Mayumi Tsubaki & Keiko Nakayama

English Education in Japan has a long history of focusing on written texts; yet, recently there has been increasing attention to teach oral communication skills—speaking and listening—both are essential in this modern world. Compared with spoken and listening skills and listening tasks could be more useful in Japan the English as a foreign language (EFL) environment. That is because language learners in Japan have easier access to and they are more likely to process the listening material both inside and outside of English classes than they are to speak. Not only that, as Rost (forthcoming) and Krashen (1981) advocate, listening plays an important role in language development. Nonetheless, a possible problem of listening is that it tends to be excessively frustrating and difficult when especially a foreign language learner attempts to comprehend or get information through listening than from written materials.

Of the listening materials which foreign language learners have access to and need to comprehend, lecture listening is among the most difficult, yet it is extremely important and useful within academic settings. In Japan, several universities offer or require students to take subjects in English from a teacher, a native speaker or others with varying L1 backgrounds (including Japanese). The purpose of these courses is to facilitate improvement of both the academic and English skills of the language learners. A number of universities make use of lecture listening in English classes primarily to develop the students’ English skills for academic purposes. In spite of the efforts made in this educational setting, the EFL environment limits student exposure to English, and a majority of students in EFL do not attain the listening skills needed to deal with lecture listening. Needless to say, lecture listening skills, namely English and academic skills, is not limited to classrooms. Non-native speakers may watch TV or attend an international conference. There are a number of situations where English and academic skills can be utilized. Japanese students have difficulty in lecture listening because the tasks are challenging both linguistically and cognitively.

In the present experimental study, the effect an advance organizer on the comprehension of a lecture was explored. The lecture outline functions as an advance organizer (See the definition of an advance organizer in the literature review.) This study examined whether Japanese students as EFL learners with relatively lower English ability for lecture listening would benefit from the lecture outline. Research related to this study is reviewed before discussing the findings and the limitations of this study.

 Literature Review

Research from five areas of research ground the present study: Difficulties of academic lecture comprehension, the use of advance organizers, the use of lecture outline, prior knowledge of the content, and repeated exposures.

Academic Lecture Comprehension

Dickson (cited in Benson, 1989) claims that many educators adopt lectures as a teaching method, and has labeled as it as the method “the most preferred and most used in adult education” (p.422), and Benson stresses the importance of the students’ listening skills. In spite of its importance, relatively few studies on academic listening have been conducted (Benson, 1994; Dunkel, 1991; Flowerdew & Miller, 1996). In this paper, qualitative research is presented first and quantitative research is then discussed. Discourse analysis is one of the approaches used to analyze the comprehension of lectures, and this explores the structure of lecture discourse (Dudley-Evans, 1994; Hansen, 1994; Young, 1994). For instance, Decarrico and Nattinger (1998) stress the importance of “lexical phrases” for the comprehension of academic lecture and assert that students have trouble using the information related to lexical phrases. Lexical phrases are defined by Nattinger in 1986 as “chunks of language of varying length, phrases like ‘as it were,’ ‘that goes without saying,’ ‘on the other hand....” These approaches “can be described as conventionalized structures that occur more frequently and have more idiomatically determined meaning than language that is put together each time” (p.3) (cited in Decorrico & Nattinger, 1988).

Another approach to qualitative research involves ethnographic investigation (Benson, 1994; Mason, 1994; King, 1994). Flowerdew and Miller (1996) studied foreign language lectures in Hong Kong and reported differences between the lecturer’s perception and students’ perception due to their cultural differences. In a separate study, Flowerdew and Miller (1992) identified specific problems in foreign language lecture comprehension. Chinese students majoring in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages in a university perceived problems in comprehending a lecture due to the speed of delivery, terminology and concepts, and concentration. The researchers also found that the students’ English proficiency had not reached sufficient levels to listen to an English lecture, and that they did not have enough experience listening to lectures, even though these students had been extensively exposed to English in general. Arder-Close (1993) examined language problems that occurred in Chemistry lectures in Oman. He found that most of the language problems were related to vocabulary, which he believes comes from “the limited areas of common reference between students and lectures” (p. 251). He concluded that its three problems are the invisible nature of subjects, the difference between scientific vocabulary, non-technical words, and synonym that are used. We could relate each problem area to Japanese students, who also have little training for lecture listening comprehension and who lack the requisite skills.

