Improving Academic Listening and Note-Taking Skills

A Study in Foreign Learners’ Strategy Training

by Karolina Kotorowicz-Jasińska (Author)
©2020 Monographs 278 Pages


The book investigates the effectiveness of long-term strategy training on how successfully and efficiently students listen to lectures and take notes. It is centered around a longitudinal study designed to measure to what extent a specially designed course allows 1st year undergraduate students to improve their academic skills. The research presented is grounded in theoretical perspectives on general listening comprehension, discourse processing, and teaching second language subskills. The book will be of interest to anyone interested in tertiary education and providing college and university students with courses useful in their academic performance. The readers might also gain insights into long-term research methodology of which the book gives a detailed account.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One Insights into the process of listening comprehension
  • 1.1 Defining the nature of listening comprehension
  • 1.1.1 Understanding auditory input
  • 1.1.2 Differences in the transactional and interactional function of language
  • 1.2 A process approach to listening comprehension
  • 1.2.1 Listening comprehension processes
  • 1.2.2 Bottom-up and top-down processing
  • 1.3 A psycholinguistic view of listening comprehension
  • 1.3.1 Psycholinguistic models of listening comprehension
  • 1.3.2 The role of memory and background knowledge
  • Memory
  • Background knowledge
  • Chapter Two Listening comprehension in foreign language instruction
  • 2.1 Differences in listening comprehension in L1 and L2
  • 2.1.1 Approaches to L2 listening instruction
  • 2.1.2 Factors influencing L2 listening comprehension
  • Internal factors
  • External factors
  • 2.1.3 EFL students’ difficulties in understanding oral input
  • 2.2 Learning strategies in listening comprehension
  • 2.2.1 Listening strategies in transactional settings
  • 2.2.2 A strategy-based approach to teaching L2 listening comprehension
  • 2.3 Issues in evaluating L2 listening comprehension
  • Chapter Three The specificity of listening to lectures and note-taking strategy
  • 3.1 Distinctive features of academic listening
  • 3.1.1 Taxonomies of academic listening micro-skills
  • 3.1.2 Background knowledge and visuals as variables in lecture comprehension
  • 3.2 Characteristics of input in academic listening
  • 3.2.1 Lecturing styles
  • 3.2.2 Selected features of lecture discourse
  • 3.2.3 Lecture discourse structure
  • 3.3 Students’ problems in understanding lecture content
  • 3.4 The role of note-taking in academic lectures
  • 3.4.1 Types and functions of note-taking
  • 3.4.2 Quality and quantity of notes
  • 3.4.3 Students’ perceptions and problems concerning note-taking
  • 3.4.4 The effect of note-taking on academic listening success
  • 3.5 Measuring lecture comprehension
  • Chapter Four Academic listening, note-taking and strategy training from a research perspective
  • 4.1 Research on lecture discourse features and speech modifications
  • 4.2 Note-taking studies in L1 and L2 settings
  • 4.2.1 Note-taking in L1
  • 4.2.2 Note-taking in L2
  • 4.3 Basic issues in investigating strategy training
  • 4.4 Issues in evaluating academic listening comprehension
  • 4.5 A summary of research findings relevant to the present study
  • Chapter Five Academic listening skills and note-taking strategy training for EFL advanced learners: The design of the study
  • 5.1 Aim and research questions
  • 5.2 Method
  • 5.2.1 Participants
  • 5.2.2 Strategy training procedures and materials
  • 5.3 Data collection instruments and administration procedures
  • 5.3.1 General listening test
  • 5.3.2 Academic listening test
  • Characteristics of the rubric and response criteria
  • Characteristics of the input
  • Validating academic listening test
  • 5.3.3 Notes analysis
  • 5.3.4 Post-course questionnaire
  • Chapter Six The study: Results and discussion
  • 6.1 General listening scores
  • 6.2 Academic listening test #1
  • 6.3 Investigating the quality of the notes
  • 6.3.1 Academic listening test #2
  • 6.3.2 Efficiency of the notes
  • 6.3 Correlations between the measures
  • 6.4 Analysing the questionnaire data
  • 6.5 Summary of findings
  • 6.5.1 Pedagogical implications and directions for further research
  • 6.5.2. Limitations of the study
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix A Academic listening course syllabus
  • Appendix B Improving note-taking skills: Lesson plan
  • Appendix C Pre- and post-course general listening tests
  • Appendix D Pre and post-course academic listening tests
  • Appendix E Scoring criteria for academic listening tests
  • Appendix F Transcript of lectures
  • Appendix G Post-course questionnaire
  • List of figures and tables
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index


