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Topic Active

3 Listening Skills

By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1. List down the benefits of active listening;
2. Propose suggestions for improving listening skills;
3. Identify a speakerÊs intended/implicit message;
4. Describe emotive and persuasive language used by the speaker; and
5. Identify bias and stereotype in messages.

This topic aims to equip you with the skills required for successful listening in
academic and non-academic contexts. Besides tips for enhancing listening, the
topic has activities to help you identify speakersÊ intent, and to use of emotive
and persuasive language. You will also learn to detect speaker bias and
stereotyping in messages, as well as listen for sheer enjoyment.


Active listening refers to ways of listening attentively and responding to another
person so as to improve mutual understanding. When people talk to each other,
they often do not listen carefully. They are sometimes distracted and thinking
about something else. In an argumentative situation, they assume that they have
heard what their opponent is saying, so rather than pay attention, they focus on
how they can respond to win the argument.

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In active listening, the listener must take care to attend to the speaker fully and
then interpret or try to make sense of what is heard (Figure 3.1). The listener does
not have to agree with the speaker but needs to understand the message or
content being conveyed. If the listener does not understand clearly, then he or
she needs to ask for clarification or further explanation from the speaker.

Often, the listener is encouraged to interpret the speakerÊs words not only
semantically but also in terms of feelings. Thus, instead of just receiving what is
heard, active listeners need to pay attention to psychological elements coming
across with the message(s), such as whether the speaker is angry, frustrated,
happy or unsure of what is being addressed. This will add to the overall
comprehension of the messages being heard.

Figure 3.1: Listening

Source: tickledbylife.com

Active listening has several benefits:

(a) It enables people to listen attentively to others;

(b) It prevents misunderstanding as people have to confirm that they really

understand what the speaker has said; and

(c) It encourages the speaker to explain more because he/she feels that you are
really attuned to his/her concerns and wants to listen.


Active listening enhances your oral communication skills. Fortunately, it is a skill
that can be acquired. Below are some tips for active listening:

(a) Focus on the Message

Think about what the speaker is saying and do not let your attention stray.

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(b) Anticipate What the Speaker Wants to Say

Try to figure out where the speaker is going and what the next point is. This
may be easy with some speakers who are well organised and who present
their points clearly. However, most speakers are not that organised, and
that may make the work of the listener difficult. If you are interested in
getting the main details, you may have to do the organising yourself.

(c) Identify Main and Supporting Points

Begin by breaking what is said into main points and supporting points.
Most speakers repeat themselves. As a listener, your task is to distinguish
important details from the supporting ones. The speaker sometimes helps
you to make the distinction by emphasising a point with voice cues or
repeating it several times, or telling you that this is a key point to note.

(d) Check for Bias

Ask yourself questions about the speakerÊs sources and their validity. Do
you find the evidence convincing, complete, valid or logical?

(e) Listen between the Lines

To listen effectively, one has to listen to two „channels‰ at the same time. The
first channel is the content of the speech, the words the speaker is saying and
the topic itself. The second channel refers to all the non-verbal signals the
speaker is sending while talking, such as the tone of voice, gestures and facial
expressions. The second channel tells you about the speakerÊs feelings and
gives you a great deal of information on how to distinguish the main
details of the speech. Both verbal and non-verbal elements are important to
understand fully what the speaker is putting across. Listen for the feelings of
the speaker as you listen to his words. This is called listening between the
lines. It is a difficult task and takes a great deal of sensitivity and patience as
people have numerous ways to hide their feelings.

(f) Minimise Distractions

In active listening, it is important not to get distracted easily. These
distractions come from:

(i) Within us, such as when we daydream;

(ii) Our surroundings and environment such as noise, people talking,

temperature of the room, etc; and

(iii) The speaker. We are sometimes distracted by a speakerÊs accent, style,

dressing, language, etc.

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Although it is difficult to fight off distractions, you need to train yourself to

ignore them. Besides the physical aspects of the speaker or environment
that may disturb your concentration, you may react also to certain
emotionally loaded words or trigger words. If you can identify these words,
you can try to reduce the impact when you hear them.


Audio 3.1: Chocolate Chip Cookies

You are making cookies for the first time. Listen to the instructions
below on how to make Chocolate Chip Cookies. Then complete the
following exercise.

(a) Listen to Audio 3.1.
(b) Answer the following questions to check your understanding.

Based on the audio recording to which you have listened, circle the
correct answer:

1. Which of the following is not an ingredient in the recipe?

A. Brown sugar
B. Oat bran
C. Butter
D. Baking soda

2. At what temperature should the oven be set?

A. 357 F
B. 375 F
C. 400 F
D. 450 F

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3. When do you add in the vanilla and egg?

A. After stirring in the flour, salt and baking soda.
B. After adding in the chocolate chips and chopped nuts.
C. Once the sugar, margarine, and shortening are light and
D. Once all ingredients have been mixed well.

