Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Linguistics

First Advisor

David Rood

Second Advisor

Rebecca Scarborough

Third Advisor

Maria Thomas-Ruzic

Abstract

As an English teacher I have noticed that many students struggle with listening comprehension, especially when they hear casual speech from native-speakers. How much of this is due to native-speaker use of reductions in rapid and connected speech? I believe that using authentic listening materials that feature reduced pronunciation might better prepare English language learners for encounters with native-speakers. This study sets out to test what English learners think they hear in rapid, reduced speech in contrast to what is actually being said. Following an action research model within my own classroom at an intensive summer camp for teens, I attempted to assess learner comprehension of reduced speech by means of a dictation exercise followed by explicit instruction of form. I then tested my students’ comprehension of reduced speech with a second dictation a few days later. My results suggest that dictation exercises are useful assessment and learning tools for developing listening comprehension. Analysis of the data was unable to prove that dictation exercises and explicit instruction are enough to help students improve their listening skills; rather, there is evidence to suggest that students benefit from dictation exercises that are combined with other forms of input and practice, i.e. diagrams, songs, and video clips. The results of this study are intended to encourage instructors to use authentic audio materials that feature rapid speech styles and to suggest that instructors include lessons on reduced speech, especially in the EFL setting where students may not have much exposure to native-speakers. For this study I include a review of some current textbooks and resources for instructors teaching listening comprehension. I conclude that language learners benefit in many ways when made aware of and are exposed to authentic speech patterns early in their learning, if the lessons are properly scaffolded and include clear explanations and practice.

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