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Listening, The Most Important Skill in Learning a Language

Among the four main skills of learning a language, listening is the most important skill.

Learning a language encompasses four main skills:  listening, speaking, reading and writing.  Among these four skills, speaking is treated as the most important skills of language proficiency (Brown, 2001:247).  According to Brown, students are drilled to practice phrases that they do not even understand in order to improve their articulation.  Due to this, the importance of listening skills is often neglected.

            Later, educators started to realize the importance of listening skills in the teaching and learning of English.  Students are actually making their first attempt to learn a language by listening.  Krashen’s input hypothesis (1995:21) indicates that the input hypothesis relates to acquisition and not learning.  And the acquisition of understanding language that contains structure is through extra-linguistic information.  This proved that what learners hear often becomes one of the main sources of the target language to be learnt.

            The input hypothesis is also consistent with the ‘silent period’.  It has been noted that children acquired a second language in a natural and informal linguistic environment (Krashen, 1995:26).  The intake of input is internalized when we received linguistic information (Brown, 2001:247), thus proved that listening in language learning is the most important skills among the four main skills.

            However, educators according to Brown (pg.255), sometimes evaluate the students’ listening skills on the surface only.  That is to listen to the surface of an utterance in order to ask students to repeat it back to them, rather than processing it in a meaningful way.  As such, the listener’s role as suggested by Nunan (1991) is like a ‘tape-recorder’, listening without making meaningful meanings from it.

            Listening is an interactive process.  This refers to the process of receiving sound waves through the ear and transmitting nerve impulses to the brain.  Brown (pg.257) also says that not all that was heard has to be processed, but rather to scan the material selectively for certain information in order to find important information.

            In a developing country like Malaysia, the English language is crucial for social interaction, trading and diplomatic relationships with other countries.  It is also very crucial in upgrading the standard of its education.  Hence, in line with its necessities, the Ministry of Education has implemented ways to improve the English language in Malaysia, especially in improving the students’ listening comprehension.

            One of the ways is by using stories in language classroom.  Educators can either convey stories by telling them personally or by listening to a recorded tape.  This can be found in the New Primary English Programme (KBSR) syllabus, 1.7- 1.7.1, 1.7.2, 1.7.3 (KBSR, 2002), where students are to listen to and enjoy stories, fables and other tales of imagination and fantasy, while at the same time predict outcomes, and draw conclusion at a level suited to their ability.  

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