4. Which of the following statements is true?

A. Do not grease the cookie sheets.
B. Bake the cookies for half an hour.
C. Remove cookies immediately from baking sheet.
D. The recipe makes 30 cookies.

5. How do you place the dough onto the baking sheet?

A. Shape the soft dough with your fingers and place onto the
baking sheet.
B. Use a teaspoon to scoop the dough onto the baking sheet.
C. Drop the dough onto the baking sheet using a fork.
D. Lightly drop the mixture onto a baking sheet with a dessert

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In active listening, it is sometimes necessary to predict where a speaker is going
or will say next. There are certain cue words that can help us identify this.

For instance, in a lecture, phrases such as „Today, IÊm going to talk about ⁄‰,
„Firstly⁄‰, and „My point is that ⁄‰ offer clues as to how the speaker is going
to structure the talk (Figure 3.2).

Figure 3.2: When listening to a talk, pay attention to words that tell us where the speaker
is trying to lead us


How can we tell what a speaker intends to say next or what meaning
the speaker intends to convey?

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Let us do the following activities to help you become aware of this skill.


Audio 3.2: Genetic Engineering


(a) Listen to the talk which has been divided into four parts. For
each part, there are questions to help you with your listening.

(b) Take notes using the speakerÊs signals to help you.

(c) Use the outline guide.

(d) Then, read the transcript and underline the specific signal words
in the talk.

(e) Answer the questions at the end of the talk.

Genetic Engineering Part I

My talk today will be on genetic engineering. IÊm going to

analyse the positive and negative sides of genetic engineering.
First, let me explain what genetic engineering is. I think we are
all aware that the study of genetics today is so far advanced that
we shall soon be able to produce a kind of genetically perfect
„superhuman‰, using techniques known as genetic engineering.
Well, at first, this may seem an attractive possibility but when
we consider it in detail, we find there are many problems


1. What do you think the speaker will talk about next?

2. Can you guess the speakerÊs attitude towards the topic at this

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Genetic Engineering Part II

What might some of these problems be? A distinction is usually

made between negative and positive genetic engineering. In
negative genetic engineering, we try to get rid of harmful genes
to produce genetically normal people. The aim is, of course, a
desirable one; however, it does pose the problem of what a
harmful gene is. Now⁄ genes are not really „good‰ or „bad‰.
The gene which causes certain forms of anaemia, for example,
can also protect against malaria. So, if we eliminate this gene,
we may eliminate anaemia but we increase the risk of malaria.


1. Which statement describes the speakerÊs attitude?

2. What are some signal words or phrases, e.g. to signal listing ideas
or examples, definition, caution, or reminder?

Genetic Engineering Part III

OK ⁄ and now ⁄ the other point is ⁄ in positive genetic

engineering we try to create better people by developing the
so-called „good‰ genes. But although this form of genetic
engineering will give us greater control over mankindÊs future,
there are several reasons for caution.

First, there is the possibility of mistakes. While accepting that

geneticists are responsible people, we must also admit that
things can go wrong, the result being the kind of monster
we read about in horror stories. Secondly, there is the problem
of deciding what makes a „better‰ person. We may feel, for
example, that if genetic engineering can create more intelligent
people, then this is a good thing. On the other hand, intelligence
does not necessarily lead to happiness. Do we really want to
create people who are intelligent, but perhaps unhappy?

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1. How many problems are there as mentioned by the speaker?
2. Do you detect a sceptical tone in the speakerÊs voice?
3. What are the signal words found in this part of the talk?
4. What do you think the speaker will speak on next?

Genetic Engineering Part IV

In sum, then ⁄ the basic question is whether or not we should

interfere with human life. We can argue that much human
progress (particularly in medicine) involves interference with
life. Well, to some extent, this is true but we should not forget
the terrible consequences genetic engineering can have.
Consider, for example, the possibilities of genetic warfare, in
which our enemies try to harm us by using the techniques of
genetic engineering ⁄ think about that.

In the talk, the speaker expresses some reservations about genetic

engineering. What are these reservations? Complete the notes below.

Point Reservations
1. Producing „superhumans‰ is 1. Many problems
an attractive possibility. involved.
2. The aim of negative genetic
2. ⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄
engineering is desirable.
3. ⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄ 3. Several reasons for
⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄ caution.

4. Geneticists ⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄
4. ⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄
are responsible people.
5. Creating more intelligent
5. ⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄
people is a good thing.
6. Much progress involves
6. ⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄⁄

Adapted from: Johnson, K. (1981). Communicate in writing.

Essex: Longman.

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So far, you have seen how language can be used to convey information.
Language is also used to convince and to persuade. Thus, the ability to detect the
objective and precise use of language is just as important as being able to identify
language which appeals to the emotions because this could influence our
decisions on various matters in life. Listening for emotive and persuasive use of
language by speakers is an important skill.

