Listening, Dance of Language textbook

Focus is key to listening but it is only the beginning of acquiring information in this way. As difficult as it is to listen carefully with so much outside interference, focusing on the content and delivery of a speaker is affected by the prior experience and knowledge of the listener. Communication occurs only when both of these conditions are in place. Because we live in an age of information, what must follow is the recording, usually in writing, of what the listener hears in order to retain and make use of that information. Techniques that aid focus in listening are invaluable but they require discipline and practice.


How does one become an active listener?

Although it is questionable that research can provide such exact statistics about listening ability, as an experienced teacher, I can attest to the causes and the effects of listening for students and adults as well in classroom settings. The latest stats say we remember 25 to 50 per cent of what we hear, but we hear only 2-5 minutes of a ten minute conversation. Whatever the reality is regarding why we listen or don’t listen to a speaker, we know the following techniques can help to improve the outcome of listening to a lecture or a speech, a sermon, or a lesson in a classroom.

  1. If you have had a reading assignment, make sure you have done it. Familiarity with the information, especially difficult terms, being covered will help keep you focused. When we listen we try to attach what we hear to what we already know. If you’ve done the reading and you know the meaning of the specific terms, you will have more knowledge to attach to what you hear.
  2. Make a concerted effort to attend a lecture or a lesson without sleep deprivation or without being hungry. Even the temperature will have an effect on listening. Dress appropriately so that you are not too hot or too cold. Emotional upsets have a serious effect on listening as well. Although there may be nothing you can do about it at the time, just knowing the effect of being upset emotionally can help you to follow the techniques you know will help keep you more focused. If you are physically ill, you should be in bed, not in the classroom.
  3. Look at the speaker and make eye contact. Sitting up in a chair often prevents one from relaxing and falling asleep. Nodding and responding with facial expression will not only communicate to the listener that you’re awake and listening but it will also communicate that message to yourself and keep you awake and in the game.
  4. Paraphrase in your mind what the speaker’s key points are and take notes.
  5. Associate what you are hearing with what you already know. As soon as necessary, and if the timing is appropriate, stop and ask questions to clarify points that you don’t understand or to verify that what you think you heard is actually the point the lecturer is trying to make.
  6. Repeat key points in your head.
  7. Listen for the speaker’s emotional tone as well as the objective material being presented.
  8. Never doodle on your paper. Doodling intentionally prevents listening.
  9. Minimize internal distractions by focusing only on what the speaker is saying. Daydreaming happens, however, because listeners are constantly making associations with what they know and what is being said. This attempt to associate is a good thing, but as a listener you must let those thoughts pass out of your head and refocus on the speaker. We can mentally handle more than 400 spoken words per minute but the average speaker produces 125-175 words per minute, leaving time for you to daydream. Guide your mind back to the speaker.
  10. Keep an open mind, even if you disagree with the speaker. After the lecture you can ask questions and offer a different perspective respectfully.
  11. Remember the purpose for being at the lecture or in a classroom is to learn something. Do not tolerate or create distractions that will prevent you and others from listening. We often use the excuses of boredom or disinterest in the topic. Predicting a negative outcome from the lesson—usually I couldn’t possibly learn anything from that or from him—will block the message and sabotage the learning.
  12. Listen for verbal cues from the speaker which act as red flags that say, “Write this down. It’s important!”