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Home Education Teaching/Learning Listening for Speaking

Listening for Speaking

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How much English do you listen in a day? Or, how many hours do you spend listening English per day?

No need to tell me if you don’t want to, but just think about it. How many hours do you spend listening English per day?

Many times, my friends complain to me that they are poor at speaking English and seek advice from me. Good! But then, I ask the same question to my friends: How many hours do you spend listening English per day? Then they realize that they don’t listen much, or not at all. Then, I tell them that listening is essential for speaking, that listening is the input and speaking is the output, and that you cannot speak if you don’t speak or don’t want to speak.


I would like to clarify my point with two questions:

Q1: Who are feral children? And

Q2: Who is a dumb?

The answers to these questions will clarify the importance of listening in learning a language.

Who are feral children? You may have heard or read about children abandoned or somehow left behind in the jungle at a very young age by their parents and brought up by chimpanzees, gorillas, or wolves. These children cannot speak human language but only growl and howl and make noises like animals. If they had learned any language before they were left out, they have now forgotten them all.

What does it tell us? It tells us that listening is the only way through which language is learned. It tells us that language is not natural but cultural. It tells us that it is not genetic, but it is inherited as a culture from one generation to another. Psychologists and linguists argue that even our thoughts are shaped and controlled by language. You cannot even think if you have no language.

Now to our next question: Who becomes a dumb? Or, how and why a child becomes dumb? In many cases, if a child has some disease of the ears and it cannot listen, then it becomes dumb. So, a deaf is a dumb. You may have noticed such children in your society. It means, without listening we cannot speak.

Now, try to relate this to learning English language. Again, two questions:

Q. No. 1: Were we feral children with regards to English language?

Q. No. 2: Were/Are we dumb with regards to English language?

Yes, and no, for both questions.

We surely were not feral children. We have been always with our family and society and we were never left in the jungle with animals.

But yes, we were feral children, in another sense. Our parents abandoned us for the most part of our day everyday for more than a decade in the jungle—our school. Maybe in that jungle we call school, our parents left us because they hoped that we can learn to speak and write English, but in that jungle there were only teachers who growled and howled English as they themselves knew no proper English language. So, we learnt just howling and growling English.

Now, to the next question: Were we deaf as children, so dumb? Are we deaf now? Yes. We were deaf because no one spoke to us in English. That is obvious, because English is not our mother tongue. But a deaf is not only the person who has problems with his or her ear but also the person who does not want to listen. Then, we are deaf and dumb due to our own choice. If being deaf and dumb to English is our own choice, we can change our choice and learn to listen and speak.

Nowadays, we can learn English much more easily in several ways. You can plug your earphones in your ears when you are in the bus while traveling to work or to college. For one thing, it helps you to learn English. For another, it avoids the anxiety and sometimes anger that arises within you when you begin to English. For another, it avoids the anxiety and sometimes anger that arises within you when you begin to think about the environment of the bus and the behavior of the driver and his or her assistant.

You can also listen to English even while doing your household chores or while walking. If you are reading a book or watching TV, then you cannot do other things. But even without active listening, if you have your ears plugged in with ears, the sounds go into your mind and you are getting the information. Another benefit of listening is that it does not cost anything. You can listen to the BBC FM radio through your mobile for free, or you can download podcasts from the Internet and listen from your iPod whenever and wherever you want.

In conclusion, listening is essential for speaking. Moreover, it is easy and cheap. It is not required that you understand each and every word and sentence or remember all the things you listened. But repetition is important. Listen to the same thing many times, you will gradually begin to understand.

Lastly, though, listening does not lead directly to speaking. Speaking is a separate but related skill. Like listening, speaking requires practice. Children who suffer from a disease called dyslogia cannot speak properly even though they can listen. I listened to English 10 hours per day for more than 10 years. It was my job. I was a medical transcriptionist, listening to doctors and typing what they said. But I think I don’t have good English speaking skills.


By Mahesh Raj Maharjan

The author is a researcher at Nepa School of Social Sciences and Humanities and is currently studying M. Phil. in Anthropology at T.U. He is also a freelance academic editor. E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Last Updated ( Saturday, 11 January 2014 13:00 )  

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