Powers (1986) investigated what university professors believe is necessary for non-native speakers to listen to a university lecture. Faculty from six different disciplines such as Psychology, English, and Chemistry in 28 institutions in the U.S.A rated skills for lecture listening. The following nine were considered moderately important or more important than moderately important: “(a) identifying a major theme or idea; (b) identifying relationship among major ideas; (c) identifying the topic of a lecture; (d) retaining information through notetaking; (e) retrieving information from notes; (f) inferring relationship between information; (g) comprehending key vocabulary; (h) following the spoken mode of lecture; and (i) identifying supporting idea and examples” (p. 10-11). We assume that outlines can help the learners to grasp concepts and the relations among them, and support the specific skills. From different perspectives, Anderson-Mejias (1986) discussed theoretical and/or practical consideration of academic listening. Research by Dunkel (1988) which focused on note-taking demonstrated that a majority of students in a 100 level psychology class wrote down writing on the blackboard and they had a great difficulty understanding main points.

Little experimental research relates to the lecture content. In 1992, Chiang and Dunkel examined EFL lecture comprehension in relation to speech modification and prior knowledge. Intermediate EFL students in Taiwan were assigned to listen to one of four lecture listening conditions: (a) familiar-unmodified, (b) familiar-modified, (c) unfamiliar-unmodified, and      (d) unfamiliar-unmodified. These ESL students then took a multiple-choice test with 15 passage-independent and 15 passage-dependent questions. This study asserted the importance of background knowledge and the higher proficient students had more comprehension due to speech modification.

Use of Advance Organizers

The present research examines the effects of lecture outlines as an advance organizer in order to simplify this complicated nature of academic lecture mentioned previously. The concept “advance organizer” was first introduced by Ausubel in 1963 (cited in Nowell, 1984), and it is defined as:

  • content which is presented in advance of some other content which is to be learned. The advance organizer is designed to facilitate the learning and retention of the material which follows it. The advance organizer serves as a bridge or anchorage, relating the material to be learned to information already known by the students (p. 1).

Williams and Burden (1997) also explains the advance organizers as a “helpful strategy for teachers to aid their learners’ memorization of information” (p. 17). They mention his work:

  • Ausubel has a significant place in the history of educational psychology because he not only emphasized the importance of cognitive process, but also set the concept of meaning at the heart of such processes.... This means that it can be both helpful and important when introducing a new topic or set of ideas to begin by talking about what will follow from these ideas even before the ideas themselves are grasped (p. 17).

Information provided in advance organizers in a language class tend to be cognate recognition, syllable-morpheme information, contextualized meaning, chronological ordering, time frame reference, cross-cultural differences, redefinition, and direction of discourse (Spinelli & Suskin, 1987). Advance organizers can include “pictures, verbal descriptions, key vocabulary, pre-questioning techniques, and cultural background knowledge” (Herron, 1994, p.179).

Extensive L1 research on the effects of advance organizers has been conducted; the results are inconclusive (Nowell, 1984). A frequently cited study, according to Nowell, was conducted by Ausubel in 1960 (cited in Nowell, 1984). L1 University students in an experimental group and a control group read a 2500-word paper on the metallurgical properties of plain carbon steel, an unfamiliar topic. The experimental group received an introductory passage on the topic, as an advance organizer, and the control group a passage on historically relevant background material on the manufacture of steel which did not function as an advance organizer. The test score given three days later indicated that the group with the advance organizer scored significantly higher than the non-advance organizer group.

In contrast, little empirical research has been conducted to test assumptions about advance organizers for L2 learners. In one of the first studies by Hadley (cited in Taichart, 1996) reported that pictures aided listening comprehension. Mueller (1980) used beginning German as a foreign language students in university classes. The advance organizer was a simple picture which described an interview, upcoming listening material in this experiment. The two experimental groups were exposed to the picture, the only difference being that the first group saw the picture before listening to the material and the other afterwards. The control group did not have any visual aids. For those who learned little or nothing of the target language in high school, a significant difference was seen, and the picture addressed before the listening task was most effective. In contrast, students who learned German for four to six semesters in high school were not affected by the visual aids conditions. Hudson (1982) compared two advance organizers, a visual advance organizer and a non-visual organizer on reading and found that the visual organizer was superior to the non-visual one.

