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Rethinking the Second Language Listening Test

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Rethinking the Second Language Listening Test argues that the key to more valid testing of second language listening lies in a better understanding of the nature of the skill and of the signal that listeners have to decode. Using this information as a point of departure, it takes a critical look at many of the myths and conventions behind listening tests and provides practical suggestions as to the ways in which they might be rethought.

The book begins with an account of the various processes that contribute to listening in order to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by second language learners. The information feeds in to a new set of descriptors of listening behaviour across proficiency levels and informs much of the discussion in later chapters. The main body of the book critically examines the various components of a listening test, challenging some of the false assumptions behind them and proposing practical alternatives. The discussion covers: the recording-as-text, the recording-as-speech, conventions of test delivery, standard task formats and item design. Major themes are the critical role played by the recorded material and the degree to which tests impose demands that go beyond those of real-world listening. The following section focuses on two types of listener with different needs from the general candidate: those aiming to demonstrate academic or professional proficiency in English and young language learners, where level of cognitive development is an issue for test design. There is a brief reflection on the extent to which integrated listening tests reflect the reality of listening events. The book concludes with a report of a study into how feasible it is to identify the information load of a listening text, a factor potentially contributing to difficulty.

Published: Mar 1, 2019

Book Contributors


Section Chapter Authors
Lists of Figures and Tables John Field
Acknowledgements John Field
Introduction John Field
A Cognitive Model for Testing Listening
1. What Does Expert Listening Consist Of? John Field
2. The Second Language Listener John Field
3. Performance at different proficiency levels John Field
Recorded Content
4. Recording as Text John Field
5. Recording as Speech John Field
Task Characteristics
6. Listening Test Conventions John Field
7. Task Formats John Field
8. Items John Field
Listener Roles
9. Special Cases John Field
10. Listening Plus Other Skills John Field
11. Information Load: An Investigative Study John Field
12. Final Remarks John Field
A. Examples of Processes Contributing to Listening John Field
B. Sample Scripts John Field
End Matter
References John Field
Index John Field


This book is a useful and timely contribution to the relatively sparse literature on listening test design. Field draws together various elements of his recent empirical and theoretical work to present to the reader his well-known listening process model, and to elaborate on the implications of this model for listening test design. This book will provide a welcome bridge between the more scholarly aspects of Field’s work, and the very practical needs of those working in test development, whether in testing organisations or in the language classroom.
Dr. Luke Harding, Dept of Applied Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University