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Listening is not hearing

Many people misconstrue listening for hearing.

In fact, many people use them interchangeably. However, hearing is a reflex action whereas listening takes intent.  Arguing a case for listening Jaco Snoek said, “When you listen, you learn, gain knowledge, with a transformation towards wisdom, thus laying an educated foundation for others to then listen, learn, gain knowledge from you.”

There is a world of difference between listening and hearing. Hearing is the act of perceiving sound and receiving sound waves or vibrations through your ear. Listening is the act of hearing a sound and understanding what you hear. Listening requires concentration so that your brain processes meaning from words and sentences. Hearing simply happens.

Listening in any language requires focus and intention. It is a skill that needs to be developed. According to Witkin, “Listening is a vital component of the oral communication, or the interactive process in which the individual takes the roles of speaker and listener through a verbal and non-verbal component.”

The skill of listening is fundamental to language learning, especially in the early stages of child development for children first receive and store language before producing it. Listening is thus classified as a primary language skill along with speaking. They are the first language skills a child gets exposed to.

In education, listening is termed a comprehension skill since learners use it to make meaning of what the teacher and other learners say.

Listening is also classified as a receptive skill, linguists pair it with speaking. Rightly so, for in verbal communication, one listens then speaks. It is an active communication process which entails: IMPUT---PROCESSING---OUTPUT.

Input is the word spoken by the speaker. Output is the listener’s response. The listener processes the input before producing output. Input is processed in the following ways:

•            Bottom up processing - The listener depends solely on the incoming input for the meaning of message.

•            Top down processing - The listener relies on their background knowledge to comprehend the message-input is not the only source of meaning.

Effective listeners need to be able to:

Discriminate between sounds; Recognize words; Identify stressed words and grouping of words; Identify word  functions (such as apology, command, manipulation, deception) in conversations;  Connect linguistic cues to paralinguistic cues (intonation and stress) and to non-linguistic cues (gestures and relevant objects in the situation) in order to construct meaning; Use schema and context to predict and then to confirm meaning; Recall important words, topics and ideas; Give appropriate feed back to the speaker; Reformulate what the speaker has said.

Types of Listening:

Adrian Doff (1998:199):

Active: Active Listening is a communication technique that needs the listener to give feedback of what they hear to the speaker by re-stating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words to confirm their understanding of both parties. Active listening comprises interpreting body language and or focusing on something other than words. The Active Listener listens with comprehension and purpose.

Empathic: Empathic listening is also called active or reflective listening. It is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding and trust. It is an essential skill for third parties and disputants as it enables the listener to receive and accurately respond. The response is an integral part of the listening process and can be critical to the success of a negotiation/meditation

Critical: The Ability to listen critically is essential in a democracy. There is practically no place you can go where critical listening is unimportant whether on the job, in the community, at service clubs, in the place of worship or in the family. Politicians, the media, salesman, advocates of policies and procedures and our own financial,

emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual do require us to place a premium on critical listening and the thinking that accompanies it.

Casual: - Many times we listen to someone or something without any particular purpose. At such times, we often do not listen to them with much concentration, unless we hear something which interests us. This type of listening is often found in social context when we interact with others.

Focused: - It is ‘Intensive Listening’ for information or for transacting business. The listener is attentive and concentrates on what the speaker is saying.


The pre-listening stage:

It is vitally important if one wants students to get as much as possible out of listening. The choice of listening is the first thing. Teachers should not inflict on their students’ topics they believe will be of little or no interest.

In this stage called “introductory or preparatory”, students are required to bring their attitudes, previous knowledge about the topic are going to tackle. They should be given a reason to listen, a chance to discuss and predict what they are going to hear. The teacher cannot let his student do a listening blind of information, without any point of reference. In addition, the pre-teaching of some vocabulary which may be problematic can also be a useful part of this pre-listening stage. In some cases, the theme, pictures and charts can be discussed to ready learners’ minds for what they are going to listen to.

The while listening stage:

This phase refers to the time of listening in classroom. While- listening, activities guide the students to collect or catch the necessary information for an overall listening comprehension, those activities ensure the active nature of the process in the fact that grasping every word when listening is not necessary, as well as involving the students to develop good listening habits, which consists in getting the information and immediately performing something with it. Many activities are suggested for teachers to use in this phase:

Comparing the listening passage with the pre-listening stage; Filling in gaps while listening to a conversation where students are given the utterances of one part of the conversation and asked to complete the missing one of the other. Or filling the blanks of a passage with the appropriate missing words like in a song's lyrics; Depicting the irrelevant information from a listening passage; Sequencing, where students are asked to give the right order of events like in a story for example.

The post listening stage:

Feed-back to a listening activity in general is important. For that reason, post listening activities refer to all activities which can be practiced after the second phase. Those listening activities are used as a springboard onto other language skills such as reading, speaking and writing and may include: Questions, fill in the blanks, summarizing, debates, discussions, role plays, poetry and short story writing.

Listening precautions:

Avoid making fast assumptions; pay special attention to the intended meanings when the speaker uses words describing strong feelings; be alert to the use of language to manipulate; hear with the speaker’s ear; be alert to the impact of non-verbal messages.

“The most important element of good listening is simple: You have to want to understand the other person’s point of view. Listening is not about agreeing, or defending. It’s not about how often you nod your head in the conversation, how many times you recap what the person said, or how many affirmations you give to the other person. Those are techniques to help you become a better listener, but they are not listening in themselves.” Robert Dittmer















Educationally Speaking



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