directing

a, Participation

a, affective

e.g, +/- few elements

variables

variables

+/- Here and Now

e.g, one way/ two way

e.g motivation,

+/-

convergent/ divergent

anxiety, confidence

demand

open/ close

b, ability variables

b, Resource dispering

b, participant

aptitude

+/- Single task

variables

proficiency

+/ Prior knowledge

e.g gender

intelligence

No

reasoning

familiarity
power/ solidarity
Table 1: Robinson’ model of task complexity

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Robinson‟s Cognition Hypothesis provides a rationale for designing tasks
and organizing them into a coherent program that will lead to better performance
and development. For Robinson (2003a, p. 56) Task Complexity “refers to the
intrinsic cognitive demands of the task”, and it can be manipulated during task
design along resource-directing and

resource-dispersing dimensions. Task

Complexity accounts for within participant variation. By task difficulty Robinson
understands what learners bring to the task, and suggests that differentials in ability
variables affect learners‟ perception of the task with consequences for performance
and learning. Task difficulty accounts for between participant variations. Finally,
task conditions have to do with how information is distributed and flows among
participants. In his view, information about the effects of Task Complexity on
production should help syllabus designers to organize pedagogic tasks from simple
to complex so that they progressively approximate real world target tasks.
1.2.4. Skenhan’s model of task complexity
Skehan‟s conception of task-based learning comes from a communicative
approach to language teaching (Brumfit, 1984; Widdowson, 1972) which has
been concerned, among other issues, with how task and syllabus design can
contribute to interlanguage development. According to Skehan(1998); Skehan &
Foster( 2001), both task manipulation and sequencing for syllabus design should
be based not just on intuitions about difficulty but on empirical findings.
Skehan & Foster (2001, p. 196) indicated that “Task difficulty has to do
with the amount of attention the task demands from the participants. Difficult
tasks require more attention than easy tasks”.
One model was developed by Skehan and his associates (Skehan, 1998;
Skehan and Foster, 2001) presenting a framework of factors which they claim
affecting the complexity of a task. This framework is known as Trade- Off
Hypothesis.

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Code complexity

Cognitive complexity

Communicative
stress

- linguistic complexity

Cognitive familiarity

- time limits and

and variety

- familiarity of topic and

time pressure

- vocabulary load and

its predictability

- speed of

variety

- familiarity of discourse

presentation

genre

- number of

- familiarity of task

participants

Cognitive processing

- length of texts used

- Information

- type of response

organization

- opportunities to

- amount of computation

control

- clarity and sufficiency
of information given
- information types
Table 2: Skehan’s model of task complexity
Code complexity deals with the linguistic demand of the task, the language
needed to complete the task. More complex tasks are hypothesised to be those
which require more advanced and a wider range of grammatical structures and
lexical items from the task performer. Cognitive complexity distinguishes two
areas: cogntive familarity and cognitive processing. Cognitive familarity concerns
the extent to which the learner can draw upon previous experiences of performing
such a task or similar ones. Thus, if the task itself or the topic of the task is not
familiar to the learner, it is hypothesised to be more complex. Cognitive
processing concerns the thinking that is required to perform the task. The more the
learner needs to organize the information or the more steps needed to complete the
task, the more demanding the task will be and thus more complex. The last set of
factors is referred to the term „communicative stress”. Time pressure refers to the
amount of pressure exerted on the learner to perform a task quickly, as little or no

11


planning time may make the task more complex. The other factors referred to speed
of presentation, number of participants, length of text used, response type and
opportunities to control. In addition to these three categories, Skehan recognizes
that learner characteristics, such as the learner‟s intelligence, breadth of
imagination and personal experience may also interact with the essential
complexity of the task to influence its difficulty for a particular learner.
In this study, the evaluation of task complexity will be mainly based on
Skehan‟ model because it is updated and the researcher finds it easy to follow.
1.3.

Listening tasks and teaching listening tasks

1.3.1. Definition of listening comprehension
Listening comprehension is more than obtaining meaning from utterance. It
also involves a process in which students match utterance with what they already
know about the topic. When knowing the concept or the topic, they can activate
their prior knowledge to get something from that knowledge which is needed for
comprehending the message. Brown (2001: 2) states “One very important idea for
teaching listening is that listening courses must make use of student‟s prior
knowledge in order to improve listening comprehension”.
According to Buck (2001: 31), listening comprehension is an active process
of constructing meaning and this is done by “applying knowledge to the incoming
sounds” in which “number of different types of knowledge are involved: both
linguistic knowledge and non-linguistic knowledge”.
Vandergrift (1999: 168) states that “listening comprehension is an active
process in which the listener must discriminate between sounds, understand
vocabulary and grammatical structures, interpret stress and intonation, retain what
was gathered in all the above and interpret it with the immediate as well as the
larger context of the utterances”
To sum up, listening is an active, conscious and complex process. Moreover,
ability to integrate in real information from the various knowledge sources is
considered crucial for successful listening comprehension (Rost, 2005). Listeners do

