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Reviewed by:
  • Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action
  • Talia Isaacs
L. Vandergrift & C.M. Goh (2012). Teaching and Learning Second Language Listening: Metacognition in Action. New York: Routledge. Pp. 336, CAN$44.95 (paper).

Second language (L2) listening has long been regarded as an integral part of communicative competence. Yet teachers often struggle to systematically target this skill, with in-class activities often restricted [End Page 349] to testing rather than teaching L2 listening. For example, the emphasis in instruction is often on eliciting learners’ responses to comprehension questions, with the proportion of correctly answered responses generally constituting the only evidence of listening development over time (i.e., emphasis on the ‘product’ rather than the ‘process’ of listening). Although teachers often suggest that students listen to aural input in the target language outside of the classroom (e.g., through exposure to non-print media, listening to songs, or finding conversational partners), such suggestions are rarely accompanied by the requisite mechanisms to help students monitor their own learning.

Vandergrift and Goh’s depiction of these and other approaches and challenges in teaching listening through the presentation of pedagogical scenarios and learner accounts is likely to resonate with an audience of L2 practitioners who may recognize their own practices or experiences as teachers or learners in the descriptions. A major strength of the book lies in the integration of up-to-date listening research and theory with pedagogy. This is accomplished by concretizing abstract concepts through illustrative, often empirically derived examples and through the provision of formative assessment tools and activities to gauge learner perceptions or foster their self-awareness. The major innovation of this work compared to previously published book-length contributions on L2 listening is the strong emphasis on the metacognitive dimension, including ways of spearheading learner awareness, self-regulation, and engagement in their own learning. Thus, this comprehensive, research-based text is likely to be relevant to applied linguists with wide-ranging knowledge about the processes underlying L2 listening and how these interface with pedagogical practice. The book could be useful as a foundational text for a graduate-level course on L2 pedagogy and curriculum or more generally as reference material for researchers or practitioners interested in different facets of teaching, learning, and assessing listening.

The book, which begins by inviting reader reflections on 10 commonly held assumptions about teaching and learning L2 listening (prologue) and concludes by revisiting these assumptions (epilogue), is organized into three main parts. Part One, which comprises four chapters, begins by presenting a description of current challenges and instructional gaps in teaching L2 listening. Although the term ‘metacognition’ is defined as early as the third page of the introductory chapter, the authors underscore that it has not been given due attention in any of the approaches to teaching listening that have dominated instruction over the past five decades. While the authors espouse the learner-oriented approach, which centres on enabling learner strategy use, they argue that it does not go far enough. In their [End Page 350] view, a metacognitive approach, which involves fostering learner engagement in self-regulation and self-direction, is the essential missing ingredient. Thus, Part One gives the reader a background on foundational aspects of L2 listening before the authors go into detail about their proposed metacognitive framework for listening instruction in Part Two. The remainder of Part One provides an accessible overview of the cognitive processes underlying listening comprehension, knowledge sources, task demands, and the cognitive and affective factors that influence learners’ success in processing aural input and that could result in individual differences in performance outcomes.

Part Two, which comprises six chapters and constitutes nearly half of the main text, is arguably the crux of the book. Having established that a metacognitive dimension is necessary to supplement and buttress the learner-oriented instructional approach, Vandergrift and Goh unveil their metacognitive framework for activating listeners’ processing of aural input as skilled listeners, modeling ways in which a metacognitive approach can be implemented in practice. Content coverage of the chapter includes the theoretical underpinnings of metacognition and complementary research findings; the presentation of a metacognitive pedagogical sequence, which has received empirical backing in a variety of learning...