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The Influence of Prior Knowledge to the Listening Comprehension of ESL Learner.

Listening is one of the four major skills required to learn English effectively. In the
olden days, listening has always been overlooked but today many researchers have done a lot of
research on it and believe that it is essential in teaching and learning situation. H.D Brown
(Teaching by Principle: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy, Second Edition 2001
page 247) stated that “the importance of listening in language learning can hardly be
Prior knowledge of the learner also known as mental schemata are one aspect of language
processing which enhance comprehension in learning a language. Research in reading supports
the belief that by activating prior knowledge and applying it to new input will greatly facilitate
processing and understanding (Christen & Murphy, 1991; Graves & Cook, 1980; Hayes &
Tierney, 1982; Stevens, 1982) as stated in Sadighi (2006).
Listening, like reading, is an active process that involves construction of meaning than
just decoding. Activation of mental schemata really helps in processing the listening
comprehension or what we call as aural code. Through reception, we internalise linguistic
information without which we could not produce language.”Based on this statement, the
researcher has been attempts to investigate whether the background knowledge of the listener has
any effect on the process of listening.

1. Does listening comprehension influenced by the background knowledge of the learners?
2. Does parental academic qualification influenced the listening comprehension of the learner?
3. Does gender influenced the listening comprehension of the learner?
RQ1: Does prior knowledge influence listening comprehension of the learners?
H1: Prior knowledge influence listening comprehension of the learners.
H0: Prior knowledge does not influence listening comprehension of the learners.

RQ2: Does parental academic qualification influenced the listening comprehension of the
H1: Parental academic qualification influence listening comprehension of the learners.
H0: Parental academic qualification influence listening comprehension of the learners.

RQ3: Does gender influenced the listening comprehension of the learner?

H1: Gender influenced the listening comprehension of the learners.
H0: Gender does not influence the listening comprehension of the learners.


1. Since listening is an active process to helps students to develop their comprehension towards
the target language (English language), there is a demand to search for more details on the
importance of schemata to the learner. So, the purpose of this study is to investigate the
influence of the background knowledge of the ESL learner to their listening comprehension.

2. To suggest new and more effective ways to improve listening comprehension based on the
development of the background knowledge in teaching and learning environment for ESL

3. To identify whether parental academic qualification and gender as well as prior knowledge has
any significance correlation towards ESL learners’ listening comprehension and how it affects
the ESL learners’ listening comprehension


Prior Knowledge in Theories of Learning

How does knowledge change and grow? To answer this question, we must turn to more general
theories of learning. Philosophically, the issue of prior knowledge arises in Epistemology, the
study of justified true belief (Edwards, 1967) Kant as cited in was concerned with identifying
certain knowledge. He distinguished between "a prior" and "a posterior" knowledge. "A prior"
schemata consist of basic structures that enable us to detect regularities in the environment.
Space and time were Kant's primary candidates for "a priori" status. Most other knowledge
comes from synthetic combination of schemata with experience. All the three theories concern
on different issues, Piaget emphasizes psychological changes to schemata, and Vygotsky
emphasizes the role of social interaction in reconstructing the relationship of structures to

Piaget: Developmental Growth of Schemata

Piaget's theory concerns the development of schemata in relation to new experience. Children,
like adults, combine prior schemata with experience. However, children's notions of space and
time qualitatively differ from adults' (Piaget, 1970). Piaget provides a theory of conceptual
change that focuses on the development of schemata from childhood to maturity.

Piaget provides a characterization of children's knowledge at four stages of maturity, termed

sensi-motor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational (Corsini, 1994). At
each successive stage, more encompassing structures become available to children to make sense
of experience. For example, Piaget demonstrates that children cannot perform controlled
experiments with variables, or reason with ratios, before the formal operational stage. Prior
knowledge, in the form of structural schemata, thus plays a determining role in how children
make sense of interactive experience.

From an understanding of this perspective, one can design tasks that are likely both to attract
learners, and also to support the necessary but difficult work of knowledge reformulation. Tasks
should be simple and direct, with individual concrete operations mapping closely to the

conceptual operations at stake. Experience in which learners construct a working physical
arrangement are often powerful for constructing knowledge; for example, the best way to
progress past your prior understanding of a painting might be to try to paint one like it.

Vygotsky: Social Reconstruction of Prior Knowledge

Vygotsky developed his work partially in response to Piaget's neglect of social interaction.
Whereas Piaget emphasizes the maturation of schemata within the individual, Vygotsky(1986)
argued that advanced concepts appear first in social interaction, and only gradually become
accessible to an individual. Thus Vygotsky primarily elaborated the role of social interaction in
transformation of prior knowledge.

In one of his studies, Vygotsky (1986) specifically examined the role of prior knowledge is
science learning. He argued that children have spontaneous concepts and scientific concepts, and
that these are not in conflict, but rather are part of a unitary process. In this process, Vygotsky
sees spontaneous concepts growing upwards in generality, preparing the ground for more
systematic reasoning. Simultaneously scientific concepts, which are introduced by instruction,
grow downwards to organize and utilize the spontaneous concepts. Upon achieving a through
and systematic intertwining, the learner gains both the power of the abstract (maximum
substitutability) and of the concrete (maximum applicability).

