In TESOL class, I have learned that listening is a very important aspect of study of any language. One way through which a second language learner learns a new language is by listening. When they listen to the language above they use their “present linguistic competence”, to figure out the meaning of what they hear real time (Nunan 26). Immediately, they connect the input information to their experience or something that they already know. Using the cues in the situation, they then process the information to create “the meaning behind the words” (Nunan 24). From this process, the language learners acquire language beyond their current level.
Stephen Krashen has written many articles on second language acquisition and he describes listening as “a major source of comprehensible input” for second language learners (Nunan 25). Stephen’s research has been very helpful in improving the way, a second language is taught today. Teachers have applied different principles to improve their student’s listening skills in the classroom.
In TESOL class, the bottom-up and top-down processing were discussed. The language teaching book by David Nunan defines them this way. The bottom-up processing emphasizes on details. It focuses on “using component parts such as vocabulary, grammar, and the like, to process meaning” (Nunan 329). And top-down processing focuses on “the general knowledge” and “life experience known as content schema or textual schema” (Nunan 27). Basically, top-down processing activates learner’s background knowledge.
In my opinion these two processes can be used interchangeably, if applied correctly, in accordance to the understanding of a student’s English language skills and needs. I think either processes can work out to benefit all learners. However, I think the bottom-up process can be more beneficial, especially for ESL learners considering that they are already learning about grammar, vocabulary and pronunciations. Their learning approach is similar to bottom-up processing, that focuses on details. To start with, students can better approach basic foundation of the language from the bottom-up style and be able to gradually build their language skills like “building blocks” of language (Nunan 43). This approach can give an upper hand to the teachers involved in language teaching, as they can teach many things like grammar rules, vocabulary, pronunciation, and intonation to students. It is important to know that focusing too much on details can lead students to ignore the grammatical patterns, usage of the language and the meaning of lesson while they learn.
I think top-down processing is more appropriate for someone who is proficient in language. Those students are more likely to search for meaning of the language as a whole rather than looking at detail of the language. It enables students to focus more on the larger and general information of the language (Nunan 27). Looking at it globally, learners are able to remember the general information better and longer than dealing with specifics. They can also easily relate the information to their past experience and knowledge (Nunan 26). They will be able to easily activate information processing from top-down approach. One disadvantage of the process would be that there is no time for students to review the details of the language while they process information.
Given the limited benefit of each own process, I think both processes should be used in teaching so that the learners are able to see the information from bottom-up or top-down perspective. In TESOL book, the combination of the process is described as Interactive processing. The interactive processing occurs when the top-down and bottom-up data are combined during the information processing (Nunan 29). It activates the students to acquire language from the top and bottom approach. Teachers should use interactive processing as a teaching technique to complement their communicative teaching method. If that learning strategy works out, students can become more proficient learner and can benefit their language fluency and accuracy skills.
Nunan, David. “Practical English Language Teaching.” First Edition.
McGraw-Hill Companies: New York, 2003.