On Authenticity of Listening Test
作者：毛庆珠 发表时间：2015年06月30日 浏览量：56 分享到空间
According to the current listening test in China, the purpose of this paper is to explore the practical application of “authenticity” in the design of listening test through analyzing the basic issues surrounding the communication and the listening test.
Therefore, in order to achieve successful communication, the second language learners are expected to develop not only the grammatical competence, but also the communicative competence.
Underlying the theory, listening has received a special attention, and more concern has been given to testing the “real life” materials. From the view of psychology, the process of listening includes receiving sound waves through the ear and transmitting nerve to the brain. From the view of linguistic knowledge, which contains phonological, logical, syntactic and semantic knowledge, and the general knowledge about the word, which belongs to the non-linguistic knowledge.
The concept of “authenticity” comes out with the communicative approach. Its contents incudes: the test task resembles the real world communicative task, the interaction between the test-takers and their ability to the assessment task, the interaction between participants, assessment criterion and procedure. Thus authenticity is a desirable characteristic for language testing because it enables the testing to assess the communicative competence of the language learners, which is regarded as the goal of learning a language.
Finally, based on the above analysis, some good suggestions are made to design the authentic and valid listening test: using the “real” life materials; combing the test exercises and tasks with relaying on some scales focusing on comprehending meaning; grading difficult level; balancing the relationships between objectivity and subjectivity, language and communication, recognition and production.
Key words: communicative approach listening authenticity
On Authenticity of Listening Test
1. Significance of listening test
1.1To evaluate the student`s language ability.
1.2To help the teacher improve his/her teaching.
2. Approaches to language test
2.1. Essay-translation approach
3.1Background of authenticity
3.2Contents of authenticity
3.3Principle of authenticity
4. Implication of authenticity for listening test
4.1Theory of listening comprehension
4.2Analysis of current listening test inChina
4.3Ways to design authentic listening test
On Authenticity of Listening Test
The notion of authenticity emerged in applied linguistics in the late 1970＇s when the communicative methodology was getting its momentum, and there is a growing interest in teaching and testing real-life language .According to the linguistic theory underlying communicative methodology, language is a system for expression of meaning ,and the primary function of language is for interaction and communication .Therefore, in order to achieve successful communication ,the second language learners are expected to developed not only the grammatical competence ,but also more essentially the communicative competence, e.g. the understanding of the social context in which communication take place, such as the relationship and the communicative purpose, etc. Testing, being the device to reinforce the second language learning and to motivate both the teachers and the students ,as well as the means to assess the performance of the students in the process of second language learning ,is closed related to teaching.
Being one of the most critical qualities of language test, authenticity is now firmly established as the central concern in test design and test validation. An authentic test can ensure that language test reflects the language use in the target domain. Thus, it will be beneficial backwash on the language teaching and learning.
The first part of this paper is concerned with the different approaches of testing and their underlying theories. It is followed by the analysis of the theoretical issues surrounding authenticity. With regards to the importance of authenticity in the field of testing, this paper further explores the practical application of authenticity in the design of listening test.
1. Significance of authenticity
1.1 To evaluate the students＇language ability
In a year ,a number of English language tests of various kinds are held all over the world .Tests are used to obtain the information about people＇s language ability .Just like Davies and Pearse say in their work “The purpose of English language test is to gather reliable evidence of what learners can do in English and what they know of English”(Davies and Pearse,2002.p.171).It is very useful and necessary. These tests are generally divided into four kinds proficiency test, achievement test(including progress test and course test),diagnostic test and placement test, each of which is used for a particular purpose(Davies and Pearse,2002.p.171).The test is designed to measure people＇s ability in a language either based on the course or reguardless of any training they have taken in that language .The test is designed to identify student＇strengths and weakness or to assign student to classes at different levels. It is hard to imagine that theuniversityofUSAandUKto recruit oversea students without knowing their English language proficiency. It is also necessary for big company to organize examinations to test the English ability of their employees.
1.2 To improve the teacher＇s teaching and the students＇ learning
However, the evaluation of people＇s language performance for the purpose of comparison or selection is only one of the functions of a test. A reliable and valid enables the language teachers or learners to increase their own effectiveness by adjusting their teaching or learning methods in light of the result of language test. The test exerts great influence on the language teaching and learning either beneficially or negatively. Since language test is so important and necessary, the test designers should bear the notion of authenticity in mind when designing the test.
