You may have heard about active and passive listening skills in your psychology classes at College. Today I will review the major characteristics of active and passive listening and show how active listening can help you develop your English skills, and how passive listening might deceive you into thinking that you are mastering your English when in fact you're simply losing your time.
Listening and hearing are two different things. Hearing involves perceiving the sound. Hearing is involuntary and may simply reflect the auditory capabilities of our brain. Listening, on the other hand, is much more active than just hearing. In fact, listening usually requires more energy than speaking as it involves receiving and interpreting the information.
Listening activity is vital in the process of one's language acquisition. Reading and translation simply won't do. However, not every listening activity can be beneficial to language students, as our response to the message we hear might either be passive or active.
Passive listening is not much different from hearing. For instance, many of us have found ourselves in situations where our minds would drift, we would lose our motivation in listening, and consider the information we hear as "a background noise" or pretend that we're listening just "to be polite." We think that we are listening, but in fact we are simply letting this information go past our brain.
Active listening implies listening with a purpose. We might listen to gain information from the speaker, not just to "fill in the awkward silence." When listening actively, we obtain directions, pay attention to details, solve problems, get to know people, share interests, feelings, emotions, etc.
Very few students today would question the importance of listening. Everybody downloads podcasts and stories to improve their listening. But whenever you perform any kind of listening activity, especially in the foreign language, make sure that you are listening actively, and not passively.
In active listening you engage yourself into the message that you hear, interact with it, pay attention to sounds, expressions, intonation, as well as take note of what you do not understand. But you can take the same message and listen to it passively, letting your mind drift and think about what you need to do next.
Concluding today's message I would like to encourage you to train yourself to listen actively. The following list gives a few tips on how to become an active listener when it comes to learning a language:
- Listen to a passage and pay attention to the pronunciation and intonation of the speaker.
- When possible, repeat some words and phrases after the speaker.
- If it's a podcast, pause and rewind often. That will help you spot the words you haven't noticed before.
- If possible, find the transcript of the passage, and set aside time to read through it to make sure what you got right and what you'd missed.
- Try retelling the passage. If you have nobody with whom to share the passage record yourself or mentally recall the major points of the passage.
I hope these tips will help you!
The post was based on an article "Communication and Leadership." You can access it here.