How to listen with the intention of learning. This is an important distinction as listening can be a very passive. The difference is between hearing and listening. We can hear someone talking and not take in the information. But listening, listening is active and rich. Something that leads to learning!
Let’s make sure our intentions are good…actually listen. When learning a second language, research shows that we can’t just hear the word. We need to actively process and interpret the information being given to us.
Those that are very skilled at learning new languages have a very specific listening strategy. This leads to excellent comprehension. Research shows that learners who deliberately use these skills become better listeners.
Studies of skilled language learners have identified specific listening strategies that lead to superior comprehension. What’s more, research has shown that learners who deliberately adopt these strategies become better listeners.
In 2010, for example, University of Ottawa researcher Larry Vandergrift published his study of 106 undergraduates who were learning French as a second language. Half of the students were taught in a conventional fashion, listening to and practicing texts spoken aloud.
The other half, possessing the same initial skill level and taught by the same teacher, were given explicit instruction on how to listen. In the journal Language Learning, Vandergrift reported the results: The second group “significantly outperformed” the first one on a test of comprehension. The improvement was especially pronounced among the less-fluent French speakers in the group.
So what are these listening strategies?
• Skilled learners go into a listening session with a sense of what they want to get out of it. They set a goal for their listening, and they generate predictions about what the speaker will say. Before the talking begins, they mentally review what they already know about the subject, and form an intention to “listen out for” what’s important or relevant.
• Once they begin listening, these learners maintain their focus; if their attention wanders, they bring it back to the words being spoken. They don’t allow themselves to be thrown off by confusing or unfamiliar details.
Instead, they take note of what they don’t understand and make inferences about what those things might mean, based on other clues available to them: their previous knowledge of the subject, the context of the talk, the identity of the speaker, and so on. They’re “listening for gist,” and not getting caught up in fine-grained analysis. Is this how to listen with the intention of learning?