In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Second Language Listening

  • Introduction
  • Overviews
  • Second Language Listening Pedagogy
  • The Second Language Listening Process
  • Metacognition and Learner Strategies
  • Academic Listening
  • Listening and Vocabulary Knowledge
  • Technology
  • Testing

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Linguistics Second Language Listening
John Flowerdew
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0285


Listening comprehension plays a key role in both first and second language acquisition, and although out of the four communication skills listening takes up more time than any of the others (45 percent according to one estimate), it is nevertheless often considered to be the Cinderella of the group in terms of both research and pedagogical practice. It is also worth noting that the importance of listening in the real world is increasing with the development of new media such as Zoom, YouTube, podcasts, and other online communication tools and genres. This second-class situation for the listening skill is ironic, because important early approaches to language teaching, such as the direct method and the audio-lingual method made listening primary. Based on a belief that children learn to speak only after intensive and extensive exposure to aural input, the direct method, for example, emphasized the exclusive use of the target language and extensive comprehension activities before speaking was introduced. Similarly, based on the conviction that language learning follows a natural order of progression from listening to speaking and then reading and writing, the audio-lingual method began with intensive listening to phonological, morphological, and syntactic patterns, only then followed by oral repetition; this in the belief that repeated exposure to such linguistic patterns would lead to acquisition of the language. Since these early approaches, communicative pedagogy has been grounded in interaction-based theories of language acquisition—that is to say, the idea that listening and speaking lead to acquisition. That is not to say the unidirectional approaches to listening (where the hearer listens, but does not interact with an interlocutor) have been abandoned, especially given the increasing interest in academic listening and its focus on listening to lectures. Current understandings are that the listening comprehension process occurs in a combination of top-down and bottom-up processes. Top-down processes engage schemata, (knowledge structures based on past experience)—including prior knowledge of the topic—and the more immediate linguistic context, while bottom-up processes involve the word-by-word decoding of the incoming stream of sound. These two facets of the comprehension process are reflected in listening pedagogy, where teaching may focus on some combination of these processes according to different degrees. Early approaches tended to focus more on bottom-up decoding, while more recent classroom applications have tended to put increasing emphasis on top-down inferencing, although it is not clear what an appropriate balance might be.


There is a range of introductory overviews of the field of second language listening, most of them taking an overtly pedagogical approach. An important early more theoretical contribution is that of Brown 1990 (originally published in 1977), with chapters on segments, syllables and words, intonation, rhythm, paralinguistics, and just one chapter on teaching. Flowerdew and Miller 2005 combines an overview of listening theory with case studies of actual pedagogical practice illustrating the authors’ original pedagogical model. Breaking with what the author sees as the traditional product-oriented comprehension approach to the teaching of listening, Lynch 2009 offers a guide for the evaluation, adaption, and creation of classroom listening tasks, but also devotes space to describing the characteristics of spoken language. Field 2008 also takes a process approach, emphasizing the listening process and challenging aspects of real world listening, while Wilson 2008, as indicated in its title, focuses on how to teach listening. Vandergrift and Goh 2012 deals with the basic theoretical concepts and pedagogical principles in teaching second language listening, with a particular emphasis on a metacognitive approach. Rost and Wilson 2013 is very much focused on classroom application, including fifty activities linked up with the theoretical sections from the first part of the book. Graham and Santos 2015 is another volume focused on second language listening pedagogy. Rost has written or co-written several books on listening. Rost 2016 is divided into four sections, covering the listening process, the teaching of listening, researching listening, and resources for further exploration. Reflecting its Cinderella status, unlike the other receptive second language macro-skill, reading, which has its own journal, Reading in a Foreign Language, there is no journal dedicated to second language listening.

  • Brown, G. 1990. Listening to spoken English. New York: Longman.

    Originally published in 1977, this is probably the earliest book-length study on second language listening. It takes a linguistic approach, focusing on various linguistic features (e.g., syllables, words, intonation), with just one chapter on pedagogy.

  • Field, J. 2008. Listening in the language classroom. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This book provides an account of the psychological processes of listening and takes issue with the traditional comprehension-based approach to listening instruction, arguing for intensive work on cognitively demanding features of the listening skill.

  • Flowerdew, J., and L. Miller. 2005. Second language listening: Theory and practice. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This volume combines current theory in listening, a pedagogical model developed by the authors, and case studies of actual classroom practice. The model incorporates previous models of listening—bottom-up processing, top-down processing, and interactive processing—but it also has distinct dimensions of listening that make it more intricate than previous models. These dimensions are as follows: (1) individualization, (2) cross-cultural aspects, (3) social features, (4) contextualized dimensions, (5) affective factors, (6) strategic aspects, (7) intertextuality, and (8) critical discourse features.

  • Graham, S., and D. Santos. 2015. Strategies for second language listening: Current scenarios and improved pedagogy. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137410528

    This book incorporates research findings, teachers’ beliefs and practices, text book materials evaluation, and classroom activities. The focus is very much on the classroom teacher.

  • Lynch, T. 2009. Teaching second language listening: A guide to evaluating, adapting, and creating tasks for listening in the language classroom. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Published in the Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers series, this book does what it says in its subtitle, namely show teachers how to evaluate, adapt, and create tasks for the listening classroom.

  • Rost, M. 2016. Teaching and researching listening. 3d ed. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

    In its third edition, this book provides an authoritative and comprehensive overview of the state of the art in listening research and practice. It is suitable for both classroom teachers and researchers.

  • Rost, M., and J. J. Wilson. 2013. Active listening. New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315832920

    This book includes a section on relevant research and implications, followed by fifty activities derived from those implications. It also has sections on curricular integration and action research, aimed at teachers who want to design programs and research their classrooms situations.

  • Vandergrift, L., and C. Goh. 2012. Teaching and learning second language listening: Metacognition in action. New York: Routledge.

    Based on the authors’ original research, this book takes a metacognitive approach, combining theoretical and practical aspects of listening.

  • Wilson, J. J. 2008. How to teach listening. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education.

    In Pearson’s “How to” series, the title of this book is self-explanatory. It is aimed at classroom teachers and has a wealth of practical advice and activities.

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