Recently, the effects of an advance organizer were investigated in the context of videos, which are recognized as beneficial instructional materials. Herron (1994) investigated the effect of a single advance organizer. She used a 10-minute video segments produced as listening material for French classes in an American university. In the experimental group, a teacher read aloud six French sentences which had been written on the board and outlined major scenes of upcoming video segments in chronological order. The control group watched the same video without any supplemental material. The experimental conditions were continued over a semester.  The advance organizer required only one and half minutes, yet the subsequent test performance on comprehension test showed that the advance organizer enhanced students’ comprehension.

A study by Herron and Hanley (1992) used a video tape that had similar information as a reading text, as an advance organizer, but also investigated child foreign language learners-fifth graders taking French in the U.S.A.- as subjects. Students in the video-plus-text condition (Experimental) and the text only conditions (Control) read a cultural note and a passage. Only the subjects in the experimental condition watched a video ranging in length from three to five minutes prior to the reading activities. They took a short essay quiz given in English after each reading task. The students repeated the same tasks for eight different reading passages for a semester. Students under the video (an advance organizer)-plus-text condition outperformed those under text only (without advance organizer) condition. This study supports the use of an advance organizer. The limitations of these studies, however, include the fact that a single advance organizer was used and that the subjects in the experimental conditions might have learned better than those in the control conditions just because of double exposure of the materials of the similar content.

More recently, an investigation compared different advance organizers. Hanley, Herron, and Cole (1995) compared two visual advance organizers on reading comprehension. English-speaking fifth-graders in a French class were randomly assigned to two different advance organizer conditions. Students in the video group had a short video clip of the narration of the advance organizer whereas for students in picture-plus-teacher narration group the teacher read aloud the same passage and showed four pictures. Unlike much research on advance organizers, in this study, both groups received the identical listening passage and the same amount of spoken French as an advance organizer. This result revealed that the video with the narration as an advance organizer was more effective than the picture-plus-narration.

Hanley, Herron, and Cole (1995) examined the effectiveness of a non-visual advance organizer and a visual advance organizer and found that the latter functioned better than the former. The teacher read six sentences that outlined major scenes in the subsequently shown video for the non-visual advance organizer group. In the comparison group of the visual organizer group, the teacher read the identical sentences aloud, but the condition differed in that she simultaneously presented a picture, not a pictorial translation, but related to the sentence when she read a sentence. The researchers reported that the amount of spoken French and the time of exposure of the advance organizers were the same, and they concluded that richness of context and background knowledge enhanced comprehension. They also added, “the more meaningful the advance organizer, the more impact it would theoretically have on comprehension and retention of the rather lengthy, subsequent video” (p. 389).

Teichert (1996) extended the previous studies on using a video in the foreign language classroom. The subjects were 50 English-speaking college students who were taking intermediate German conversation classes. The participants in the experimental groups used multiple advance organizers in addition to regular class activities: illustration, brainstorming, and questions. They also had access to videos and audio-tapes outside of class. Those in the control group neither used the advance organizer nor had access to video and audio-tapes. The findings suggested that the experimental group who had lessons by two instructors improved their listening skills significantly as compared to the control group in the posttest gains. Nonetheless, it is problematic that the experimental group had video and audio tape access as well as the three advance organizers make the effect of an advance organizer itself unclear, but their study has its advantages. Not only were the influence of different instructors and the developments of listening skills considered but also multiple advance organizers were used.


This research adopted a lecture outline to help the relatively low proficient students to understand the lecture. The purpose of the following literature review in this section is to explore the studies on outlines. However, the studies on outlining, in which learners find main points and write them, will be introduced. The outline in this study was presented to students, and the participants did not fill in blanks rather they played a passive role with the lecture outline. In spite of the differences in the roles of learners (passive or active), we believe, both outlining and outlines are assumed to be defined in a similar fashion and serve the same functions. Outlining is defined as "a high level skill which involves identifying relationships between concepts and arranging those concepts in an order which demonstrated the superordinate and subordinate nature of the concepts involved" (Anderson-Medius, 1990, p.3). On the effect of outlining, Biano and McCormick (1989) point out five functions: (a) it has learners focus on important points; (b) it improves familiarity with structure of material; (c) it helps retention; (d) It produces alternative materials to supplemental material; and (e) it encourages learners to participate in learning. A lecture outline in this study will be instrumental particularly for functions (a), (b), and (c).

