Listening occupies the most significant portion of our everyday communication. The research of Burley-Allen shows that more than forty percent of our everyday communication we do through listening. We learn English mainly for communication but it is interesting to note that our education system virtually puts less emphasis on listening skill.
The lack of listening skills is a major challenge in the classrooms. It is the cornerstone for developing interpersonal relationships and yet it is one of the most neglected language skills in teaching. It is the other half of good verbal skills. It completes the cycle of communication and it begins as early as two years of age. Good listeners are often some of the best speakers because they have taken the time to find out what people are truly interested in. If you understand what is important to people then you understand how to reach them.
Through the normal course of a day listening is used nearly twice as much as speaking and four to five times as much as reading and writing. A good listener is not only popular everywhere but after a while he gets to know something. Listening enables meaningful learning and satisfying interactions to take place. There are four language arts: The two of them are expressional ones such as speaking and writing and the two are understanding ones and they are listening and reading. Nature has given us two ears but one mouth, because listening is twice as hard as talking.
Traditionally the silent class is liked by all and the teacher takes the credit when his//her class maintains pin-drop silence. Even though some young trained teachers try to engage the students in the class to develop their English using various sorts of practices, after a certain time they give up the practice to join with the silent group.
In spite of these vivid facts why listening receives less importance? First of all our examinations don’t contain any portion on listening test. The culture of silence is appreciated by all. The educational authorities, committees and societies prefer a silent class whereas a language class must be dominated by the learners meaning a noisy class. Traditionally the silent class is liked by all and the teacher takes the credit when his//her class maintains pin-drop silence. Even though some young trained teachers try to engage the students in the class to develop their English using various sorts of practices, after a certain time they give up the practice to join with the silent group.
Our English For Today textbooks of various classes contain several chapters dedicated to practicing listening skills in the classroom but the teachers particularly non-trained teachers don’t know the facts well. Even the trained teachers also don’t bother about practicing them in the classroom showing some pleas. In the EFT of class six there are eight, in class seven EFT ten, eight EFT contains eleven and for higher secondary EFT textbook contains eighteen listening comprehensions.
Teachers can easily use these comprehensions even though they don’t have cassette players in their schools/colleges. They themselves can read them out and ask the students to do the exercises. As our national examination or any internal exams of the school or college don’t put any emphasis on listening skills, these comprehensions are not practiced in the classrooms.
It is the duty of the teachers to make the students convinced that they are learning English not for passing the examinations only but for making effective communication in real life. For making good scores in the TOEFL and IELTS tests the candidates’ listening test attaches great importance and these tests are absolutely necessary for getting admission in overseas universities.
There are some important techniques to be followed when listening practice goes on. Teachers must make the learners familiar with these techniques. They are– Stay quiet, face the person, show you understand and think about what the person is saying. Look directly at the talker when listening or talking takes place. Eye contact is spontaneous, relaxed but serious. Lean your body forward slightly when you listen someone. Relaxed but attentive posture should be exposed while listening.
Affirming head nods and appropriate smiling are parts of good listening. Expressions to match the mood of the talker stand as an important technique. Reading the feelings of the speaker by listening to and watching carefully to what has been said and the way in which it was said. The listener responds by reflecting some of the feelings the speaker expressed. Always have good eye contact by getting down on their level while talking. Try to speak about an interesting or favorite topic.
Good listening is a two way street, it requires give and take between teachers and students. In too many schools, there is a minimum of simple adult-child conversations and discussions. Students learn respect and consideration for others when their ideas receive attention. In turn, this leads to improved listening skills. Like many things, becoming a good listener needs practice, information and directions.
Teachers should not expect children to listen to them if the teachers rarely listen to them. This may require stopping a moment when a child has something exciting, important or even upsetting to tell a teacher.
Teachers tend to pay much attention to such things as ‘beginning sounds’ or ‘alphabet sound’ but they rarely give students practice in ‘sequential auditory skills’ a sequence of auditory skills that can improve anyone’s listening skills. After sixth grade, children’s listening skills deteriorate unless practice continues. That is why a variety of activities to maintain efficiency in listening is essential throughout the educational process. In sixth grade, as well as afterwards, students need more active than passive listening. Active pursuits within the educational process tend to keep students interest in school.
Teachers should not expect children to listen to them if the teachers rarely listen to them. This may require stopping a moment when a child has something exciting, important or even upsetting to tell a teacher. It is now the imperative of the time to develop the listening ability of the learners. How we can do that? First we should advice them to listen to radio and TV news in English, watch English moves, listen to their friends who speak English and avail any kind of opportunity to listen to English speaking. In the classroom we must remember that listening is a ‘give and take policy’ between the teachers and learners.
When a teacher listens to the students, firstly it means students get the scope to practice speaking and secondly they will be ready to listen to that teacher. Thus a meaningful language practice takes place in the class where the teacher pays attention to students’ speaking. The practice of one skill is related to developing other skills as well.
Masum Billah: Program Manager, BRAC Education Program, PACE and Vice-President: Bangladesh English Language Teachers Association (BELTA), Dhaka, Bangladesh.