Sometimes, speakers use words not just to convey information but also to
persuade listeners. The words are chosen for their emotive force or their impact
on a listenerÊs feelings, desires and needs. Emotive language reveals a speakerÊs
attitude and feelings towards the subject and persuades the listener to feel the
same rather than increases the listenerÊs knowledge of the subject.

Figure 3.3: Emotive speaker

Source: live.psu.edu

Good speakers often use emotive words to arouse feelings and emotions in us
(Figure 3.3). It is thus important to be able to detect the use of emotive and
persuasive language in speaches and in daily conversations so that we can be
objective, precise and fair in our judgment of the message conveyed.

Let us do the following activities to practise detecting the use of emotive


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Listen to the audio for the following activities on advertisements. Read
the transcripts.

Audio 3.3: Advertisement for a Home

Charming, cozy three-bedroom double-storey in an older
neighbourhood, big and spacious rooms, exquisite imported tiles,
highly modern kitchen, new roof, garage, affordable price, needs
some tender loving care.

Audio 3.4: Personal Advertisement

Female, mature, petite, attractive, spiritual, intelligent, business
professional, occasional drinker, enjoys quiet evenings, serious
movies, and long novels.

Audio 3.5: Advertisement for a Baby Sitter

Mature female, home-maker, no own children, loves children,
provides food, wash and iron babyÊs clothes, warm and loving,
weekends too.

1. Identify the emotive language used.
2. Which terms are manipulative and which are appropriate?


Listening for the use of biased language and stereotyping in speech is another
important skill. As a critical listener, you need to be aware of the use of such
language in order to be able to make an objective and fair judgment of the
message you are hearing.

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Audio 3.6: Travelling in Italy

Listen to Audio 3.6 about a talk on travelling in Italy.
1. Fill in the blanks with the missing nouns.
2. Read the text again, and identify words or phrases which you think
contains biased language.
3. Discuss your answers with your friends or tutor.

Travelling in Italy

If you think the traffic in your country is terrible, consider this.

I was travelling in _________ once and I remembered the _________
fed to me by my friends who travelled to Italy before me. I was
told that the _________ are very relaxed about many things.
_________ in Italy can be bent at anytime, provided you can afford
to pay for the _________. I heard too that the Italians are
unsystematic and disorganised in many ways. But of course, this is
a _________. IÊm sure there are some Italians who are the _________.
Anyway, I remember an _________ when I was there with a
_________ of my English _________ and we were driving round
one of those seaside _________ on the _________, looking for a
_________. Eventually, we found a _________, so we stopped and
asked him for _________. The policeman decided that he would
accompany us to the restaurant, so I climbed into the _________, he
got into the _________, and we set off. At the end of the
_________ we came to a set _________, which were red. Naturally,
our _________ came to a halt, waiting for the lights to turn green.
At this point, the policeman turned to the driver, removed his
Rayban sunglasses and, with obvious bewilderment, asked him
what he thought he was doing. By way of _________, the driver
pointed at the red traffic light. The policeman made a series of
dismissive _________, replaced his _________, and said, „Nonsense!
If everybody behaved like this the traffic would come to a
complete standstill. Move on! Avanti!‰ So, now I am convinced the
Italians are an easy-going _________.

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Listening skills are not just required for serious, formal, and academic purposes.
We depend much on our listening skills during our leisure time. Even while
driving the car, we need our listening skills to be able to listen to and appreciate
what we hear on the radio. Listening for pleasure includes listening to songs,
poems, and other aesthetic and enjoyable materials that we indulge in in our
daily lives (Figure 3.4).

Listening in these situations requires active listening skills, too. For example,
when listening to songs, we need to listen to the lyrics against the background of
music. Knowing the words in a song provides us with additional pleasure,
allowing us to relate to the images and connotations which the lyrics trigger.

Figure 3.4: Listening to music

Source: mentalmirage.com


Instructions: Audio 3.7 Si Tenggang

Listen to Audio 3.7 (recitation of the poem entitled Si Tenggang).

1. Identify the tone, themes, and moral values found in the poem.

2. In your own words, describe the content of the poem.

3. What are some literary devices used in the poem, e.g. metaphor,
alliteration, symbol, personification, etc.?

4. Did you like the poem? Why?

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Active listening refers to listening attentively and responding to another

person so as to improve mutual understanding.

Active listening requires us to stay focused on the speaker and the topic.

Implicit listening involves trying to understand what the speaker is saying

and what is to be said next.

The use of emotive and persuasive language may influence us in various

aspects such as decision making.

In order to make fair judgment of what we hear, we should be able to identify

the use of biased language and stereotyping in the speakerÊs message.

Active listening Implicit

Bias Persuasive language
Emotive language Speaker intention

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