When I learnt second language in middle school, listening test was always the hardest part I tried every method to conquer. Nevertheless, the testing score in listening part never fulfilled my dream.
I tried to figure out what’s wrong with my listening skills, but failed again and again. Sitting in the second last row in my classroom (my classroom has 10 rows), I felt deeply upset.
Many years later, a study by Swedish scientists finds the answers for my question. It’s possible that my seat position causes my low test scores: it is too far away from the first row and the speaker!
The Swedish National Agency for Education organizes nationwide tests every year. The test results are used for screening students.
One of the tests is English listening comprehension, the exactly same test I attended when I studied in middle school.
In the test, students listen to English conversations that are played by speakers, which are installed in the front end of the classroom.
The scientists conducted two experiments to explore whether seat positions (close or distant from the sound source) in the classroom and classroom reverberation influence students’ grade in the test of English listening comprehension.
The experiments revealed that second language listening comprehension decreased as the distance from the sound source increased.
The distance between sound source and receiver did not interact with classroom reverberation. It appears that a position further away from a sound source in a classroom has a higher negative effect on recall than a long reverberation time.
A reasonable explanation is that when students’ seat position is in the back row and far away from a sound source, the sound pressure level decreases greatly and the Speech Transmission Index (STI) is lower as well.
Listeners’ auditory system has to spend more energy on identifying the sound signal rather than comprehending the meaning of the sound signal.
This leaves fewer cognitive resources for students who sit in the back rows to conduct and complete listening comprehension.
Listening test is a popular way to test students’ capability to comprehend a second language. Because the test result is used to grade and screen students, the test procedure and environment should be standardized.
Students should participate in the test in the same environment, and noisy facts should be eliminated. To be fair for every student, the school admiration should require schools to use earphones not louder speaker to test student’s listening compression skill.
Citation: Hurtig, A., Sörqvist, P., Ljung, R., Hygge, S., Rönnberg, J. (2016). Student’s second-language grade may depend on classroom listening position. PLoS ONE, 11: e0156533. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0156533
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