Preview of Chapter for The Handbook of Second Language Listening,

part of the Wiley-Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics Series



Listening can be described as a process, a capacity, an ability, a skill set, a tool, an instrument of meaning construction, and human engagement. Various conceptualizations of listening have been recognized throughout history in many cultures, in classical philosophical texts, religious scriptures, educational systems, indigenous societies with rich oral traditions, and in modern societies with AI interlocutors. We value listening, and we want to develop it.

What has changed throughout history is not the multidimensional nature of listening itself but the models we use to understand it, the contexts in which it is employed, how we attempt to modify or amplify it, how we measure it, and how we attempt to learn how to do it better.

This chapter in The Handbook of Second Language Listening is about historical trends in the teaching of listening to L2 learners. The ten trends are organized roughly in chronological order from when they were first recognized. There is however rarely a clear starting point, as a trend tends to emerge gradually from a cultural Zeitgeist—the prevailing ideas, beliefs, cultural norms, attitudes, and intellectual or political leanings of a specific period or generation. Because of the irregular gestation periods and popularity swings of these trends, there is often a considerable time overlap between them, and there is virtually never an ending point. Once a trend takes hold, there will always be adherents to its principles and methods.

Trends in the field of listening are not automatically progressive improvements either. An incoming trend is not necessarily superior to a current one, possibly just a new way of prioritizing separate aspects of listening. As a longtime practitioner in language education, as both a learner and a teacher, and as a longtime researcher in L1 and L2 listening, I believe there is great value for educators to examine the historical roots, principles, and practices within these trends— and ways that practitioners of these trends gather evidence for their relative successes.

The chapter identifies ten identifiable trends, providing a brief summary of their development, and highlighting the affordances of each trend that can be adapted for the teaching of listening.


Trend 1: Literary Focus

Trend 2: Scientific Methods

Trend 3: Cognitive Approaches

Trend 4: Interventionist Systems

Trend 5: Communicative Paradigm

Trend 6: Complementary Model

Trend 7: Strategy Orientation

Trend 8: Integration Frameworks

Trend 9: Technological Mediation

Trend 10: Learner Autonomy


Trend 1: Literary Focus

A literary focus in teaching languages refers to an emphasis on the study and appreciation of literary texts. A literary focus was originally an immutable way of teaching languages. This focus grew out of a renewed movement during the Renaissance to revere classical texts as sources of knowledge and inspiration and as models for future scholars.

The earliest known method of teaching languages with this literary focus is the Grammar-Translation Method (GTM). It has roots dating back to the Classical Method for teaching Latin and Greek in the 1600s, but the GTM did not become widespread until the late 18th and early 19th centuries (Titone, 1968). The GTM primarily emphasizes reading and writing skills and the accurate translation of original texts into the learner’s native language. Similar language learning through analysis methods were also practiced in China, Japan, and India (Zhang et al., 2015).

In the GTM, listening skills were emphasized only to the extent that they supported literacy development. The integration of listening was typically in the form of listening to teacher dictations, writing down verbatim what they heard; listening to readings, following along in a book as the teacher read aloud. The primary metric for demonstrating learning lay not in comprehending the texts, but in knowing how to accurately translate the text into the students’ native language.

Titone, R. (1968). Teaching foreign languages: An historical sketch. Georgetown University Press.

Zhang, H., Chan, P. W. K., & Kenway, J. (2015). Asia as method in education studies. New York, NY: Routledge.

About The Author

, Historical Trends in teaching listening (1), Lateral Communications
Michael Rost, principal author of Pearson English Interactive, has been active in the areas of language teaching, learning technology and language acquisition research for over 25 years. His interest in bilingualism and language education began in the Peace Corps in West Africa and was fuelled during his 10 years as an educator in Japan and extensive touring as a lecturer in East Asia and Latin America. Formerly on the faculty of the TESOL programs at Temple University and the University of California, Berkeley, Michael now works as an independent researcher, author, and speaker based in San Francisco.