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What is Listening?

Listening is receiving language through the ears. Listening involves identifying the sounds of speech and processing them into words and sentences. When we listen, we use our ears to receive individual sounds (letters, stress, rhythm and pauses) and we use our brain to convert these into messages that mean something to us.

 

Listening in any language requires focus and attention. It is a skill that some people need to work at harder than others. People who have difficulty concentrating are typically poor listeners. Listening in a second language requires even greater focus.

 

Like babies, we learn this skill by listening to people who already know how to speak the language. This may or may not include native speakers. For practice, you can listen to live or recorded voices. The most important thing is to listen to a variety of voices as often as you can.

 

Listening is the active process of receiving and responding to spoken (and sometimes unspoken) messages. It is one of the subjects studied in the field of language arts and in the discipline of conversation analysis.

 

Listening is not just hearing what the other party in the conversation has to say. "Listening means taking a vigorous, human interest in what is being told us," said poet Alice Duer Miller. "You can listen like a blank wall or like a splendid auditorium where every sound comes back fuller and richer."

 

Elements and Levels of Listening

 

Author Marvin Gottlieb cites four elements "of good listening:

 

  1. Attention—the focused perception of both visual and verbal stimuli
  2. Hearing—the physiological act of 'opening the gates to your ears'
  3. Understanding—assigning meaning to the messages received
  4. Remembering—the storing of meaningful information" ("Managing Group Process." Praeger, 2003)

 

He also cites four levels of listening: "acknowledging, sympathizing, paraphrasing, and empathizing. The four levels of listening range from passive to interactive when considered separately. However, the most effective listeners are able to project all four levels at the same time." That means they show they're paying attention, they show interest, and they convey they are working to understand the speaker's message.