A few studies on outlining using L1 students have been conducted. Slater, Grave and Piche (1985) compared four conditions related to outline grids and structural organizers such as cause and the support. The four conditions were (1) structural organizer with outline grid, (2) structural organizer without outline grid, (3) control condition without note-taking, and (4) control condition with note-taking. The result of comprehension and recall tests suggested that the use of a structural organizer with the outline grid facilitated subjects’ comprehension and learning more than the other three conditions.

Another study also supported the effects of outlining. Tuckman (1993) studied the effect of the coded elaborate outline (CEO). The subjects in CEO conditions were required to make outlines, to code the information, and to elaborate on the information they were outlining. He compared five conditions: three CEO (required CEO, voluntary CEO, and CEO instruction only), standard outlines, and no outlines when learners read chapters for a Psychology class. The students in the required CEO group performed the best in the retention of the information.

Some studies compared the effect of outlining and that of graphic organizers (Bean, 1983; Bean, Singer, Sorter, & Frazee, 1983). Tang (1992) described graphic organizers as “among the graphic techniques that have been developed and studied” (p.179). She listed flowcharting, flow diagram, picture-word, block-word, networking, mapping, and semantic mapping as examples of graphic organizers. Ivino (1989) used academically underprepared L1 college readers and looked at the effects of outlining and networking, a kind of graphic organizer on the comprehension and retention of an expository text. The pretest and the posttest scores revealed that outlining significantly helped those subjects to reach greater comprehension on the immediate recall protocol test.

Outlining is recognized as a useful tool for reading comprehension tasks and may be thought to be useful than being given a prepared outline with the main points of a lecture. Nonetheless, the authors of this current study believe that making outlines on a lecture problematic due to their relatively low English proficiency and lack of training of lecture listening. Also, the limitation of time does not allow them to have training of outlining. Therefore, the researchers decided not to have outlining, and instead the outline of the lecture was provided to examine the effects of the advance organizers.

Prior Knowledge

The prior knowledge of the L2 plays a critical role in language comprehension (Long, 1990; Markham & Lathem, 1987), and it becomes even more important if test questions ask students to make inferences (Buck, 1991). This important role in language comprehension has been supported by schema theory, which posits that spoken or written discourse becomes meaningful when the listener’s or reader’s prior knowledge interacts with the discourse (Chiang & Dunkel, 1992). Little research has been done in order to investigate the relationship between the prior knowledge and L2 listening comprehension. A study by Chiang and Dunkel reported that prior knowledge had a major influence on the memory of Chinese students in Taiwan for passage-independent test items on the listening comprehension test.

Repeated Exposure

Two experiments explored whether repeated exposure facilitate listening comprehension. Gervates and Gainer (1992) prepared two version of a short lecture: a simplified version and a complex version. The second listening increased the listening comprehension for both version, but it was more effective for the complex version. Sabet (1999) had a similar result. The finding was that his subjects benefited from the second listening, but not from the third listening.

Purpose of the Study

One way to help learners to comprehend with difficulty of listening to a lecture is to give a lecture outline of the information before the lecture was given. The outline serves as an advance organizer. The primary purpose of this current study was to determine whether providing that a Japanese lecture outline helps or hinders learners’ comprehension of lecture information. The effects of listening proficiency, prior knowledge, and repeated exposure were also examined.

This study is designed to investigate the following questions:

  1. Does a lecture outline as an advance organizer have an effect on listening comprehension?
  2. Do listening proficiency scores predict lecture comprehension?
  3. Does prior knowledge influence listening comprehension?
  4. Does lecture comprehension improve due to repeated exposure?



Eighty students enrolled in Japanese universities participated in this study. After eliminating data of 17 students who did not complete all the tasks, we analyzed the data from 63 students. The students had studied English as a Foreign Language for a minimum of six years in a junior and senior high school, and some of them had English classes at a preparatory school for Japanese university entrance examinations after graduating from a high school. Their high school English classes focused on grammatical knowledge and written English and had very little experience improving their listening and speaking skills according to the questionnaire they filled out. None of the students have lived in English-speaking countries for the extended length of time. In universities, they have been studying English twice a week for a year or two. The level of English proficiency varies. Their CELT (Harris & Palmer, 1970) test score range from 12 to 32 with an average of 20.25. Their listening skills are believed to be weaker than their reading skills.

Materials and Testing Instruments

The audio-taped lecture of 311 words by Hashemi and Thomas (1996) (2 minutes 25 seconds) was delivered at a normal native-speaker rate. This topic was thought to be an appropriate topic because this would be assumed to be interesting and somewhat familiar to students.

