"The Contribution of Nonverbal Communication to Listening Comprehension of Second Language Learners"
Horikita formed an interesting research question that is of interest to a wide range of readers including language teachers, program administrators, and textbook writers. In her introduction, she provides good coverage of recent research on the broader topic of listening and the narrower topic of listeners’ use of visual cues. Perhaps the greatest strength of her thesis was in her experimental design. She gathered data from a relatively large pool of participants and established highly controlled data collection procedures. The only possible weakness was in her choice of a dependent variable (the test used to measure comprehension). With only a small set of six questions for each condition, the measure was not sensitive enough to detect statistically significant differences between the three experimental conditions. On the other hand, she is to be commended for her meticulous presentation of her findings in which she reports both descriptive and referential statistics along with survey results. Her general discussion of her results was also very thorough, including speculation regarding factors such as gender effects that may explain her findings, an honest listing of the study’s limitations, and a discussion of the study’s practical implications.
Horikita’s thesis investigates the role of visual information on second language (L2) listeners’ comprehension of monologues. In her introduction, she discusses research describing the difficulties that L2 learners experience when listening, along with pedagogical interventions and learner strategies designed to ameliorate these difficulties. She then goes on to discuss the role of gesture and facial cues in speech comprehension.
In the body of her thesis, Horikita reports the results of her experiment. Her participants were 39 female undergraduate students who were studying English. In her experiment, she used a within-subjects blocked design so that all the students listened to English video clips in three conditions: (1) while watching the speakers’ face and gestures, (2) without watching the speaker’s face and gestures, and (3) with eyes closed. In other words, Listening Condition served as the independent variable with three levels. It was hypothesized that the participants would perform best if they had access to facial and gestural cues, and would perform worst without access to these cues and with their eyes open. When no visual or gestural cues were available, watching with eyes closed was hypothesized to enhance listening by limiting visual distractions. In experiments employing within-subjects designs, the sequencing of conditions can constitute a confound. Horikita dealt with this by counterbalancing the three conditions so that they appeared in different orders for different participants. To measure the effect of the conditions on participants’ comprehension, Horikita gave participants a surprise fill-in-the-blanks test after the listening. Within the experimental design, this therefore served as the dependent variable.
As she hypothesized, the participants demonstrated better comprehension when facial and gestural cues were available, although these differences fell short of statistical significance. Counter to her hypotheses, when visual cues were unavailable, closing one’s eyes did not seem to make much difference.
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