The Value of Listening.

In this highly screen-oriented world, are we losing the skill of listening?

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. 

Why I Love Audiobooks

I am a relatively recent convert to the audiobook experience. 

Before October last year, I had really only used audiobooks when teaching Shakespeare texts in high school, as it took the stress out of the actual reading for kids who weren’t sure how to approach or pronounce the parts of the language that were unfamiliar to them.  Beyond that, i had suggested them for people, especially kids, who weren’t keen on actually reading, or people who were sight impaired, or… you get my drift. They were always a good idea for someone else.

Of course, thinking of them in that way meant that I never really tried them out for myself. 

It was only when my own circumstances changed that I learned my lesson. Quite unexpectedly, I found myself recovering from emergency spinal surgery, spending a lot of time lying down, and unable to work for an expended period. I was in pain, forced to rest, and couldn’t really focus my eyes too well for some time.

On an impulse, I purchased an audiobook and found myself completely engrossed in the story. When it finished, I bought another. And another. I was hooked. 

The audiobooks I listened to during my recovery kept me company when I couldn’t sleep, and gave me something to think about other than the pain. They took me out of my hospital bed and carried me to different places. They gave my mind something to do when my body couldn’t do much at all. They were great for my mental health. And I really enjoyed them. 

Now, I listen to audiobooks on my commute to work each day, instead of getting steamed up over news and current affairs on the radio. I listen when I am resting, which I still need to do as my back is still healing. I often listen during my lunch break at work, which is actually much healthier than working straight through it as I have tended to do for most of my career. I listen while doing the dishes. 

Audiobooks have not replaced my reading time. I love reading books, and treasure the time I get to spend in them. That will never change. I’m a book nerd, through and through. Even a cursory glance at my Goodreads profile, Twitter feed or Book Squirrel blog will testify to that. 

Listening to audiobooks has also enabled me to add another dimension to my book blog, with audiobook reviews being added to the repertoire, along with Indie book reviews, author spotlights and interviews, and other bookish goodness. As I like to deliver varied and interesting content, that has been a bonus. 

Audiobooks have enhanced different times in my day when I can’t read, and made them more interesting and stimulating. They may not be for everyone, but adding some great listening time to my routine has been a positive and enjoyable development for me.