Listening

SOFT SKILLS

 Listening Skills

 Introduction

We take in words, their sounds and their meanings all the time during our waking hours. We also often ‘overhear’ or ‘catch’ what people are saying to each other. It is not necessary or required that we grasp or register all that is said on these occasions. What we are doing most of the time is merely ‘hearing’ language being used in speaking. However, at other times, we are expected to listen, understand and respond to spoken language, for example, in a conversation or during a lecture. Here we are not just ‘hearing’ people but ‘listening’ to them with attention.

Although listening is cultivated naturally and without specific instruction, it is one of the most important skills in language learning as also in social interaction. We often hear the complaint that someone is not a good listener or, conversely, the compliment that someone is a very good listener. Obviously, this does not mean that some people can hear better, but rather that some people come across as more attentive and more empathetic in conversation than others. They also seem to process information more keenly and fully than those who are poorer listeners.

Is it possible to improve our own listening skills? Can we become better listeners than before? How can listening better prove beneficial to us? These are some of the questions we seek to answer in this module. It includes some points you can ponder over and practise as well as some activities you would be required to engage in as you go through what follows.

 Learning Objectives After reading this chapter, you are expected to learn about: 1) Cultivate better attention to sound, meaning and tone 2) Have better clarity in listening 3) Listen for specific information/ detail 4) Listen for gist and overall message/thrust

 Preliminary Activity
(Estimated time allotted to activity: 10-12 minutes)


Shut your eyes for two minutes and listen to the sounds around you.

A) After you have done this, list the different kinds of sounds you heard. Try to use precise words/phrases to describe these sounds. For example, "the scrape of feet against the floor" or "a mosquito buzzing near my right ear".

B) Now, linking these sounds, write a short paragraph on your experience of listening for two minutes. Remember to write not only about the sounds but also your response to them. For example, did a certain sound irritate you or seem pleasant to you? Did another sound remind you or alert you of something? Did you draw any inference or make any passing observation as you concentrated on the sounds?

Note that while performing part A) of this activity you focused on the details of what you had listened to, whereas, while performing part B) you had to relate or string together one detail to another and use your thoughts and feelings to bring your response to the overall experience. These two processes are two essential aspects of listening skills, i.e., listening for specific detail and listening in order to digest the overall impact or gist respectively.

 Types of Listening Skills

 Listening for Detail

While listening for detail, you are expected to grasp and retain bits of information contained in the passage. Being alert to what people are saying around you makes you better-informed and better equipped to deal with new situations.

Listening for detail includes: 1) Listening for specific information 2) Picking out special words/terms/names 3) Listening for grammatical form 4) Discerning words from their pronunciation

In order to listen well to detail, you must be attentive to what is being articulated. Hence you must have a good grasp of the sounds in the English language. Also look out for words that are emphasized: these are words that convey important information.

Listening for detail is particularly important when you have to act according to what is being said. If you hear the sentence "Give me the tyre" as "Give me the fire", you might end up burning your hands! Those who listen carefully to instructions do not miss out on any dos and don'ts and are thus able to complete a task successfully.

 Activity Following Instructions

Listen to the following audio clip and answer the questions that follow.

1) Which of the instructions do you think is applicable when you are travelling on an aircraft? What kind of safety hazard can be caused if this instruction is neglected?

2) Which of these are 'safe' places to keep your mobile phone?

a) Near your computer b) In your bag c) On the table d) On the wash basin

3) You are driving a car on a highway when your friend calls. What would you do? Why?

4) Grade these ways of listening to music from a mobile phone from the most dangerous to the safest.

a) Holding the loudspeaker to the ear b) Placing the mobile phone on a stand c) Using headphones --

 Sustained Listening

While listening to a story or to a lecture we need to listen not only for specific information but also to overall message and the relationship of one idea with another. For this we need to follow the speaker's train of thought. The tone of the speaker often indicates what is coming. Think of the many ways in which you can say "Okay, I will come." The way you say it will show if you are enthusiastic about going somewhere or you are doing it as an obligation or you are angry about going somewhere. The speaker's tone can help us anticipate what is to follow in a passage. It also adds meaning to what we hear.

There are also some words/phrases that indicate what is coming next. For instance, "however" suggests there is going to be contrast while "besides" suggests addition to the same point. A good listener pays attention to what is being said, what is connected to what and how something is being said. According to Tony Lynch, while listening to a lecture in a foreign language, we could use certain macro-strategies such as:

1) Predicting: Thinking about the possible content of the lecture before you listen

2) Monitoring: Noticing your problems as you listen and identifying areas of uncertainty

3) Responding: Giving your own opinion on the ideas presented by the lecturer

4) Clarifying: Preparing questions that you can ask the lecturer so as to get a clearer understanding

5) Inferring: Making hypotheses when you aren't sure of something, such as the meaning of an unfamiliar word or expression

6) Evaluating: Assessing how well you have understood the lecture

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 Results

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 Key Terms

Extension exercise

 References and Bibliography