We may think that we’re listening to the other person, but in fact, we are not really giving them our full focus and attention. Active listening has many benefits when applied to language learning such as helping to develop our pronunciation of foreign words, improved recall, and memory that will help build vocabulary and better cultural understanding.
When you deeply listen to what another person is trying to say it makes them feel special and valued. When you clear your mind and provide full and complete attention to the speaker it is called active listening. Active listening builds rapport, understanding, and trust. It’s a proven psychological technique normally used in therapy sessions.
Active listening is classed as a soft skill that involves fully concentrating on what is being said rather than being overly passive. It’s not just about remembering the content and context of what someone is sharing with you but actively seeking to understand the complete message in depth.
People often are very selective about what they hear and often in conversations it’s what they ‘want’ to hear rather than what has been said. People tend to focus on just a few keywords of a conversation and then add their own meaning to it based on personal biases, opinions, and values. So much valuable time and energy is wasted in preparing to respond rather than giving full, undivided attention to the speaker.
Want to become a better language learner? You need to become a better listener first.
1. Minimise internal and external distractions.
Meet in a library or if chatting online do what you can to minimise external distractions. Before having a conversation in your target language write down any worries and clear your head. Simple mindfulness techniques can be really useful. Really focus on what the other person is saying. Watch the movements of their mouth. This will really help with your own pronunciation of words. Don’t allow other thoughts or sounds to sway your concentration if they do try to bring yourself back to this current moment and current conversation.
2. Focus on the content and Context of the conversation.
Focus on any specific words the other person is saying. Each phrase and word choice is something interesting that you should be taking note of and if you don’t understand then make sure you say so. What is being discussed? Are there any common themes? Watch body language to put the conversation into context. there is a big advantage to face-to-face conversations as even if you don’t fully understand what is being said you could gain clues from body language.
3. Focus on tone.
Vocal tones can tell us if someone is joking, being serious or just annoyingly sarcastic. Depending on the language think about how vocal tones can imply one’s feelings. Although Chinese is a tonal language so be aware how tones come across on a cultural level.
4. Focus on emotions.
The more that you follow and amplify the person’s emotions, the more likely they are to feel understood and the deeper the conversation will be, which is great and it may take you out of your comfort zone and really encourage the building of more advanced vocabulary.
5. Focus on body language and eye contact.
A lot of our communication is non-verbal, but as previously mentioned this is excellent as it can help you read between the lines of a conversation. They will be able to see if you are struggling to understand at any point and vs verser.
6. Learn simple ‘filling words’ and accept silences.
Learning some simple ‘filling’ words can really pad out conversations and confirms to the speaker that you are really listening to them. Even small things like, “yes,” “si,” “oui” “D’accord”. Don’t be afraid of natural silences occurring. We often feel the need to fill them due to our own discomfort. However, some moments of silence can actually build rapport and encourage reflection on the conversation, which will help your brain to better process the information.
7. Ask open-ended questions to encourage deeper conversation.
When learning a language it may be tempting to answer questions that could get a yes or no response. Get out of your comfort zone and ask open-ended questions that will encourage deeper conversation and mean you will really be putting your active listening skills to the test.
8. Ask closed-ended questions to slow down the conversation.
Starting to feel a little overwhelmed with the depth of the conversation or then you may need to slow down the pace with simple yes or no questions. Close-ended questions may also be great for clarifying points that you might not have fully understood.
9. Offer compliments.
When you are learning a language ensure that you learn how to compliment others. Compliments can really encourage and motivate people with their language learning. Instead of saying, “you are doing well,” focus on the other person and tell them “You should be really proud of the progress you are making.”
10. Listen more than you talk!
Learning a language also means you need to understand what is being said. So by listening more, you are improving your ability to understand.
Bonus Tip: Don’t worry about making mistakes. People are more likely to remember the way you make them feel rather than what was said during the conversation. Mistakes can actually help build greater rapport and lead to some potentially hilarious moments.
Start applying these simple, yet very effective listening techniques to your next conversation to help you become more fluent in your target language.