Lizz Caplan-Carbin

Familiarity and Listening Comprehension

Research Project, Fall 1997

The purpose of this study was to see if student scores on a listening comprehension test would be better if the recited text contained the names of the students themselves. An assumption being tested is that students will listen more closely if the story they hear is about themselves. The theory is that personal involvement will increase attentiveness.

Subjects and Methods: Fifteen students of first semester German were randomly divided into three groups. The names of all five students of one group (OWN) were used as the names of characters in a short story written for this experiment (see appendix A). A second group of students (GER) heard a text in which those five names were replaced with typical German names commonly used in German language texts but rarely heard in America (Jutta, Rolf, Heike, Bärbel, Udo). The third group (FAM) heard a text that was identical to the other two except for the names which were replaced with typical American names, familiar enough to be immediately recognizable as names but not belonging to anyone in the class.

Ho: m 1 = m 2 = m 3 reject

The null hypothesis is that there is no difference in listening comprehension scores (SCORE) on a set of true/false questions for any of three treatment groups: (FAM) familiar names, (GER) German names, (OWN) Students own names.

ANOVA: F value = 7.77 @ µ .05 conclusion is reject the null hypothesis (p = .0068)

The Tukeys post-hoc test shows that the original question Ho: m 1 = m 3 came up fail to reject (using this conservative post hoc with a very small N.)

Tukeys also shows no signifigant difference between the means of the groups using either familiar or personal names. Ho: m 1 = m 2 fail to reject

Tukeys does display a signifigant difference in the means of the treatment group hearing German names as compared to the group hearing names familiar yet not belonging to anyone in the class.

Ho: m 2 = m 3 reject


The theory that personal involvement will increase attentiveness comes up suspect from these results. Although the original alternative hypothesis may be accepted according to the ANOVA F-value; using studentsí own names yield higher scores than using German names; ironically, using names belonging to the listeners themselves may have a distracting effect when compared with using names that are familiar but not personal. If the course materials incorporate characters with German names and use them consistently, those German names may become familiar and be just as recognizable as typical American names. If further experiments, with larger sample sizes, would show that the slight dip in scores for the text with OWN names contrasted with FAMiliar non-personal names was signifigant, then the original theory would be exactly the opposite of true: Personal involvement would be shown to decrease atteniveness.


German course materials should incorporate German names in a manner consistent enough so that they may be easily recognized as proper nouns when heard in exercises and listening comprehension tasks.

Appendix A Story

Jutta und Bärbel sitzen zusammen auf einer Bank im Park. Es ist Frühling und die Sonne scheint aber es ist auch ein Bißchen kühl. Bärbel fragt Jutta: "Was hast du am Wochenende gemacht?" Jutta antwortet: "Ach, wir haben viel Spass gehabt. Am Samstag nachmittag haben Heike, Steffi und ich den Geburtstag von meinem Freund, Rolf gefeiert. Am Abend sind wir dann ins Konzert gegangen, denn Rolf hört gern klassische Musik. Auch ist sein Bruder, Udo, mitgegangen, obwohl er klassische Musik nicht besonders mag. Udo hat seit zwei Monaten seinen Führerschein, und wir sind alle mit ihm im Auto gefahren."

Dann fragt Baerbel: "Und wie gefällt euch das Konzert?"

"Das Konzert hat uns allen gefallen, am meisten Heike aber auch Udo hat es gern gehabt." sagt sie, "Sonst habe ich nichts Besonderes gemacht."

Appendix B Test Instrument

Wahr oder Falsch

    1. Samstag nachmittag hat Rolf Geburtstag gefeiert.
    2. Heike ist die Freundin von Rolf.
    3. Sie sind an einem Frühlingsnachmittag ins Konzert gegangen.
    4. Rolf ist der Freund von Jutta.
    5. Das Konzert hat auch Udo gefallen.
    6. Bärbel ist mit dem Wagon von Udo mitgefahren.
    7. Rolf hat klassische Musik nicht besonders gern.
    8. Steffi hat gestern Geburtstag gehabt.