On Listening

Insights on what listening is, how listening skills are developed, and how listening can be taught.

From an op-ed by Margaret Hoover, host of Firing Line on PBS (TIme magazine, 5 November 2018):

Listening takes a certain skill. The key … is listening with a generous assumption that the other’s views are informed by good intentions. …To function as a democracy we are going to need to listen in a spirit that presumes our political opponents are engaged in civic debate for the same reasons we are–they care about the country, their communities, their families and their neighbors.

The other requirement for effective listening is time. To effectively debate ideas and discuss complicated issues takes time. … Giving ideas time to air, to be developed, defended and challenged is key.

From Michael Rost, Teaching and Researching Listening (London: Longman, 2002):

In a communicative transaction, a listener is “speaking” continuously through non-verbal responses as well as through periodic verbal responses. The speaker simultaneously “listens” to these non-verbal and verbal messages and adapts his or her communicative behavior, attitudes, and affective states according to an assessment of how he or she is being “understood.” Listening then becomes an interactive process in which the outcomes of any communication include renewed perceptions of self, other and the relationship. In this view, the goal of listening is not primarily comprehension of messages, but rather establishing interactive connections with one’s interlocutors and mutually moving toward goals. These goals may be related to mutual comprehension of messages in the discourse, but they will also be related to adjustments in the “relationship system” between the speakers. (pp. 54-55)

From Mortimer Adler, How to Speak, How to Listen (New York: Macmillan, 1983):

What about listening? Is anyone anywhere taught how to listen? How utterly amazing is the general assumption that the ability to listen well is a natural gift for which no training is required. How extraordinary is the fact that no effort is made anywhere in the whole educational process to help individuals learn how to listen well–at least well enough to close the circuit and make speech effective as a means of communication. (p. 5)

From Joan Morley, Aural Comprehension Instruction: Principles and Practices, in Marianne Celce-Murcia, Ed., Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language (3rd ed.) (Boston: Heinle & Heinle, 2001):

The second or foreign language listening curriculum cannot focus only on buying he right books and tapes. Skill building in listening comprehension is not something that can be accomplished in a half-hour lesson three times a week, nor can attention to listening be limited to language laboratory tapes. Listening, the language skill used most in life, needs to be a central focus–all day, every day–limited only by the availability of the target language in the school, the community, and the media.