Capítulos de libros
Implications of research for the teaching of lecture comprehension
Research in Academic English: Communicative Skills and Strategies in the University Context
Servicio de Publicaciones Universidad de Alcalá
Lugar: Alcalá de Henares; Año: 2002; p. 27 - 50

At university level, lecturing is a dominant teaching tool worldwide. Teachers and students may have varied  instructional/learning media at their disposal (self-access centres, face to face tutorials, electronic feedback, project work, to name a few) but the lecture preserves the stature of a ?sacred cow? (Armbruster 2000: 175), ?the central ritual of the culture of learning? (Benson 1994: 181). In the international scene, learning from lectures in English is a highly valued skill since English has become widely accepted as the lingua franca of academic exchange and instruction (Flowerdew 1994: 1).

            Acknowledging this fact, many universities and centres of higher education all over the world offer courses in English that emphasize lecture comprehension, note-taking and note-making for study purposes. The foreign listener may, however, have some difficulties in trying to cope with lecture discourse. According to James (1977 cited in Jordan 1997) these problems relate to three areas: a) recognizing what has been said, b) understanding main and subsidiary points and c) writing down quickly, briefly and clearly the important points for future use.  

            Jordan (1997: 179) claims that ?the problem will be exacerbated for non-native speakers who lack familiarity with spoken discourse structure, various styles of delivery and the accent and speed of speaking of the lecturer.? Although features of the language itself may cause difficulties, the literature in the field of academic listening stresses the role of discourse structure in comprehension.

Richards (1983) and Powers (1986) suggest a taxonomy of micro-skills related to text structure which are needed for academic listening and note-taking: the abilities to tell between important and less important information, to identify internal connections (major ideas, supporting ideas and examples), to infer relationships (e.g. cause-effect, comparison-contrast, conclusion) and to recognize the function of intonation to signal discourse structure (e.g. pitch, key, pause). Flowerdew and Miller (1995) noticed differences in the discourse structure of lectures across disciplines: the problem-solution scheme was often found in computer science lectures, a collection of concepts with examples was a common arrangement in economics, a comparison between models was the usual organizing principle of lectures in public administration. Tauroza and Allison (1994) observed that EFL students often have lecture comprehension difficulties when complex discourse patterns are used.

Armbruster (2000) surveyed articles on note-taking from lectures published in the last fifteen years. Three of the studies she reviewed, Kiewra et al. (1989); Kiewra, DuBois, et al. (1991) and Kiewra et al. (1995), found that the use of an outline framewrok and a matrix framework helps students improve their note-taking. Both frameworks provide main topics and subtopics which encourage students to establish internal relationships and thus record significantly more lecture notes.

Research into the relationship between text structure and oral comprehension in English as a native language suggests the existence of a common processing skill underlying the comprehension of oral and written texts (Anderson & Lynch 1988). Nevertheless, Barr (1990) argues that intonation provides a more consistent cue than text structure for the listener to reconstruct the hierarchy of ideas when listening to an expository text (a lecture, a mini-lecture). Neither of these connections has been clearly established in studies involving foreign speakers of English (Hansen & Jensen 1994, Lynch 1994).

            The first section of this chapter reports a study designed to investigate the effects of explicit instruction in the recognition of patterns of top-level organization of written expository text and in the function of intonation in signalling topic structure on the listening comprehension of lectures. The second section presents some pedagogic applications that follow from the study.