2. Approaches to language test
Taking a review of the historical development of the language test, we find that the technique of language test in use at any time tend to reflect the view of what is language and the way it is used at that time. The current thinking on what the ability is and what we are expected to do when we use language in daily life determine what is to be tested and the kind of testing items and tasks (Davies and Pearse, page.173). Thus various approaches to language test evolved out of different kinds of theory on language and learning, namely, the essay-translation approach, the structural approach, the integrative approach and the communicative approach.
2.1 Essay-translation approach
The essay-translation approach belongs to the pre-scientific stage of language testing. The text consists of essay writing, translation, and grammatical analysis, mainly concerned with the knowledge of language itself, containing heavy academic and literary tendency. No special skills or rationale is required in test in this period. The knowledge that is going to be tested and the way to score the test are all decided by the subjective judgment of the teachers.
2.2 Structural approach
With emerge of the structural linguistics and the influence of the behaviorist psychology, a structural approach to testing became popular. According to structural linguistics, the language was viewed as a system, which can be divided into structurally related elements for the encoding of meaning, the elements being phonemes, morphemes, words, structures and sentence types (Richard and Rodger,2000.p.49).The competence of using the four skills and these elements is considered as the real language competence for a language learner. The mastery of these language elements is represented as acquiring a set of appropriate language habit to response to the language stimulus. Such mastery tested by using words and sentences are completely separated from the real social context, and each skill is tested separately.
2.3 Integrative approach
The integrative approach assesses the learner’s ability to use two or more skills simultaneously instead of separating the four language skills into division .This approach takes the context into consideration and is mainly concerned with the meaning of language and its communicative effect. Thus the language competence is tested by the understanding of the discourse, rather than individual word or sentence. The typical testing forms of integrative approach are cloze and dictation.
2.4 Communicative approach
The communicative approach developed out of a change in language teaching theories from dominant structural focus to the concern of language in actual use in the 1960s and 1970s in Britain, the USA, and elsewhere, as well as new classroom procedure( Davies and Pearse,2002.p.193).David ,Nunan (1991.p279) offers five features to characterize communicative approach :an emphasis on learning to communicate through interaction in target language ;the provision of opportunities for leaner to focus not only on language but also on the learning process itself; an enhancement of the learner’s own personal experiences as important contribution elements to classroom learning; an attempt to link classroom language learning with language activation outside the classroom. Littlewood (1981.p.1) states: ”One of the most characteristic features of communicative approach is that it pays systematic attention to functional as well as structural aspects of language.” “The goal of communicative approach is to develop students＇ communicative competence, which includes both the knowledge about the language and the knowledge about how to use the language appropriately in communicative situation.”(Wang Qiang Cheng Xiaotang,2000.p.15 ). Listening skill has received special attention in communicative approach, possibably, because it previously had been neglected as a skill in its own right. Listening shares a number of features with reading since both are interpretative or receptive skills. Listening, therefore, is viewed not only the counterpart of speaking, but also as an independent skill with its own objectives. In real life, there are many situations in which we act as listeners only ,for example, as an audience for radio, televisions, lectures, films, etc.(Wang Qiang and Cheng Xiaotang,2000.p.17).The theory underlying the communicative approach is to view language as communication. The test is primarily concerned with how language is used in communication. The criterion for judging the language proficiency of the learners is the effectiveness of communication, which it takes place rather than the linguistic accuracy. This approach emphasizes primarily on the language use instead of the language usage. Language usage concerns the formal pattern of language, while the language use refers to how people actually use languages in different social contexts for multiple purpose. In accordance to this approach, the testing design should abide by the principle of authenticity. The following part is concerned with the theoretical rationale of authenticity
3.1The background of authenticity
Over the last three decades, there has been a growing interest in language use in its social context in the field of language teaching and applied linguistics. The emphasis in models of communicative competence on aspects of competence in addition to grammatical competence, such as socio-linguistic or pragmatic competence and strategic competence has also served to bring the issue of authenticity into focus. The socio-linguistic competence can only be assessed in relation to interaction within a social context, so in test it is necessary to design an approximate real communication context for the test-takers. Similarly, strategic competence refers to the coping strategies that communicators employ to initiate, terminate, maintain, repair, and redirect communication (Richard and Rodgers.2000.p.71)
Correspondently, authenticity has been highlighted as a critical issue for language testing. It is the property to ensure that language testing can reflect the language in real world and the knowledge of language as a system. .As for what is authenticity and to what degree the assessment can be called authentic, many interpretations were provided by the linguistics. In Bachman's influential book, Fundamental Consideration in Language Testing, Bachman described the authenticity as reflecting a sincere concern to somehow capture and recreate in language tests the essence of language use (Bachman, 2002. p.126).It relates to the degree to which a test reflects language use in non-test domains. Regardless of the different opinions on the essence of authenticity, an agreement has long been achieved on its importance for test development. A lack of authenticity is a threat to the validity and reliability of the test.
