Listening Skills (Paying Attention) - English Oral Skills Notes

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  • Listening is different from hearing. When you listen, you understand both the verbal and non verbal information.
  • Why should you listen? You listen:
    • To obtain information
    • To understand the message
    • For enjoyment
    • To learn
  • In this section, we shall learn the techniques of active listening.

Techniques of Paying Attention

In order to benefit from a talk as the listener, you should take note of the following key tips:

  1. keep an open mind. Listen without judging the speaker or mentally criticizing their message they pass. You just have to hold your criticism and withhold judgment.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the topic under discussion. Audience tend to listen more if they have idea of the topic being discussed. How then can one familiarize himself/ herself with the subject? They can do this by:
    1. Reading from the books.
    2. Reading from the internet.
    3. Asking for ideas from those who know.
  3. Use the speaker responses to encourage the speaker to continue speaking. You will also get the information you need if you do so. Some of the speaker responses we use include:
    1. Slightly nodding the head, but occasionally.
    2. Smile occasionally.
    3. Using small verbal comments like yes, uh huh, mmmh, I see, etc.
    4. Reflecting back e.g. you said …
  4. Take notes on the important points. This can in itself be a distractor. You should therefore know when to and when not to take notes.
  5. Listen for the main ideas. These are the most important points the speaker wants to get across and are repeated several times.
  6. Wait for the speaker to pause before asking a clarifying question. Just hold back.
  7. Avoid distractions. Don’t let your mind wander or be distracted by other people’s activities. If the room is too cold or too hot get the solution to that situation if possible.
  8. Sit properly. Sit upright
  9. Make eye contact with the speaker. when you do this you will be able to understand the non verbal messages too.

Signs of Inactive Audience

You can easily tell whether your audience listens or not. The inattentive listeners tend to posses the following characteristics:

  1. Fidgeting
  2. Doodling
  3. Playing with their hair
  4. Looking at a clock or watch
  5. Picking their fingernails
  6. Passing small pieces of paper to one another
  7. Shifting from seat to seat
  8. Yawning

Barriers to Effective Listening

There are many things that get in the way of listening and you should avoid these bad habits so as to become a more effective listener. These factors that inhibit active listening include;

  1. Lack of interest in the topic being discussed.
  2. Unfamiliarity with the topic under discussion.
  3. Fear. One might fear being asked a question and in the process fail to look at the speaker.
  4. Noise. In case of noise the listeners might not get what the speaker is saying.

Exercise 1

MwangiMwaniki, the author of one of the set text you study, is coming to your school to give a talk on the themes in his novel.

  1. How would you prepare for this big day?
  2. State what you would do to ensure you benefit from the talk during the presentation.
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