There are four main sets of skills that English teachers work to develop in their students: reading, writing, speaking and listening.
Over the past few years of my teaching career, I have observed that my students find listening much more difficult than the others.
I’m not talking about them showing respect or being quiet when I’m talking – most of them are pretty good at that, thankfully.
It’s the art of deliberate, intentional listening, focusing on what is heard and processing that kind of information, that people seem to struggle with.
I have offered my students audiobooks to help them with reading their set texts. Most of them aren’t interested in that— not even the struggling readers, who would really benefit from that kind of assistance in getting through a book. I have also offered them podcast episodes related to the books they are studying, and I don’t recall anyone taking up the offer.
Give them a YouTube clip, though, and they’re on it like flies at a barbecue.
Don’t get me wrong – those YouTube clips and TED Talks can be super helpful. My issue is that people – and it’s not just kids, I’m sure – are so oriented to screens and visuals and hooked on sensory overload that they’re losing the art of listening.
People these days frequently have music playing while they do other things – work, run, work out, eat, walk, shop, drive, clean the house, you name it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But do they ever really just stop everything else and just listen to something?
It is really healthy to turn off the “noise” of the world and the demands of a busy life and close your eyes to focus on what you can hear. You don’t even have to listen to anything in particular – it can be fascinating to see what you can hear when devices, TVs, and appliances are turned off and things are quiet, especially if you go outside.
In terms of listening material, there is so much available that is good to listen to beyond music or commercial radio. Audiobooks are fantastic, as I’ve observed in a previous post. There are podcasts on every imaginable subject, free of charge, just begging to be listened to. Listening to talkback radio is both informative and entertaining, if you can find a station or a show you really like.
Listening is such a valuable skill. It enriches life in so many ways. It builds relationships, enhances learning, develops understanding of the world and the different people in it, provides entertainment, aids relaxation and soothes the soul.
If we would all just turn off the screens, close our eyes, and open our ears more, we’d be a lot better off.