To listen is to learn

Smita Sharma

A good listener always has the chance of acquiring more knowledge and also to be able to succeed later in life. If teachers can understand what it takes to be a good listener, then they can in turn make students good and productive listeners.

Listening intently to another person can send the following positive signals:
_ you are important to me
_ you are saying something worth hearing
_ you are really an interesting person

We spend years learning how to read and write but there is not even one period for improving listening skills in school. People think that listening is natural and that they do not have to learn it. Some think it is like breathing. This is sad since listening is primarily responsible for many problems we have with each other. Normally, we speak at an average speed of 150 words per minute but our mind with its billions of cells can process almost a thousand per minute. Managing this excess brain capacity is the clue to effective listening.

It is more important for teachers to teach students how to listen better rather than expect them to listen more. In order to listen meaningfully, one should acquire a set of unique skills. The ability to listen is a complex combination of many listening-related behaviours, which when honed, improve one’s listening skills. One can be sure that a student has listened well if he or she is able to hear the message, interpret the meaning of it and is able to respond well to the questions asked from it.

Encouraging good listening
Teachers can encourage good listening and make students good listeners and learners by following a few steps:

  • Train students to make sense of the facts as they listen so that it translates into meaningful information. Otherwise the facts can be easily forgotten.
  • In the class, students should be encouraged to write brief notes after listening to the lesson taught. This is for primary and higher grade children. Pre-primary children could be asked questions about what they have understood. This will train them to listen attentively.
  • Ask students many probing questions that encourage better thinking, and provide them a variety of listening experiences from different sources that enable them to become active listeners and improve their learning capabilities.
  • Encourage them to enrich their vocabulary because the extent of understanding while listening or recognition of the message from the speaker also depends on the accumulated and stored vocabulary.
  • As Abraham Lincoln once emphasized in a letter to his son’s teacher – “Teach him to listen to all men…, but teach him also to filter
    all he hears on a screen of truth,
    and take only the good
    that comes through.”

In this regard there are four simple things you should check in yourself as you listen to someone:

Eye contact: What is appropriate here differs from culture to culture but with your eyes establish contact with the speaker. Not to look at the other person is impolite and a way of manifesting lack of concern and interest.

Posture: While there is no dictionary of body language – so many factors are involved such as culture, relationship, situation – we do speak with our bodies. For example, If we sit leaning slightly forward, it is a sign of interest.

Gesture: Natural gestures as you listen can increase the speaker’s sense of being heard and accepted.

Paraphrasing: Paraphrasing is restating the speaker’s thoughts but in fewer words. It adds nothing new, changes no direction, asks no question but summarizes the speaker’s thoughts and feelings and informs how well they have been understood.

The best way to talk to a disturbed person is to listen. Talking is only one of the many ways of sharing. A touch, gesture, a tone, shrug, a wink or a smile – these and other signs and symbols are so much more communicative.

Listening is powerful and affirmative. Hardly anything is more healing, more calming, more nourishing, more loving. A decision to listen is really a decision to love, and we all know how powerful love is.


  • Hearing is not listening, hearing does not make communication; listening does.
  • Listening must take place at two levels: the level of words and the level of feelings. We are constantly speaking the language of feeling but rarely listening at that level.
  • You can’t listen to another unless you are listening to yourself.
  • Arguing is the end of listening.
  • Avoiding interruption would be a great leap forward.

The author is a pre-primary teacher at KD Ambani Vidyamandir. She can be reached at

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