A Japanese version of the lecture outline was provided. Izumi (1995) and Kern (1994) mention the importance of translation. Palmer (cited in Izumi, 1995) argues that translation is useful in making language meaningful. Kern (1994) found that students with intermediate proficiency used mental translation and it facilitated comprehension when L2 were cognitively challenging. Not only does a university lecture demand cognitive skills but also it requires sufficient English skills. To lessen their difficulty, the researchers decided to provide the experimental group with the lecture outline in the Japanese language so that the participants of this study would get a clear cognitive map in the forms of the Japanese outline.

To measure the listening comprehension, immediate recall protocol was chosen. Immediate recall is “one of the best means for determining the extent of listening comprehension of a target language text. It involves asking a learner to listen to a target language text, and writing down, in the native language, everything that the learner can recall about the text” (James, 1986, p. 19).  Riley and Lee (1996) insist that valid measures should involve constructive processes rather than discrete tasks, limited and with possible problems in reliability. This study employed the self-rated questionnaire for prior knowledge of the lecture content.


A week before the experiment, the subjects took the test of listening section of the Comprehensive English Language for Learners of English (CELT), and then they were divided into two proficiency groups, more proficient students (MP) and less proficient (LP) students. The CELT listening test has 50 items, ranging between 0 and 50 in the total scores. Based on the CELT test, 30 students who scored 20 or above were rated MP students, and 33 students who scored 19 or below were rated LP. The subjects were randomly assigned either to the experimental group or the control group. The subjects were told that they would be asked to write what they remembered after they listened to the tape. The experimental group received the lecture outline for 3 minutes and then the outline was taken away before these students listened to the lecture. The control group did not receive the outline. Neither groups were allowed to use a dictionary nor to take notes during the lecture. As soon as they finished listening to the tape, they did the immediate recall task. Students repeated the task three times, but the outline was shown to the experimental group only once for 3 minutes. Afterwards, they filled out the questionnaire on high school English education. Then, they self-rated their prior knowledge (Likert scale 1 to 5) on the story of Nightingale with the content of the lecture in Japanese.


Scoring and Data Analysis

An idea unit analysis was carried out, resulting in the division of 63 units (The listening passage and the idea units are included in the Appendix A). Protocols were scored for the number of the total idea units (including those of detailed information) and detailed information (numbers and places), and wrong information written by students was ignored for scoring. Thirteen written protocols (20 % of the protocols) were rated by two readers, and the interrater reliability for each written recall protocol was higher than .90 (the first immediate = .90; the second immediate recall = .92; and the third immediate recall =.93).

Mean and recall scores and standard deviations of the total scores are presented in Table 1. After examining the mean scores, we found that the MP students outperformed the LP students, and the difference between the two groups was large. Those with the outline (OL) did better than non-outline group (NOL); yet, the difference was rather slim. Comparing the four groups (MP-OL, MP-NOL, LP-OL, LP-NOL), MP-OL and MP-NOL performed similar. For the 1st and 2nd exposure, the MP students without the outline wrote slightly more than the MP students with the outline. In contrast, LP students with the lecture outline constantly better than those without the lecture outline. The detailed information was different in that the order from the highest to the lowest scores was MP-OL, MP-NOL, LP-OL, and LP-NOL, and they performed constantly to that order. The small number of idea units of the detailed information did not allow analysis of variance (ANOVA).

Table 1. The Mean scores and Standard Deviations of the total scores

          Factor I:  English Proficiency

  Factor I:  English Proficiency      
Factor II: 
Outline conditions
English Proficiency Less 
  Outline 4.78 (1.81) 
9.14 (3.99) 
12.71 (5.17) 
6.33 (3.35) 
12.00 (5.18) 
16.73 (6.57) 
5.58 (5.59) 
10.62 (4.79) 
14.79 (6.17) 
  No Outline  4.21 (2.90) 
7.11 (5.14) 
10.37 (6.07) 
6.67 (3.71) 
12.46 (4.70) 
15.93 (6.24) 
5.30 (5.30) 
9.47 (5.58) 
12.82 (6.67) 
  Mean 4.45 (2.48) 
7.97 (4.73) 
11.36 (5.73) 
6.50 (3.48) 
12.23 (4.87) 
16.33 (6.31) 
5.43 (3.15) 
10.00 (5.22) 
13.73 (6.47) 

Top:  The Results of the First Immediate Recall
Middle: The Results of the Second Immediate Recall
Bottom: The Results of the Third Immediate Recall
(   ) : Standard Deviation



