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(cover page with Author info, remaining pages are without reference to the author)

"Suggestive Music" for English Listening Skills Improvement


Revised Oct 31, 2001, per comments of Editor

October, 2001

The Author:
Robert Dickey is an Assistant Professor of English at Kyongju University in South Korea. He has been teaching English (and assorted other subjects) in Korea since 1994. Robert holds advanced degrees in public administration and law, his career prior to entering the ELT profession, and gained the (RSA) CTEFLA from International House, Hastings, England, in 1996. He has been actively involved in Korea TESOL since 1996; serving as president during 2001-2002. His teaching and research interests include professional ethics, low-technology instruction, and pronunciation and accent.

"Suggestive Music" for English Listening Skills Improvement


wordcount: 1855 (includes references)

1. Setting: Kyongju University is a fairly typical four-year university in South Korea, with a student population of approximately 3,000 undergraduates, located in a mid-sized city approximately 300 kilometers from the nation's capital. As with most universities in Korea, English has All students must successfully complete

become a required course of study for all students. four semesters of "English Conversation."

The first year course has a focus is on grammar

and vocabulary, and for students outside the School of Foreign Language and Tourism, is usually taught by bilingual instructors. speaker of English" (NSE) instructors. All second year courses are taught by "native During all four semesters, there are typically 35-40

students in an unheated, non-airconditioned classroom, and a large number of students are unmotivated to learn after five to six years of English grammar and vocabulary instruction at the middle and high school levels. There are standardized written tests at the end of the first All classes are taught through standardized syllabi

year (first and second semester) courses. and books.

Second year, second semester classes taught by three North American instructors in the fall of 2000 are the focus of this investigation. Classes are officially open to students from

any major, but over 90% of students in any typical general studies classroom are usually from a single or two departments. Most of the students included in this discussion were from the The students

schools of Tourism, Public Administration & Law, and Foreign Languages.

entering these schools typically have higher English language skills compared to most other

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freshmen. I frequently teach one or two of these General Studies English classes in addition to courses within the English department. Though I hold only an "RSA Certificate" as a

teaching qualification, I have been teaching, reading ELT literature, and conducting my own research in ELT at the university level since 1995. The General Studies English program

holds regular workshops to discuss teaching ideas, classroom experiences, and jointly develop new teaching materials.

2. Focus: There is a widely held belief by NSE teachers in Korea that general studies English courses are a waste of the students' time, that little is learned. Korean society, like many

other Asian nations', is highly attentive to TOEIC scores, and speaking ability is not assessed on that exam. Many universities also offer TOEIC test preparation courses as well as

elective courses in conversation; these classes are filled with motivated, higher-skill students. There are various teachers who argue that listening skills directly correlate to speaking ability, but few documented studies to this effect. colleagues. All of these issues troubled me, as it did my

I suspected that the "affective filter" (Krashen, 19821) -- a mental block that

impedes the entry of a second/foreign language, such that a "high" filter is associated with stress and discomfort -- might play a role in the claimed lack of student learning. Having read a bit on Lozanov's Suggestopedia2, I decided to trial elements of the methodology within my classes. Would a "musically suggestive" environment, within the

Stephen Krashen was not the first to use this term, but his numerous writings on the subject since his landmark 1982 discussion have caused the concept to be closely linked to him. 2 There is no widely-available comprehensive "primer" on Georgi Lozanov's Suggestopedia, but several "methodology survey texts" offer impressionistic descriptions. See Larsen-Freeman (1986), Richards & Rodgers (1986), Stevick (1980), and Stevick (1998). See also Felix (n.d.) for a shorter description and history of Suggestopedia, available on the world wide web. Page 3 of 8

confines of a typical university classroom, facilitate improved listening during the class, leading to improved communicative skills? Several colleagues agreed to join in the study, The sophomore

we all expressed uncertainty as to the effectiveness of Suggestopedia.

General Studies English class does not focus on listening, though I estimate that roughly 67% of class activities are specifically oriented to listening comprehension or conversational (listening + speaking) skills development. The Suggestopedic method involves a number of complimentary components, many of which are not feasible in a typical university classroom. the underlying assumptions in a succinct manner: (1) That learning involves the unconscious functions of the learner, as well as the conscious functions; and (2) that people can learn much faster than they usually do, but (3) that learning is held back by (a) the norms and limitations which society has taught us, and by (b) lack of harmonious, relaxed working together of all parts of the learner, and by (c) consequent failure to make use of powers which lie idle in most people most of the time. Perhaps the most famous aspects of Suggestopedia are baroque music played before and during readings of the long passages to be learned, a comfortable room (lighting, colors, flowers, art), and fantastic success stories of vocabulary learnt and the pleasure of doing so. Stevick (1980, p.230) summarized

3. Investigation: Three NSE instructors administered an abbreviated version of a commercial TOEIC practice test to seven classes during the second and third week of the semester. Questions The

21-50 were used (listen to a brief conversation, select one of three spoken responses). same test was administered during the 13th and 14th weeks.

In the intervening time, music

was played at low volume prior to class, during breaks, and occasionally during student working periods for the "treatment" classes. The "control group" classes received no music.