3.2 The contents of authenticity
According to Bachman and Palmer, the concept of authenticity can be divided into two dimensions: authenticity and interactiveness, concerning, at least four items, namely the assessment task, the interaction between the test-takers and their ability with the assessment task, the interaction between participants and the assessment criterion and procedure. To be specific, the authenticity means the degree to which the task resembles the real world task, while it is far from being sufficient to make correspondence between the test task and the real language task (Bachman, 2002.p.132). Through the concept of interactiveness, Bachman and Palmer
emphasize the importance of assessing the involvement of the test taker's individual characteristics in accomplishing a test task. Because Bachman holds that language ability is the combination of the language knowledge, the strategic competence, the real world knowledge and the information processing ability which all bear an influence on the language performance. The above-mentioned characteristics include language ability, topical knowledge and affective schemata (Bachman, 2002.p.127). When designing a test, the designer should take these into consideration and the degree of interactiveness is the degree to which the characteristics of the test-takers are engaged by the task.
he most common use of the term of authenticity is related to the test tasks and materials. The authentic materials are those created in the target language for some communication purposes rather than specifically for language teaching or testing. Besides, the test is designed by applying these kinds of forms that can evaluate the gestalt language knowledge of the test-takers. At first, the emphasis on authenticity has been particularly strong in the testing of oral competence, but later extends to the assessment of all facets language ability.
3.3 The principle of authenticity
Make sure that the language in your test is as natural and authentic as possible. Also, try to give language some context so that items aren't just a string of unrelated language samples. Thematic organization of items may help in this regard, or consider a story line that may run through you items. Moreover, the tasks themselves need to task that they have practiced and feel comfortable with. A classroom test is not the right place to introduce brand new tasks, because you won't know if students' difficulty is a factor of the task itself or of the language you are testing (H. Douglas Brown, 2001.p.385).
How can it be applied in the real design of a test? What kind of form and material are sufficient to provide an authentic test? The following parts are concerned with the design of testing of a particular language skill, listening inChina, and for the students in particular
4. Implications of authenticity for listening test
4.1 Theory of listening comprehension
The listening comprehension involves two kinds of knowledge: the linguistic knowledge and non-linguistic knowledge. And linguistic knowledge consists of phonological, lexical, syntactic and semantic knowledge, which serve as the abstract instructions for understanding the input. The non-linguistic knowledge refers to the general knowledge about the world .The linguistic knowledge is activated in the bottom-up information processing, constraining the access of non-linguistic knowledge, while the non-linguistic knowledge is used in the top-down manner, facilitating the understanding of the input information. In listening comprehension, human memory serves as two functions: storage of information for later retrieval and processing.
Listening as a major component in language learning and teaching first hit the spotlight in the late 1970s with Jame Arser's (1997) work on Total Physical Response, in which the role of comprehension was given prominence as learners were given great quantities of language to listen to response orally (H. Douglas Brown.2001.p.234).Among the four language skills, listening and reading are receptive, concerning more about the process rather than the production. What is more, listening is not one way street. It is not merely the process of unidirectional receiving of audible symbols. One facet of the first the first step of listening comprehension is the psychomotor process of receiving sound waves through the ear and transmitting nerve impulse to the brain. But that is just the beginning of what is clearly an interaction process as the brain acts on the impulse, bringing to bear a number of different cognitive and effective mechanisms (H. Douglas Brown, 2001.P.235). The design of listening testing is very complicated, because the test of listening involves not only the listening ability of the test-takers but also the complicated psychological factors of them. The transient nature of the spoken language constitutes the special problem in constructing listening test. The test-takers cann't go backward or forward to get the information in the way that they can in a written text. However, listening has traditionally been the forgotten skill when it comes testing before the widely accepted theory of listening comprehension emerged.
