Listening strategy instruction (or extensive listening?): A response to Renandya (2012)

by Jeremy Cross

Formerly of the British Council in Japan (Japan)                  


I was interested to read Renandya’s (2012) piece ‘Five reasons why listening strategy instruction might not work with lower proficiency learners’ disputing the value of listening strategy instruction. As an L2 listening researcher (as opposed to a commentator), I agree it is important to adopt a critical standpoint regarding the value or otherwise of various approaches to teaching listening. What I take issue with are various aspects of Renandya’s coverage of why he believes listening strategy instruction is not particularly worthwhile, and his subtle attempt to portray extensive listening as a preferable alternative. Siegel (2011) has already responded in brief to comments on listening strategy instruction (and extensive listening) in the ELT Journal article Renandya refers to (Renandya & Farrell, 2011), and I would also recommend readers consider what Siegel states in terms of the content of Renandya’s ELTWO article. As for my own response to Renandya’s article here in ELTWO, I would like to draw readers’ attention to a number of issues I see with the five reasons he presents to support his position for “why it is not a good idea to spend valuable instructional time on teaching listening strategies”.


Reason 1: Weak empirical evidence

Renandya refers to what scholars have to say about strategies in general, rather than with respect to listening strategy instruction per se, which rather muddies the waters. Also, the majority of views he mentions to support his position were expressed approximately 15 to 20 years ago, and thus are not necessarily representative of contemporary knowledge and thinking in this field anyway. Nonetheless, I think it is fair to say that Renandya is correct in pointing out that listening strategies researchers have yet to show a direct causal effect for instructional interventions on gains in listening proficiency, that effect size has been small in recent research1, and that we should be cautious in interpreting descriptive and correlational findings in relation to the application of listening strategy instruction in the classroom. However, I take a broader view of the (potential) benefits for L2 listeners of participating in listening strategy instruction which goes beyond the narrow proficiency argument presented by Renandya. For example, a key aspect of this approach is that it can increase levels of control over the process of, and self-efficacy for, listening  in a second language (Graham, 2011). In any case, listening strategy instruction continues to be an under-researched area, and researchers in this field are still attempting to formulate an appropriate methodology and pedagogy because it currently seems that this is an instructional approach that is worth pursuing and persevering with. It is obviously still too soon to state that it is not worthwhile spending classroom time on teaching listening strategies without further studies being conducted to explore and refine associated methodology and pedagogy, as Renandya himself concedes later in his article.


Reason 2: Unreasonable demand and opportunity cost

Regarding unreasonable demands, any approach to listening instruction requires teachers to have relevant knowledge of, and know how to implement, appropriate techniques, not just listening strategy instruction (e.g. teaching decoding skills means teachers need to know about the features of connected speech, how to diagnose their learners’ problems, and develop appropriate remedial activities). I would suggest that most teachers have the capacity to develop the knowledge and ability, either by themselves or through In Service English Teacher Training (INSETT) sessions, to include elements of strategy instruction in their listening lessons within allocated course times.

Renandya also focuses on perceived opportunity costs to learners if intensive and systematic instruction is implemented, again discussing strategy training and language proficiency in general rather than listening strategy instruction. Based on my own research experience (see Cross, 2009), a concentrated program focused on listening strategy input and practice requires time and effort to implement, and is not practical or appropriate for all teachers or all teaching contexts. But surely this is common sense, and I would suggest dedicated listening strategy courses are few and far between, and are not part of regular course work anyway.

I agree with Renandya that we need to introduce listening strategy instruction  into regular course work judiciously, without it being taken to ‘extremes’ he mentions. And, of course, it should be done so to specifically meet the developmental needs of listeners in the given learning context. This is also true for any aspect of language learning. It is common sense.

Also, I see little or no opportunity cost to learners in terms of other aspects of language learning when teachers adopt a rational approach to teaching listening strategies when learners complete listening tasks in regular lessons. In contrast, I see a potential opportunity cost for learners when they are not systematically taught how to listen in a second language.


Reason 3: Teachers’ and students’ views

I agree with Renandya’s comment that teachers and students opinions can provide useful (though limited) insights into what is appropriate and achievable in listening lessons in particular context2. However, it is hardly the kind of evidence from tightly controlled research that Renandya expects regarding listening strategy instruction. Nonetheless, it is fair to say there are barriers to listening strategy instruction reported by learners (see Chen, 2005) which need to be taken into account when implementing such teaching or related research, but this in no way means we should just minimize time spent teaching learners about listening strategies. Essentially, a few teachers’ and students’ comments are no reason to dismiss listening strategy instruction. It is an approach which can be implemented alongside other approaches to listening pedagogy. It is designed to help weaker listeners deal with extracting meaning from incomplete understanding and does not “solve L2 listeners’ decoding problems” as Renandya states.

Renandya’s commentary regarding extensive listening here is irrelevant to the discussion of the value of listening strategy instruction, and it appears there is an underlying agenda for this ELTWO article which is again to promote the position he presented in Renandya and Farrell (2011). That is, that plentiful extensive listening in the classroom is the ideal way to promote L2 listening development, a position which I have already criticized (see Cross, 2011) due essentially to the lack of any established theoretical foundation, solid research evidence or recognised pedagogy.