In Vygotsky's account, the primary resources for restructuring prior knowledge come from
culture. Moreover, the restructuring process itself occurs externally, in social discourse. Children
share, negotiate and try out meanings in social experience, and adults can shape those meanings
by bringing them into the framework of cultural practice.

Unlike Piaget's maturational account, Vygotsky sees structure coming from culture and gradually
expanding into individuals’ psychological repertoire through social interaction in the ZPD. By
scaffolding, modeling, and negotiating, experienced adults are able to guide learning so as to
bring the learner into a specialized cultural community.

The influence of Prior Knowledge and Listening Comprehension

Few experimental studies have investigated the possible relationship between prior knowledge
and listening comprehension. Mueller (1980) as cited in Sadighi (2006) investigated the effects
on listening comprehension of locus of contextual visuals for different levels of aptitude of
beginning college German students. The ability variable consisted of two levels (high and low)
that were determined by the subjects’ grades in the preceding German course. He found that the
students who had the contextual visual before hearing the passage scored significantly higher on
the recall measure than those in the visual-after and the no-visual groups.

Long (1990) as cited in Sadighi (2006) conducted an exploratory study of background

knowledge and L2 listening comprehension. Her third-quarter students of Spanish listened to two
passages- one was deemed familiar, the other unfamiliar. Comprehension was assessed by a
recall protocol in English and a recognition measure, a checklist comprised of statements that
referred to the content of the passage and purposefully false statements that were plausible
according to the context. On the checklist, students identified items that were mentioned in the
passage. Although the English summaries revealed a higher proportion of correct idea units for
the familiar topic, no significant differences were found between the familiar and unfamiliar
passages for the recognition measure.

Bacon’s (1992) as cited in Sadighi (2006) research sheds light on the effect of background
knowledge during listening process. She investigated strategies used in three phases identified by
Anderson (1985): perceptual, parsing, and utilization. Her sample comprised students of Spanish
enrolled in the first course beyond the degree foreign language requirement. After listening to
two expository passages selected from a Voice of America broadcast, subjects reported their
strategy use and comprehension in an interview situation. Regarding background knowledge, she
found little use of advance organizers during the perceptual phase, but effective use of previous
knowledge during the utilization phase. She reported that successful listeners tended to use their
personal, world, and discourse knowledge while less successful listeners either built erroneous
meaning from their prior knowledge or ignored it altogether.

Chiang and Dunkel (1992) in Sadighi (2006) investigated the effect of speech modification,

prior knowledge, and listening proficiency on EFL listening comprehension. After listening to a
lecture, the Chinese EFL students’ comprehension was measured by a multiple-choice test that
contained both passage-dependent and passage-independent items. Regarding topic familiarity,
the subjects scored higher on the familiar-topic lecture than on the unfamiliar-topic lecture.

Schmidt-Rinehart (1994) in Sadighi (2006) carried out a study with the main purpose of
discovering the effects of topic familiarity on L2 listening comprehension. University students of
Spanish at three different course levels listened to two familiar passages, one about a familiar
topic and another about a novel topic. The passages represented authentic language in that the
recordings were from spontaneous speech of a native speaker. Listening comprehension was
assessed through a native language recall protocol procedure. Subjects scored considerably
higher on the familiar topic than on the new one. She concludes that background knowledge in
the form of topic familiarity emerges as a powerful factor in facilitating listening comprehension.

With a glimpse into the existing literature, it is felt that there is a lack of studies with
respect to background knowledge and listening comprehension in ESL contexts. It seems that the
ESL field is in need of further studies investigating the issue of background knowledge and
listening comprehension. Therefore, it is hoped that the results of this study will lead for a better
teaching of listening.

5.1 Research Design ( Time Series)
The main purpose of this study is to investigate the influence of prior knowledge to students’
listening comprehension. Quantitative research has been chosen to be used to conduct this
research. To find out whether prior knowledge does influence the listening comprehension of
students, one school in Bestari Jaya , Selangor will be selected as the population of the research.
The researcher will conduct a test the students of the target school to collect the necessary data
and submit the findings in the form of report.
5.2 Population and Sample

The population for this research was tested on Form 4 students of SMK Raja Muda Musa in the
district of Bestari Jaya Selangor Darul Ehsan. The samples were chosen from two classes, the
first class will be the control sample and the second class is the experimental sample. In term of
their homogeneity, both of the class had already learnt English since primary school. During that
period too, they had two tests related to English Language which are English paper in UPSR
(Assessment Test for Primary Education) and the other test is PMR (Assessment Test for Lower
Secondary Education), the test was taken while they were in Standard Six and Form Three

5.3 Research Instrumentation

5.3.1 Listening Test

A test of language proficiency constructed by the researcher with the guidance of the expertise of
the respected field was used. The test given to the students consisted of 50 listening questions
which aimed to measure their listening comprehension. The attempt was to choose a test that was
not available to the students.