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not receive information passively but applied and moderated their background
knowledge to assist the understanding of input actively.
1.3.2. Potential problems in learning listening comprehension
Underwood (1989) presents seven problems which learners often encounter
in learning listening. Firstly, it is difficult for them to catch speakers‟ speed.
Secondly, the listeners are not able to get things repeated. Another difficulty is
learners‟ limited vocabulary. The next, they are not able to recognize the „signals‟
by which a speaker can indicate that he/she is moving from one point to another, or
giving an example, or repeating a point, or whatever. Listeners‟ problems of
interpretation are also mentioned by Underwood. Students who are unfamiliar with
the recording may have considerable difficulty in interpreting the words even if they
can understand their „surface‟ meaning. Especially, this can even occur when the
speaker and listener are from the same background and use the same language.
Besides, inability to concentrate is a major problem to the listeners, because even
the shortest break in attention can seriously impair comprehension. The last
problem is learners‟ established learning habits due to the fact that their teachers
aim to teach them to understand everything in the English lesson. Consequently,
students are worried if they fail to understand a particular word or phrase when they
are listening.
Goh (2000) attributes ten listening comprehension problems in relation to
three cognitive processing phases – perceptions, parsing, and utilization. Firstly,
learners reported most difficult ones are: „do not recognize words they know‟,
„neglect the next part when thinking about meaning‟, „cannot chunk streams of
speech‟, „miss the beginning of texts‟, and „concentrate too hard or unable to
concentrate‟. Secondly, listeners complained of problems such as „quickly forget
what is heard‟, „unable to form a mental representation from words heard‟, and „do
not understand subsequent parts of input because of earlier problems‟. Third, in the
utilization stage, „understand the words but not the intended message‟ and
„confused about the key ideas in the message‟ were often mentioned (Goh, 2000).

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These reported difficulties partially reflect Underwood‟s (1989) views on second
language listening problems.
Yagang (1994) attributes the difficulty of listening comprehension to four
sources: the message, the speakers, the listeners and the physical setting.
As a whole, there are four main factors that contribute to the difficulty of
listening comprehension: speaker factors, the listener factors, the content of the
listening, and the physical environment. The aforementioned potential listening
problems have been chosen to be the basis of some items in the questionnaires on
listening needs analysis (NA) and task complexity evaluation in the study.
1.3.3. Three stages in listening tasks
There are often three main stages in a listening task. They are: pre-listening
stage, while-listening stage, and post-listening stage. Each stage has its own aims
and activities
Pre-listening stage
Pre-listening stage prepares student by getting them to think about the topic
or situation before they listen to the texts. In other words, it gives students a purpose
to listen. It also gets students to relate to what they already know about the topic and
arouses their interest in listening. During pre-listening the teacher may
 assess students' background knowledge of the topic and linguistic content of
the text
 provide students with the background knowledge necessary for their
comprehension of the listening passage or activate the existing knowledge
that the students possess
 make students aware of the type of text they will be listening to, the role they
will play, and the purpose(s) for which they will be listening
 provide opportunities for group or collaborative work and for background
reading or class discussion activities

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While-listening stage
The while-listening stage involves activities that students are asked to do
during the time that they are listening to the text. This stage gives students a guide
of framework to practice listening. It helps students to listen better, more accurately
through carefully designed comprehension tasks. Good while-listening activities
help learners find the way through the listening text and build upon the expectation
raised by pre-listening activities.
Post-listening stage
Post-listening stage involves activities related to a particular listening text
(whether recorded or spoken by the teacher) which are done after the listening is
completed.
The purposes of post-listening activities are:
 To check whether the learners have understood what they need to or not.
 To see why some students have missed parts of message.
 To give the students the opportunity to consider the attitude and manner of
the speaker of the listening text.
 To expand on the topic or language of the message and to transfer learned
things to another context.
 To make introduction for the planned work.
1.4.

Needs analysis ( NA) in language teaching
From goal-oriented perspectives, needs can be defined as what students

should be able to do at the end of their language course or “what the user-institution
or society at large regards as necessary or desirable to be learnt from a program of
language instruction” (Mountford, 1981, p. 27).
According to Brindley (1984), needs refer to wants, desires, demands,
expectations, motivations, lacks, constraints, and requirements. From this point of
view, needs of students may be in a great harmony or in opposition to the
requirements of course designers.
Hutchinson and Waters (1987) categorize two types of needs:

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