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Effects of the first language and sociolinguistic exposure on text listening comprehension in South African learners

Mandy Wigdorowitz

University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, University of Johannesburg, South Africa

Investigating linguistic and cognitive processes during listening comprehension is relatively new, particularly in multilingual contexts where learners engage in pedagogical activities in the predominant language of a country but are largely heterogenous in their L1 and exposure to sociolinguistic input. Such a scenario describes the South African educational system, where English is imposed as the language of instruction even though there are 11 official languages. This might have negative consequences for learners whose L1 is not English but who need to perform well if they are to attain a tertiary qualification. Accordingly, this study investigates cognitive processes during text listening comprehension in undergraduate South Africans differing in their L1 and their exposure to input from the sociolinguistic context, but who have advanced English proficiency. Forty-seven South Africans with different L1s (English vs. Zulu) and who fell along the contextual linguistic diversity continuum were evaluated in their listening comprehension ability using the Auditory Mismatch Detection Task. Participants listened to narrative texts in English which prompted an initial inference followed by a sentence containing an expected or unexpected but plausible word, assessing comprehension monitoring. A final sentence containing congruent or incongruent information followed, assessing the revision process. Results indicate that L1-English participants were more efficient and accurate at monitoring and revising their listening comprehension compared to L1-Zulu participants. Moreover, participants with higher contextual linguistic diversity were more efficient at monitoring but less accurate at revising the comprehension content. Participants’ L1 and sociolinguistic exposure supersedes their English proficiency on highly complex listening comprehension.


Keywords: Psycholinguistics, listening comprehension, inferencing, monitoring, revision, contextual linguistic diversity, South Africa