Listening in the Language Classroom

John Field. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Pp. X + 366.

Reviewed by Zeng Yajun
National Institute of Education, NTU

Listening in the language classroom by John Field proposes a principled process-based strategy instruction approach informed by both theory and empirical study for intensive small-scale practice in various aspects of L2 listening pedagogy, an approach that makes his text an indispensible resource book for L2 teachers, listening instructors in particular.
Field begins his five-part text with an introduction which delineates the dual aims of the book: the first is to challenge the orthodox comprehension approach by focusing upon the product of listening, and the second is to provide the reader with a clear understanding of what second language listening entails.
Part I (Background) and Part II (Rethinking the Comprehension Approach) review the background of the orthodox comprehension approach in listening, elaborate on its advantages and disadvantages, and attempt to provide solutions to its failings.
Part III Process (Not Product) and Part IV (A Process View of Listening) present alternatives to current methodology which focus on the process of listening. Here Field argues that a step-by-step building up of the listening processes is crucial for effective listening. As such, a great variety of listening exercises are provided in these parts that might be conducted with learners to help them improve. Furthermore, the author places a firm emphasis on developing learners’ decoding skills on the grounds that efficiency in the fundamental process of matching strings of phonemes to words and phrases allows the listener greater opportunity to focus on wider issues of meaning (p. 140).

Part V, The Challenge of the Real World, is devoted to listening strategies and strategy instruction to help learners with limited linguistic knowledge meet the challenges of real-life listening tasks. Field acknowledges that the boundaries between listening strategies and the normal processes of listening are often blurred. As such, many learners succeed in incorporating them into their listening behavior in the long run, while strategies may start out as short-term expedients (p. 287). He also recognizes that strategies are a necessary part of listening until learners reach a fairly advanced level in second language listening. Therefore, listening teachers are advised to incorporate them into listening classes. While discussing listening strategies in this part, Field additionally puts forward the categories of avoidance, achievement, repair, and pro-active strategies, departing from the usual cognitive, metacognitive and socio-affective trichotomy widely used in the strategies literature.

Part VI, Conclusion, provides the book with an overall finish by bringing together the various themes discussed and summarizing the proposals that have been made in previous chapters.

Written in an engaging and easy-to-read style, the book stands out for the way it critically examines the practices and assumptions associated with the orthodox comprehension approach and for the concrete examples related to the process-based activities it provides that teachers can use in listening classes to enable their learners to become better listeners. In both respects, the book is a valuable addition to both the Cambridge Language Teaching Library series and L2 listening literature as a whole.