The issues that lie at the core of this work pertain to two areas. Firstly, the most fundamental theoretical underpinnings of listening comprehension and academic listening are addressed. Secondly, the book focuses on investigating strategy training in academic listening and note-taking skills with advanced learners of English as a foreign language and evaluates the outcomes of the instructional practices used.

Listening to lectures and taking notes has been a staple activity of academic life and learning cultures for decades, and the subject of interest for many a scholar. They seem to have agreed upon the fact that academic listening, despite sharing a number of features with general listening comprehension, shows crucial idiosyncrasies and sets different processing demands, and therefore deserves to be treated as a separate construct in research. From a theoretical perspective, studies into academic lecture comprehension have investigated the specific skills that are necessary for effective lecture listening. It has been substantiated that students are supposed to process different levels of information presented in a lecture and, as a result, the construct of academic listening has often been defined in terms of different comprehension subskills or levels of understanding, such as understanding major ideas, understanding specific information or making inferences (e.g. Alderson, 2000; Buck, 2001; Song, 2012).

Apart from attempting to outline the myriad of subskills comprising academic listening, the studies investigating listening to lectures and the learner strategies used for making the act of listening more effective follow three major strands: (1) students’ perceptions and problems regarding listening to academic lectures, (2) features of lecture discourse and speech modifications made by the lecturer as methods of aiding students’ comprehension, (3) note-taking strategies applied by students in academic settings (DeZure, Kaplan and Deerman, 2001). Out of these three areas, note-taking appears to have been investigated most extensively, both in L1 and L2. The production of notes while listening to lectures has often been researched from the point of view of cognitive psychology, which focused on both the final outcome of the note-taking activities and the interplay between comprehension and note-taking as well as the activity itself, measuring the mental operations involved (Boch and Piolat, 2005), underlining the encoding and storing functions of notes.

The functional complexity of notes might account for the lack of special training programmes at universities (Piolat, Olive and Kellogg, 2005) and the ←9 | 10→fact that few students are taught note-taking skills. Even if undergraduates undergo training sessions, they often come in the form of awareness-raising questionnaires (Carrell et al., 2007; Gabryś-Barker, 2011). Yet learning to take notes well undoubtedly takes an amount of time comparable to learning to write in a relatively experienced way. Taking into account the different functional aspects of note taking as well as the complexity of the process itself, learning to take notes involves the development of a range of skills that might take several months, or even years, to master. A number of researchers believe that all students would benefit if provided with a long-term strategy training in note-taking techniques and the opportunity to practise and receive feedback (Haghverdi, Biria and Karimi, 2010).

The purpose of the present work is to provide an account of the current state of knowledge on the processes underlying academic listening and note-taking skills. More importantly, however, it aims to present and discuss a study conducted to investigate whether Polish advanced EFL (English as a Foreign Language) learners’ academic listening and note-taking skills improve after one year of strategy training. It is hoped that the present analysis will shed light on various aspects of listening to lectures as well as offer helpful implications for academic listening and note-taking strategy training instruction at advanced levels.

The initial chapters provide the theoretical context in which the present study evolved. Chapter One outlines various theory- and research-inspired perspectives of the nature of listening comprehension, attempting to define the skill and fathom the processes lying at the core of listening. A considerable part of this section of the book is devoted to psycholinguistic theories and models of listening comprehension.

Chapter Two pertains specifically to listening comprehension in a second language and looks at this skill from a pedagogical perspective, focusing on the second language learner. This part of the project draws a comparison between listening in L1 and L2, points to L2 students’ problems in listening to oral input and suggests strategies to overcome such difficulties. Finally, the chapter concentrates on second language assessment, discussing some of the most important issues concerning the evaluation of listening comprehension.

