A cognitive perspective on L2 listeners’ difficulties: a replication of Goh (2000)

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In a well-known study of adult ESL learners, Goh (2000) found that most L2 listening problems were related to the ‘perception’ stage of the process. With a different population – UK lower-intermediate school children learning French and Spanish – the findings of a pilot replication study showed both similarities and differences.

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Goh asked 40 adult Chinese students of English to self-report the listening problems they encountered. These were analysed in relation to Anderson’s (1990) three-stage listening model of perception, parsing and utilisation. Of the ten broad problems reported, five came under the heading of ‘perception’, three under ‘parsing’ and two under ‘utilisation’. Goh also compared two groups of learners with different listening proficiency levels. She found that the difficulties of the less proficient listeners were more heavily clustered in the ‘perception’ phase. Where Goh’s participants were tertiary level ESL students in China, the current replication collects similar data from English 14-16 year olds learning French or Spanish in a typical UK classroom setting, having studied the language for about three years previously. In a pilot study preliminary to the replication, some of the findings were consistent with Goh’s (2000), despite the sample’s different L1, L2 and proficiency level: for example, the difficulties reported by participants related largely (seven out of 16) to the ‘perception’ stage of the listening process. However, a key difference was that not all difficulties reported by our participants fitted neatly into Anderson’s model, and the largest single category of problems was labelled ‘uncategorisable’ (e.g. participants made comments such as ‘I just didn’t get it’). Furthermore, when comparing higher and lower proficiency listeners in our cohort, the ‘uncategorisable’ category dominated the less proficient learners. This raises the question of whether a key characteristic of less proficient listeners is the very fact that they cannot pinpoint the cause of their difficulties. The present study contributes to addressing the paucity of replication studies in Second Language Acquisition. It revisits a well-known study but with participants which – unlike 67% of samples (Plonksy 2016) – are not college or university students, and whose L2 is not English.

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PhD candidate; Solidarity Awardee
University of Oxford

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