5.4 The Pilot Study

Before the research is carried out, a pilot study will be conducted to test whether the
questionnaire has reached its validity. This is to evaluate the extent in which the instruments
measure what it purport to measure and whether the questions can be easily understood by the
respondents. A group of students studying in the similar school will be assigned with the test in
order to test its appropriateness in terms of questions, lengths, reliability and validity. A pilot

study actually allows early testing towards research questions and also acts as a guide for the
researcher on whether the study can be improved or retained. The pilot study is also a means to
analyze and run through the whole analysis so as to roughly determine the direction of the actual
data collection which will be carried out immediately after the pilot testing phase.

5.5 Research Procedures

5.5.1 Administering the Listening Test

Based on the topics covered in the listening material the students under study received
instruction for two consecutive sessions by the researcher and the third session was devoted to
the test. Students were asked to make themselves ready before coming to the class. They were
asked to work on the topics by using different sources such as the Internet, television and
newspapers. The materials which were supposed to be taught included five topics: lifestyles,
conservation, patriotism, diseases and Malaysian industries. The first class session was divided
into two forty-five minute halves and two of the topics, i.e. lifestyles and conversation, were
discussed in each half. Then, the second session was divided into three thirty-minute parts and
these three topics; patriotism, diseases and Malaysian industries were discussed. Through the
discussion, the information was elicited from the students. The students were asked to put
forward their opinions and findings and then the researcher tried to challenge them. At the end of
each discussion, the researcher wrapped up the topic and provided them with adequate
information on the basis of materials in the listening test.

The control group test was held simultaneously. The two tests were performed by using a tape
recorder and a tape inside the classroom and the time limit was the standard time considered by
the testing organization, i.e. 35 minutes. The tape was played only once.

5.6 Data Analysis
Data analysis is a process of gathering, modeling, and transforming data with the goal of
highlighting useful information, suggesting conclusions, and supporting decision making. Data
analysis has multiple facets and approaches, encompassing diverse techniques under a variety of
names, in different business, science, and social science domains. In order to make this study
happen, data analysis is important to provide solid information for further analysis. There are
three methods of analysis, there are;
Correlation Analysis
Typically three kinds of correlations;
i) Pearson Product Moment Correlations (or "r") assume the two variables being considered
are measured on continuously- measured scales (like the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 or
height or weight).
ii) Spearman Rank Order Correlations (or "rho") and Kendall's Tau-b (or "tau") Correlations
are used when the variables are measured as ranks (from highest-to-lowest or lowest-to-
In practice, the amount of correlation estimated with any of these three types of coefficients is
fairly similar. The Pearson Product Moment Correlation is the most commonly-used method.
When one looks at correlation between more than one pair of variables in a single analysis, the
resulting coefficients are usually arranged in a "Correlation Matrix." The Correlation Matrix
shows all possible pair wise correlations, has 1.0s on the diagonal, and is symmetric (the values
shown above the diagonal also appear below the diagonal).
Frequency Analysis
Before frequency analysis is introduced, distribution means a group or set of all scores or
observations on a variable. Based upon the available record collected, frequency analysis
involves the choice of frequency distribution to describe the phenomena of interest and the
estimation of the factors of that distribution, so as to obtain a description of the relationship
between different values of a variable and their exceedance probability. For instance,
achievement scores that are on an interval scale rather than listed accordingly, researcher will
have to tabulate them according to frequency (repetition within short intervals). That is, each
possible score would be listed, and the frequency of its occurrence will be listed. However, all
research results cannot be reported by merely producing frequency distribution.

Descriptive Analysis
Descriptive statistics are used throughout data analysis in a number of different ways. Simply
stated, they refer to means, ranges, and numbers of valid cases of one variable. Descriptive
statistics are important in data cleaning. They are regularly used for generated or reviewed from
hard copy during analysis to keep an eye on the variables being used, especially when a
considerable number are being studied. Histograms are used to simply show the distribution of a
quantitative variable by its relative frequency of data points in an interval (in this case the
intervals are standard deviations on a z-score distribution).


Result of the study is expected to supports those of Chiang and Dunked (1992), and Schmidt-
Rinehart (1994), where they all claimed that background knowledge and topic familiarity would
improve students’ performance in listening comprehension. It also expected to support the
significance of prior knowledge in theories of learning as stated in Immanuel Kant:
Epistemology , Vygostky: Social Reconstruction of Prior Knowledge and Piaget: Developmental
Growth of Schemata.


Jan Feb March April May

1. Proposal

Literature Review

2. Data collection

3. Analysis

4. Report


1) Learning in Interactive Environments: Prior Knowledge and New Experience. Retrieved
September14, 2009 from

2) The Influence of Background Knowledge to English Comprehension. Retrieved October

5, 2009 from http://www.linguistic-journal.com/November2006 fs&sz.php

3) Experimental Research. Retrieved October 2, 2009 from http://www.experiment-


4) H.D Brown, Teaching by Principle: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy,

Second Edition 2001 page 247, Pearson International Publication.

5) William Wiersma and Stephen G. Jurs (2009), Research Methods in Education: An

Introduction, Pearson International Edition.



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