The main focus of Chapter Three is the nature of academic listening. It aims to pinpoint the factors typical of lecture comprehension, outlines the features of academic listening situations, as well as the input the recipients are exposed to, that is, lecture discourse. The second part of the chapter deals with the role of note-taking in listening to lectures, underlining its main functions and the interplay between taking notes and successful lecture comprehension.

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The most significant developments and major findings from the research in the field are reviewed in depth in Chapter Four. The first part of the chapter is devoted to the presentation of studies focusing on the influence of lecture discourse features and speech modifications on comprehension. The second part focuses on the studies whose aim was to grasp the role of note-taking in lectures, both in L1 and L2. The next section of Chapter Four reviews the strand of research dealing with implementing listening strategy training and measuring its potential benefits. The following section of this chapter presents the most important results yielded in the field of academic listening assessment. The chapter finishes with a summary of the findings particularly important from the point of view of the present study.

Chapters Five and Six are concerned with the research study undertaken for the purpose of this book. Chapter Five provides a thorough description of the design of the study, focusing on such issues as the aim, research questions, methodological issues pertaining to the participants, data collection instruments and the procedures used. Chapter Six presents and discusses the results obtained through the present study, which sought to explore the effect of a note-taking strategy training on the students’ academic listening performance, measured by a battery of tests and an analysis of the quality of the students’ notes. Moreover, Chapter Six brings together and discusses the findings of the study and its implications for academic listening instruction at advanced levels. Finally, suggestions for further research into note-taking strategy training that emerged from the present investigation are presented.

Chapter One Insights into the process of listening comprehension

Abstract: This chapter aims to pinpoint what listening comprehension entails and focuses on the major theoretical underpinnings of understanding spoken language. The chapter starts with an attempt to elucidate the nature of listening comprehension by discussing the features of oral input and delineating the processes which accompany extracting meaning from spoken messages. It is followed by an overview of various process which attending to auditory input comprises. A number of listening comprehension models are then described, shedding light on how listening is viewed from the psycholinguistic perspective. Finally, the last section sets out to define the role of memory and background knowledge in the process of arriving at the meaning of spoken discourse.

1.1Defining the nature of listening comprehension

Despite the widely acknowledged role of listening in language development, there has been no universally accepted view of the conceptualisation and definition of listening comprehension. It has been popularly referred to as decoding speech, making sense of aurally received input or uncovering the speaker’s message. Some of the more scientific definitions label listening as ‘the process of receiving, attending to and assigning meaning to aural stimuli’ (Wolvin and Coakley, in Feyten, 1991, p. 174), ‘the formation of meaningful mental representation from the perception of a physical linguistic stimulus’ (Townsend, Carrithers and Bever, 1987, p. 218) or ‘(…) an active process in which individuals focus on selected aspects of aural input, construct meaning from passages and relate what they hear to existing knowledge’ (O’Malley, Chamot and Küpper, 1989, p. 420). Other definitions seem to look at listening comprehension from the perspective of the EFL classroom and describe it as ‘the ability to understand the spoken language of native speakers’ (Mendelson, 1994, p. 19), being able to answer comprehension questions following a text, understanding key vocabulary and interpreting the intentions of the speaker.

The lack of uniformity in framing the fundamental concepts of listening has also been noted by second language acquisition (SLA) researchers. In her review of the state of the art of studies on listening, Witkin (1990) paid attention to the existence of many definitions of listening, none of which was widely agreed upon. She pointed out:

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A basic issue that has rarely been addressed by researchers is how well the concept of ‘listening’ plays the role of the hypothetical construct in theory building and research. Just as there is no generally agreed upon definition of listening, and theories and models exist that are not only contradictory but mutually exclusive, so there has been a lack of continuity in more than half a century of research to connect the efforts into a unified field of study. (p. 19)