Reason 4: Threshold level

It is too simplistic to suggest that for listening strategy instruction to be useful listeners must be beyond a certain ‘threshold of proficiency’ (which Renandya suggests is at the ‘intermediate’ level without citing any support). As mentioned, Chen (2005) provides data on a range of potential barriers to successful listening strategy use which need to be considered when implementing listening strategy instruction, including language proficiency. Listening in a second language is an idiosyncratic process and different factors impinge on each learner, irrespective of whether he/she is a novice, intermediate or  advanced listener, so we should be careful about making unsubstantiated generalizations about proficiency effects. I am of the view that it would also be wrong to wait until listeners reach this ‘intermediate’ level before guiding them on how they can try to facilitate their understanding.

I also dispute from my reading of Zhang’s (2005) unpublished MA thesis that the findings in her study present preliminary support for the ‘threshold of proficiency’ theory. It is worth mentioning that, like Thompson and Rubin’s study (1996) which Renandya uses to illustrate problems with listening strategy instruction studies, Zhang’s research has methodological issues (e.g., unequal amounts of listening input for the (read aloud) experimental and (strategy instruction) control groups; no listening pre-test to specifically determine equivalence in listening proficiency between the two groups prior to the study; and questionable content in the researcher-designed post-test), but Renandya seems to have ignored such issues in reporting associated findings to support his arguments.


Reason 5: Learners don’t need strategies

Renandya’s assertion that language learners already possess L1 strategies so they do not need to be taught L2 strategies is debatable. Again, Renandya primarily discusses learner strategies in general rather than concentrates on the use of listening strategies, which weakens the relevance of his argument. Personally, I agree with Field (2008) who states that L1 listening strategies are not instinctively transferred to L2 contexts because “second language listening carries with it a very different set of circumstances” (p. 305). In any case, there is, as far as I know, no research which explores strategic listening ability in the L1 and its application, or otherwise, in an L2 environment. As such, it is certainly pure conjecture to suggest that listeners automatically apply L1 strategies when listening to an L2 text.

Furthermore, Ridgway’s (2000) comments regarding inferencing seem fair enough given that this is a higher order ability, but verbal protocols indicate that listeners can and do engage in inferencing and have sufficient working memory capacity to utilise a range of other strategies (e.g. see Graham, Santos, & Vanderplank, 2011). Interestingly, Renandya clearly contradicts the argument he presents here for learners not requiring strategies when he states in his concluding remarks that he is “not suggesting that listening strategy instruction is without pedagogical value. Nor am I suggesting that teachers should not teach listening strategies”.



Essentially, although I am not a staunch advocate of listening strategy instruction, I think that it is certainly premature for anyone to be stating it is not a good idea to spend valuable classroom time on it. More research is needed, as Renandya mentions, to build on what we currently know about implementing this approach to teaching listening. Also, I fully agree that extensive listening is deserving of further attention in its own right. However, I dispute

Renandya’s underlying rationale for criticizing listening strategy instruction which again is to promote extensive listening as an alternative approach to developing L2 listening comprehension, an approach which currently has only a very superficial theoretical and research base.



  1. The Vandergrift and Tafaghodtari (2010) study Renandya mentions is not a study of listening strategy instruction, it is an investigation into metacognitive instruction. Strategy knowledge is one aspect of metacognition, but Vandergrift and Tafaghodtari’s study does not involve the explicit teaching of listening strategies.
  2. See Siegel (2012) for learners’ positive perceptions regarding listening strategy instruction.



Chen, Y. (2005). Barriers to acquiring listening strategies for EFL learners and their  pedagogical implications. TESL-EJ, 8(4), 1-20. Available online at: http://tesl

Cross, J. (2009). Effects of listening strategy instruction on news videotext  comprehension. Language Teaching Research, 13(2), 151-176.

Cross, J. (2011). Correspondence. ELT Journal, 65(3), 362.

Field, J. (2008). Listening in the language classroom. Cambridge: CUP.

Graham, S. (2011). Self-efficacy and academic listening. Journal of English for Academic  Purposes,10(2), 113-117.

Graham, S., Santos, D., & Vanderplank, R. (2011). Exploring the relationship between  listening development and strategy use.Language Teaching Research, 15(4), 435-456. Jin, K-A. (2002). The effect of teaching listening strategies in the EFL classroom. Language  Research, 38(3), 987-999.

Renandya, W. (2012). Five reasons why listening strategy instruction might not work with  lower proficiency, 3. Available online at:          instruction-might-not-work-with-lower-proficiency-learners/

Renandya, W., & Farrell, T.  (2011). “Teacher, the tape is too fast”: Extensive listening in  ELT. ELT Journal, 65(1), 52-59.

Ridgway, T. (2000). Listening strategies-I beg your pardon? ELT Journal, 54(2), 179-185. Siegel, J. (2011). Readers respond: Thoughts on L2 listening pedagogy. ELT Journal, 65(3), 318-321.

Siegel, J. (2012). Second language learners’ perceptions of listening strategy  instruction. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 1-18, E-First. Thompson, I., & Rubin, J. (1996). Can strategy instruction improve listening  comprehension? Foreign Language Annals, 29, 331–342.

Vandergrift, L., & Tafaghodtari, M. (2010). Teaching L2 learners how to listen does make a  difference: An empirical study. Language Learning, 60(2), 470–497.

Zhang, W. (2005). An investigation of the effects of listening programmes on lower  secondary students’ listening comprehension in PRC. Unpublished MA dissertation,  SEAMEO Regional Language Centre, Singapore.


About the author

Jeremy Cross primarily researches different approaches to teaching second language listening, and he has had his work published in a range of recognized journals. He also has extensive experience as an L2 teacher.

Read Five Reasons Why Listening Strategy Instruction Might Not Work With Lower Proficiency Learners

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