Table 2. The Means and Standard Deviations of the Detailed Information

  Factor I:  English Proficiency      
Factor II: 
Outline conditions
English Proficiency Less 
  Outline 1.64 (1.2) 
3.07 (1.06) 
4.36 (2.50) 
1.87 (1.40) 
4.07 (2.05) 
4.73 (2.00) 
1.76 (1.30) 
3.59 (2.08) 
4.55 (2.25) 
  No Outline  1.22 (1.3) 
3.05 (1.83) 
1.66 (1.46) 
3.30 (1.59) 
4.60 (2.00) 
1.5 (1.56) 
  Mean 1.40 (1.28) 
2.61 (1.80) 
4.61 (2.08) 
1.74 (1.41) 
3.70 (1.84) 
5.67 (2.00) 

Numbers and names are considered detailed information.
Top:  The Results of the First Immediate Recall
Middle: The Results of the Second Immediate Recall
Bottom: The Results of the Third Immediate Recall
(     )  Standard Deviation

The recall scores were analyzed with a repeated measures factorial analysis of variance (ANOVA). The result of this analysis is shown in Table 3. Significant main effects for English proficiency were found for the following variables; English proficiency, F (1, 118)= 10.97, p < .01; the repeated exposure, F (1, 118)= 172.60. The English proficiency and the repeated exposure had significant main effects on written protocol results. Whether students had the lecture outline as an advance organizer did not influence the recall scores. Significant effects for the interaction between English proficiency and the repeated exposure were found, F (1.118)= 5.11, p < .01 (See Table 4). The MP students improved their recall scores from the first exposure to the second one than the LP students. The two proficiency groups increased their scores by the similar points from the 2nd time to the 3rd time.


 Table 3. The Results of ANOVA on Total Idea Units of Immediate Recall Protocols

  Sum of Squares df Mean Square F p
Between Subjects
English Proficiency 
Eng. Prof. by Outline 

.002 ** 
Repeated Expose (RE) 
Eng.Prof by RE 
Outline by RE 
Eng. Prof. by Outline by RE. 




1110. 94 








Total 7059.12        

 **p <.01

Table 4. The Interaction between the English Proficiency and Repeated Exposure

  1st Exposure  2nd Exposure  3rd Exposure
LP 4.45 7.97 11.36
MP 6.50 12.23 16.33

The correlation indicated that there was no significant relationship between the prior knowledge and total immediate recall results (See Table 5). The prior knowledge had a higher correlation with the second and third exposure than with the first exposure.

Table 5.  The Correlation between the Self-rated Prior Knowledge
and the Number of the Total Idea Units.

  1st Exposure  2nd Exposure  3rd Exposure
Correlation (p)  .089  (.48)  .20  (.11)  .21  (.10)

Discussion and Implications

Outline as an Advance Organizer

The finding in this study contradicted with some of the previous studies indicating that outlines or an advance organizer influence the L2 listener’s performance on a written protocol. As a matter of fact, for the MP group, those without the outline did slightly better than those with it on the first two written recall results although the LP group with the outline did far better than those without the outline. If these students had had training making outlines, using outline, or learning the importance of outlines as in a number of studies of this kind (e.g. Tang, 1992), they would have reacted to the outline differently. In other words, the same outline or advance organizer needs to be employed differently in order to increase the awareness and involvement of learners.

Additionally, it is assumed that the MP group did not need the outline since their listening skills were sufficient to understand the lecture without the outline. This finding appears to be the same result by Muller (1980), suggesting that the lower proficiency group benefited from the advance organizer but the higher proficiency group did not. This implies that an advance organizer facilitates comprehension when the material is very difficult. Different materials would have caused different results, as Rubin (1995) discusses some features to change the listening comprehension of a material. Another problem seen in this study is divisions of idea units and it should possibly be changed. Even after the third material, the MP-OL group scored an average of 16.33, which was only 25. 92 % of the total possible idea units.

Listening Proficiency

The English proficiency had the main effect on the comprehension. The MP students performed better than the LP students regardless of outline conditions, which agrees with the statement that language proficiency level is considered as a major variable in most research (Rubin, 1994). That would imply that teachers should provide appropriate materials for the level of English proficiency for English acquisition.

