TeachingEnglish
Five types of listening

This blog post is an extension of my teaching sessions at MICELT where I teach some fifty plus newly appointed English tutors of different Myanmar universities. As part of the 'How to teach listening?' module we were discussing about types of listening and came across a distinction made by Wolvin and Coakely in 1996 (cited in Goh, 2002). They identified five types of listening according to the purpose of listening.

These five types are:

  • Discriminative Listening
  • Comprehensive Listening
  • Therapeutic Listening
  • Critical Listening and
  • Appreciative Listening.

Let's look at them one by one.

Discriminative listening is where the objective is to distinguish sound and visual stimuli. This objective doesn't take into account the meaning; instead the focus is largely on sounds. In a basic level class this can be as simple as distinguishing the gender of the speaker or the number of the speakers etc. As mentioned before the focus is not on comprehending; but on accustoming the ears to the sounds. If one thinks s/he can see that this is where L1 listening begins - the child responds to sound stimulus and soon can recognise its parents' voices amidst all other voices. Depending on the level of the students, the listening can be discriminating sounds to identifying individual words.

Then there is Comprehensive listening where the focus is on 'understanding the message'. The writers consider this as the basis for the next three types of listening. However, the problem can come in the form of 'understanding'. Depending on many factors (both individual and social) students can end up understanding the same message in different, different ways. Lot of work in teaching listening in the classroom has to happen here in facilitating the students to develop their comprehension skills.

The third one - Therapeutic listening - is one kind of listening where the listener's role is to be a sympathetic listener without much verbal response. In this kind of listening the listener allows somebody to talk through a problem. This kind of listening is very important in building good interpersonal relations.

Critical listening is the fourth kind of listening where listeners have to evaluate the message. Listeners have to critically respond to the message and give their opinion.

The final one is Appreciative listening where the focus is on enjoying what one listens. Here my students raised the point that when they listen to English music, even if they don't understand, they still enjoy thereby challenging the notion of comprehensive listening as the basis for other three types of listening. Then we reflected on the practice of listening to songs in the language lab. Generally my students listen to the songs once and try to make out the lyrics before listening a second time with the lyrics. Then they recalled that they appreciated the song better during the second time and were able to see the relation between how one would enjoy something that s/he is able to make sense of.

In this way the discussion of the five types of listening turned out to be quite informative and thought provoking for all underscoring the adage when one teaches two learn.

Hope this posting helped you too.

Works Cited

Goh, C. C. (2002). Teaching listening in the language classroom. Singapore: SEAMEO Regional Language Centre.

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