4.2 Analysis of the current listening testing inChina
The listening tests ofChinaprimarily adopt the indirect testing, assessing the general language proficiency of test-takers. Take CET4 or 6 as example, the multiple choice is used as the main form of listening testing, resembling the listening test of TOEFL. According to the result of the case study conducted by Wu Yi'an (2001), the form of multiple choice is favorable for the test-takers with higher language proficiency and creates more obstacles to the test-takers with lower language ability. It inevitably incurs the guess without any reasons of the test takers. Thus the interaction between the test-takers and their ability with the assessment task cann't be fulfilled. The authenticity of the test of listening is doubled. The listening materials of this testing are the processed language materials in unauthentic context, mainly in written language. This kind of material cannot assess the real listening ability in processing the authentic discourse and will exert bad backwash to the teaching and learning, .because this is not the authentic listening context the students may be confronted with. Besides, it will increase the level of difficulty of the test.
4.3 How to design authentic listening test
It is easy to set authenticity as the criterion for test design, but the real application of this principle is more complicated. The authenticity of the test consists of two aspects: the authentic material and the authentic form of the test. An authentic test should be based on the need-analysis on the part of students. For instance, the BEC of theCambridgeUniversitypromoted inChinais a typical communicative test because the listening material are all concerned with the commerce and most of them are related to the real situation ofChina.
From the above –mentioned example, it easy to identify what is authentic material. The authentic material must be extracted from the discourse that the test-takers encounter in daily life. Because the style of the spoken language is quite different from that of the written language in certain ways, as a result of the large number of “redundancy” it contains .In spoken language, the meaning can be conveyed, emphasized, or repeated by means of the change of breaths, intonation, hesitation, or the grammatical repatterning, even though the information is partially heard by the communication participants. Without these features of spoken language ,it is impossible for the hearers to fully absorb the information at the speed at which the participants carry out the communication in daily life because of the limitation of the of the human memory capacity. Even an academic report with many special terms and formal vocabulary is different from a well-prepared (written) material when the latter is read aloud, since the former still contains strong style of spoken language. So if the test wants to assess the ability of the college students to understand an academic lecture, the aural material should be written in such a way that the important points should be restated, rewritten and high-lightened. The length of each segment of meaning will be limited for the smooth delivery of information to the testees, and at the end of each segment, pause should be lengthened. All of these techniques in designing the listening test material can to some extent compensate for lack of features of spoken language.
In addition to academic report, the listening test inChinafor the college students often uses the form of statements and short dialogues. But these items are designed to assess students' ability to understand short speech on the lexical and phonological level. They do not resemble the real life speech. What' more, the statements and dialogues do not incur the same communicative response by interpreting the information they hear as the real life. So compared to other kind of testing items, these two are less authentic and cann't assess the real communicative ability. The radio broadcastings, recordings of conversations between native speakers , live presentations, even the extracts from the TV series or movie are more authentic material for listening tests.
Many proponents of communicative approach have advocated the use of “authentic”, “from life” materials in the classroom (Richard and Rodgers, 2000. p.80).For the form of the listening test, the authenticity refers to that the form should be designed in according with the ability of the test-takers. The comprehension through visual materials such as the charts, pictures, and maps etc are suitable for the elementary and intermediate language learners. While spot dictation, note taking requiring much higher language ability should be restricted to the test designed for the advanced learners or for special purposes.
Another two principles for testing (Wang Qiang and Cheng Xiaotang,2000. p.85).
Focus on comprehending meaning: Ono problem with many listening exercises in tradition( textbook in that they test to remember detail that they wouldn’t even remember in their native language. In fact, psycholinguistic studies have shown that people do not remember the exact form of the massage they hear; that is, they don’t remember the meaning. The original message is transferred in the brain to a form where the meaning is preserved, but the original surface detail is forgotten.
Grade difficult level appropriately: When designing listening tasks, it is very important to grade the difficulty level of the tasks. There are a large number of factors that affect the difficulty level of listening tasks, but they fall into three main categories according to Anderson and Lynch:1) types of languge;2)tasks or purpose in listening;3)context in which the listening occurs.
In addition to, when talking about text exercises and tasks, Davies and Pearse point out that text designers often combine exercises and tasks at these scales: balance the relationship between objectivity and subjectivity language and communication, recognition and production, with the aim of achieving a good balance of reliability and validity(Davies and Pearse,2002.p.179).
Much has been discussed on the importance of authenticity in language testing, but there is still room for the research on the real application of authenticity in the test design. Not only the listening testing, but also the testing of other skills requires the authentic material and form to assess the real communicative competence of the test-takers. The paper focuses on the authenticity of listening testing, shedding lights on the design of authentic testing of other ability.
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