One of the most comprehensive overviews of listening comprehension definitions was presented by Glenn (1989), who carried out an in-depth analysis of 50 different attempts to pinpoint the term. Her enquiry helped to identify several aspects of listening comprehension which scholars seem to acknowledge. Most of these aspects are particular steps in listening which enable us to conceptualise the process. They include: perception, attention, interpretation, response and memory. Once again, however, there seems to be little agreement among scholars as to which steps listening really entails. The lack of consensus on this issue is of a double nature. First of all, there is no consistent terminology and the listening steps are referred to as sensing, interpreting, evaluating and responding or as signal, literal and reflecting processing (Edwards and McDonald, 1993). Secondly, there exists disagreement among researchers regarding the inclusion of two elements involved in the listening process, namely memory and response (Ridge, 1993).

Listening is the active process of receiving, constructing meaning from, and responding to spoken and/or nonverbal messages. It involves the ability to retain information as well as to react empathically and/or appreciatively to spoken and/or nonverbal messages. (p. 3)

Attempts to formulate a working definition of listening were also undertaken by International Listening Association (Witkin and Trochim, 1997). At a conference in 1994, a definition containing all of the aspects of listening outlined in Glenn’s detailed scrutiny was put forward. The definition was hoped to be generally accepted by scholars and practitioners alike. However, it found no recognition in second language acquisition literature.

A fairly radical, yet very convincing view on defining listening comprehension is the one held by Rost (2002), who claims that since the perception and conceptualisation of listening is strongly influenced by current theoretical interests, one uniform definition is neither needed nor possible to arrive at. Instead, Rost (2002) looks at various patterns in the already existing array of definitions and identifies four different perspectives that listening definitions tend to draw on: receptive orientation – defining listening as receiving what the speaker actually says; constructive orientation – referring to constructing and representing meaning; ←14 | 15→collaborative orientation – negotiating meaning with the speaker and responding to it and transformative orientation – creating meaning through imagination, as well as involvement and empathy with the speaker. Such an orientation-based approach toward listening seems to underline the complexity of the process.

Clearly, it seems difficult to unequivocally say what listening really means. Perhaps the best approach to fathom the nature of listening would be by describing the neurological and psycholinguistic processes that listening entails, by specifying the sub-skills applied by listeners constructing the meaning from verbal input or identifying the factors influencing this process. In other words, instead of defining listening, it might prove effective to analyse its characteristics and the features endemic to listening comprehension. One such factor determining listening comprehension is the nature of stimulus.

1.1.1 Understanding auditory input

As listening comprehension is often referred to as ‘understanding spoken language’, ‘speech recognition’ or ‘speech perception’ (Driven and Oakeshott-Taylor, 1984a), its nature seems to be inextricably bound up with the characteristics of spoken discourse which the listener has to process. Some of the most common qualities of speech as a rapid and transitory medium include no, or little, planning time, ephemerality, here-and-now orientation or a low degree of formality (Horowitz and Samuels, 1987). However, as it has been substantiated that the properties of speech exert a strong influence on the process of listening, the need arises to look at the characteristics of spoken language in greater detail. Furthermore, analysing the properties of spoken versus written language is important form the perspective of the present work, which focuses on academic lectures, sharing the features of both (see Chapter Three).

Although there is no clear-cut definition of what constitutes the nature of spoken and written texts and there seems to be no simple dichotomy between the two, the features of auditory input are still best examined in juxtaposition to written language. Rather than being separate, unitary constructs, speech and writing constitute two modal points of one continuum, from spontaneous to self-monitored production, from active to reflective language (Halliday, 1987). It is possible, however, drawing on the spokenness writtenness distinction, to enumerate the qualities intrinsic to auditory input (Tab. 1.1).


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (August)
lecture comprehension foreign language listening language education strategy development researching listening taking notes
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 278 pp., 22 fig. b/w, 31 tables.

Biographical notes

Karolina Kotorowicz-Jasińska (Author)

Karolina Kotorowicz-Jasińska is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin, Poland, where she teaches courses in second language acquisition and foreign language didactics. She holds a PhD in applied linguistics. Her academic interests include discourse comprehension processes as well as the development and assessment of receptive skills.


Title: Improving Academic Listening and Note-Taking Skills