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In every other respect, instructors attempted to teach their courses identically to all other courses they taught within the General Studies English program, and according to the standardized syllabus. Each of the three instructors taught one "treatment" class," one or two

"control group" classes, and the other two instructors also taught other classes where the preand post-tests were not administered. For most of the treatment class sessions, the music selected was from a "Classical Guitars" recording, this selection is consistent with the Baroque form of music identified with the Suggestopedia method. One instructor chose to replace the classical music for several

weeks with an "Early years Beatles" recording, he reported that the change in music apparently made no difference in student attitudes towards music in the class, in general. The reason for the music and the tests were explained to the students as "for us teachers to test our teaching." No names or student identification numbers were listed on the tests, only We may therefore question

date of birth (so the pre- and post-tests could be matched).

whether students exerted their best efforts on these tests, but they seemed pleased to have the chance to take a "practice TOEIC."

4. Response: The semester-long nature of this study made mid-course changes impossible. findings were not available until after the semester had been complete. Final

Our aim had been,

from the origin of the study, to analyze for potential changes in the next year's curriculum, as well as within our personal teaching styles regardless of syllabus. Students seemed pleased with the musical interludes, though after a few class meetings they took it as a rather matter-of-fact. Even if played during pairwork or small group A few students hummed along before class

exercises, it seemed to not affect their behavior.


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began, certain of the melodies were heard along campus hallways. From the psycholinguistic standpoint, all seemed well. However, the rate of test

score improvement from pre-test to post-test was not consistent with the success stories of Suggestopedia. Music listeners did approximately 25% better than those without music.

Collectively, the music treatment groups saw a net increase of 0.097, and the control groups improved by 0.077 (after removal of a decline group). The growth, however, was small. We saw only 8.6%

It seems students aren't developing as much as we would hope.

improvement for all students over 11 weeks, and this only after a class that had a net decline had been removed from consideration. The decline group was one of two control groups

taught by instructor "z", who was unable to identify any particular reason for this decline. Only students who took both pre-test and post-test were included in the statistical analysis. In this small population of 109 test-takers (not including the decline group nor those who took only one of the two tests), the pre-test/post-test score changes of individual learners within any single class were not internally consistent, nor were single classes very consistent with others of similar type.

5. Reflections: As with any action research, we may question whether the investigation was thorough enough or wide-ranging enough to respond to concerns of validity. We didn't "teach to the

test," but that was a central aspect of the investigation -- would general listening skills improve if we affected the classroom environment? The instructors did not attempt to

modify the treatment beyond the choice of music noted above, and didn't discuss the project extensively prior to preparing "after action" summations after the post-tests had been administered, but prior to test scoring.
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Then IATEFL vice president Susan Barduhn (personal communication, February 16, 2001) commented after a conference presentation on of the findings of this study "That's not Suggestopedia." To which I agreed. And I am aware that Lozanov has been reported as

indicating that Suggestopedia was an "all or nothing" type of approach, that loss of only a few elements undermined the full process. Since environmental changes such as carpeting,

upholstered chairs, room color, fresh flowers, and noise control are beyond the control of most university teachers, along with class sizes and frequency/duration of class sessions, we never hoped for the dramatic language skills improvements claimed in that approach. were any of the instructors trained in "Suggestology," Lozanov's psychology-based framework for his methodology. ordinary language teacher in Asia. What I have concluded is that, if a teacher is carrying an audiocassette or CD player into a classroom anyway, it is minimal effort to play relaxing music during the non-teaching time. In fact, it seemed to help reduce my non-instructional "teacher talking time" during class. Music did not reduce the amount of instruction provided, though it may have been a distraction to some students. Recognizing the possibility that music can improve listening skills by 25% compared to not using music, I have concluded that I should take music into all my classes. While I continue my action research into other possibilities. But this investigation was based on the realities facing an Nor

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Robert Dickey is an Assistant Professor of English at Kyongju University in South Korea. He has been teaching English (and assorted other subjects) in Korea since 1994. Robert

holds advanced degrees in public administration and law, his career prior to entering the ELT profession, and gained the (RSA) CTEFLA from International House, Hastings, England, in
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1996.

He has been actively involved in Korea TESOL since 1996; serving as president His teaching and research interests include professional ethics,

during 2001-2002.

low-technology instruction, and pronunciation and accent. The author would like to thank his teaching collaborators in this project, Mr. Sean M. Reed and Mr. Alex Voss, without whose participation, thoughtfulness, and suggestions the research project could not have been completed.

REFERENCES: Felix, U. (n.d.). Suggestopedia. Available Oct. 30, 2001 on the world wide web:

http://www-personal.monash.edu.au/~ufelix/thesis2-2.htm Krashen, S. (1982). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. New York: Pergamon. Larsen-Freeman, D. (1986). Techniques and principles in language teaching. New York: Oxford University Press. Richards, J., and Rodgers, T. (1986). Approaches and methods in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Stevick, E. (1980). Teaching languages: A way and ways. Cambridge, MA (USA): Newbury House. Stevick, E. (1998). Working with teaching methods: What's at stake? Pacific Grove, CA: Heinle & Heinle.

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