This dissertation investigated the effects of the Optimized Prosodic Approach for improving Vietnamese EFL learners’ listening ability as well as their working memory capacity. This approach was developed on the basis of the underlying principles of a theory of language learning proposed by Lian and Sussex (2018), a theory of perception – verbotonalism, a theory of selective attention, and the latest empirical evidence in lateralization related to language learning. At the same time, this research also examined the relationship between listening ability, working memory, and vocabulary knowledge. Besides, students’ opinions about this approach were also explored. The study employed a mixed-methods approach within a quasi-experimental design. Two intact classes, 65 second-year non-English major students in a college in Ho Chi Minh City participated in the study. One class was randomly assigned as the experimental group and the other as the control group. For 10 weeks, while the control groups were taught listening in a traditional, teach-led, and classroom-based approach, the experimental group practiced listening with the OPA embedded in a self-regulated online listening platform.
Results of T-tests analysis indicate that the experimental group significantly outperformed the control group in their listening performances. This finding underlines the value of prioritizing prosody by using the techniques developed in the study such as listening to low-pass filtered audio, repetition in synchrony with body movements, and shadowing to enhance listening comprehension. Regarding working memory, the experimental group achieved scores significantly higher than those of the control groups, suggesting that practicing with the OPA had a positive effect on how the students managed and processed auditory signals, reflecting the neuroplasticity of the working memory or the efficiency gains from working memory training. However, the improvement was observable only in the visual memory tasks and the auditory simple memory tasks, indicating that different modalities of presentation mode can have a different bearing on how learners manipulate stimuli. Furthermore, correlational analysis shows that listening ability was significantly correlated with vocabulary knowledge at a moderate level. A moderate connection between listening ability and working memory was also detected in the case of more skilled listeners (or the experimental group). Data analysis from the questionnaire, semi-structured interviews, students’ journals, and observation reveal that after 10 weeks’ intervention, the experimental group had positive opinions about this approach in terms of its effectiveness and its efficiency. Their general belief was that as a result of the practice with the OPA, they could improve their listening comprehension, their pronunciation, their vocabulary knowledge, and their working memory. They all agreed that this approach could develop their learning autonomy and offered a self-paced listening practice. Therefore, there was a consensus among students that the OPA had the potential to be widely implemented in listening teaching.
Overall, the results of this thesis offer not only insights into the nature of the listening process from a perceptual perspective, but also an alternative approach, that is the OPA, for improving EFL learners’ listening ability. The findings also make significant theoretical contributions to the field of language learning and teaching, prompting the rethinking of the current approaches to the teaching of listening.