 Background Knowledge

The finding suggests that the background knowledge had no effects, and this is contradictory to most research (e.g. Long, 1990; Markham & Lathem, 1992). These results may have been caused by the measurement method. For one, this was based on the self-reported questionnaire result that they filled out after the subjects listened to the text and read the story (in L1). In addition, this comes from the problem that the measurement was a 5-point-Likert scale. The rating of the background knowledge did not vary due to the choice of the topic. Half of the students rated their prior knowledge “2” and the rest of the students “1” or “3”, and, as a result, the narrow range of variety caused a low correlation figure.

Table 6. Self-reported Background Questionnaire

Scale 1 2 3 4 5
n 17 36 10 0 0

Repeated Exposure

The statistical analysis demonstrated that when the students listened to the same material repeatedly, the comprehension of the lecture significantly increased. However, the interaction between the repeated exposure and English proficiency overrode the main effect of the repeated exposure. It may be that the repeated exposure allows students more time to process the information clearly. Also, the differences among the four groups became larger as these groups listen to the same lecture.

The results of this study indicate the following implications. It will be helpful for the students to listen to a lecture tape a couple of times, provided that enough time is available. It may not always be a good idea to use a lecture outline as an advance organizer for the purpose of better lecture comprehension unless students have additional and/or ongoing activities. Listening skills play a key role in lecture listening; students have to have appropriate ability to manage to be able to comprehend listening materials and make use of its additional devices such as advance organizers. That suggests that teachers have to be careful about assessing levels of listening skills and choosing the appropriate level of materials they need for each material. Finally, teachers may not need to concern the prior knowledge a great deal especially when the students’ level is relatively low and the content of a lecture is somewhat familiar. Instead, they may need to do tasks to increase the students’ listening comprehension.

 Limitations of This Study

The number of the students was too small for this kind of statistical analysis. Another limitation related to the subject is that the participants had a fairly low listening ability; therefore, the investigation of the same factors for higher proficient students has to be pursued. A number of characteristics have to be dealt with in terms of the listening text. Students listened to the only one type of the text in this study. Since the previous studies demonstrated factors by different text characteristics, the same research with different text characters needs to be conducted. Likewise, the only one type of an advance organizer was examined, and other advance organizers would possibly facilitate the listening comprehension. In this study, the participants were not allowed to take notes while listening to the lecture. Nonetheless, in English class and in a lecture session, students take notes, so note-taking might have helped the students to recall the text better. Finally, language comprehension and prior knowledge could be measured by different methods for accuracy or the same immediate recall protocols need to be scored differently.


The authors would like to thank Professor James Dean Brown for the help with statistics and Professor Patricia Dunkel for her comments on this research.


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Appendix A  Lecture on Florence Nightingale with Idea Units Underlined.

1. I want to talk about a very special woman
2. a woman who was responsible for saving many, many lives
3. and who had a great influence
4. on the way we are treated
5. when we are ill.
6. Her name in Florence Nightingale.
7. She was born
8. in 1980.
9. Her family was English
10. but she wasn’t born
11. not in England but
12. in Italy
13. Her parents were the sort of rich people
14. who could afford to go on long foreign tours
15. and this was where they happened to be
16. when she was born.
17. Anyway, she grew up
18. in England
19. and she enjoyed the typical life of a young lady of her class
20. at that time
21. But she was quite a serious young person
22. and she gradually realized
23. that she wanted more in life
24. than elegant clothes and a rich husband.
25. And when she was twenty-five
26. she said that she announced
27. that she wished to become a nurse
28. and she left her comfortable home
29. in England
30. and she went
31. to Germany
32. where they had modern training courses for nurses.
33. In 1853
34. she was put in charge of a women’s hospital
35. in London
36. and she ran it very successfully.
37. A few years later
38. there was hardly anyone
39. in England
40. who didn’t know Florence Nightingale.
41.And this was because she went abroad
42. to care for soldiers
43. who had been wounded fighting for their country.
44. And she was really shocked
45. she was really angry
46. when she found out
47. how bad the army hospital was
48. and she persuaded the government
49. back in London
50. to introduce many improvements.
51. She was very popular
52. with her patients
53. and she continued to work
54. for many more years
55. training and organizing.
56. She insisted on things
57. that we still believe nowadays.
58. For example,
59. nurses should always be neat and clean.
60. And she never let them forget
61. that patients have feelings
62. which nurses must consider
63. when they’re looking after them.

Note:  Detailed information is detailed information.

Appendix  B. Outline as an Advance Organizer.