Listen to the sound of the river, if you want to catch fish. – an Irish proverb.
In language learning there are four skills:speaking, listening, writing, and reading. Of these, the productive skills are speaking and writing. And the receptive skills are listening and reading. When learning a language, the emphasis is on the productive skills. We usually ask, can you speak Japanese. And not, can you read Japanese.
In India, English language learners are keen to speak and write the language. Unfortunately, they are less keen to engage with the receptive skills of listening and reading. In this post, let’s focus on listening.
As you may have noticed, Indians are terrible listeners. Often, we start speaking while the other person is still speaking. (I am guilty of this too: I confess!) This could be because we are so absorbed in what we feel about the topic, that we cannot wait to express our opinion. Or this could be because we believe we know exactly what the other person thinks on a particular subject. This often happens between husbands and wives.
It is good etiquette to let the person complete what he or she is saying. No matter where one is, at work or at home.
Listening can help you to improve your language and communication skills. Here is how:
- Listen for pronunciation
Listen how people pronounce words. Are they emphasizing a particular syllable? If so, on which one?
For example, in India, some people pronounce the word sentence as: senTENCE.
Actually, in international English, it is: SENtence.
Listen attentively when you are watching a Hollywood movie. Notice which syllable is stressed in a word.
2. Listen to the flow of speech
How is the person using intonation? Is the tone flat? Or is there a rise and fall in pitch to convey nuances in meaning and emotion?
Pay special attention to intonation when you watch the news. How does a news anchor on BBC speak compared to a news anchor on Times Now or NDTV?
3. Listen for cohesion
When you listen to a speech or watch a documentary, ask yourself why a particular idea or thought has been introduced. Does the next idea follow naturally from that first one? Many times a speaker begins by setting the context. And then she may make an assertion. And then follow it up with supporting statements.
Can you critically analyse the flow of ideas? Do they make sense, when placed next to each other? Could they be ordered in another way? Are all ideas equally important?Analyzing in such a manner will help you to make more effective presentations at work.
4. Listen with empathy
When listening to someone, try to imagine their lived experience. Where are they coming from? What are the challenges they face? This will help you to better understand them. People will feel that you are giving them your undivided attention. Consequently, they may open up to you even more. When you listen with empathy, you are more likely to recall what was said. Your conversations will be more meaningful. And yes, your communication skills will improve.
As I said before, we live in a world which does not value listening. If we start listening better, we’ll start communicating better.
Most importantly: don’t forget to listen to yourself.
Listen to yourself when you make a complaint, when you make a request, when you give an order, when you plead for understanding, and when you make a presentation. How wide is your range of vocabulary? Are you repeating words and phrases? Are you learning new words / phrases on a regular basis? At times, do you find it difficult to express a complex idea? Are you using grammar correctly? Are you using a variety of grammatical structures? Does your grammar crumble when you are angry? Do you use different types of intonation when speaking to different people? What is your rate of speech? Are you speaking as fast as a bullet train travels?
Phew… That’s a long list of questions, I know. But it will be worth your while to start looking for answers for some, if not all, of these questions.
If you listen to yourself carefully, and over a period of time, you may be surprised as to what you will discover.
Listen to the sound of the river…