You Can Improve Your Listening Skills

I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.  — Ernest Hemingway

It is only through listening that you learn, and I never want to stop learning.
 Drew Barrymore

Listening is both a social skill and a study skill

Some people are better at one or the other. When you listen to a friend talking, how much will you remember an hour later or the next day?  If you are a good listener, you should remember close to half of it. You might need to focus harder on what your friend is saying – not rehearsing what you want to say next.

How much could you remember after listing to a ten minute lecture, let’s say on World History?

Dr. Ralph Nichols says ” at the end of a 10-minute lecture, most college freshmen will have retained only half of it. Then, 48 hours later they will have forgotten half of what they did remember.” (from
Students remember an even smaller percent when listening to an hour-long lecture.

What causes such a problem? What can be done about it?

What Causes this problem?

1. Students come to class unprepared.

2. Students are not interested in learning.

3. Students are distracted by conversation, cell phone texting, and members of the opposite sex.

4. Students never learned how to listen.


1. You can learn to listen if you really want to. The problem is the “wanting.” If the lecture was about ten ways to get a date – many more people would be listening, perhaps taking careful notes, and they would remember.

When you come to a lecture, you usually begin by getting out your notebook and pen. You might look back over your notes for the previous lecture. But you need to do more. You need to prepare mentally, thinking that you have come to learn and that you are going to learn everything you possibly can from this lecture.

The student in the picture has come to class ready to listen. He wants to learn as much as he can. He is prepared to take notes. You can learn to be a good listener too.

Remember how much you and your family have paid for you to attend college and take this class. Remember what you paid for your book. If you can’t convince yourself you really want to learn, at least ask if you plan to get your money’s worth.

2. Come to class prepared to learn. You should have read the assignment ahead of time, You should have taken time to think it over and to prepare a list of questions. Decide that you really are eager to learn answers to your questions. Think about how exciting this class is. Think about the rest of your life. You are about to learn something that you probably will never again have a chance to learn.

3. Be wide awake and alert when you come to class. If you are tired, a small snack might help. You might also go to the restroom and splash water on your face. If your previous class was in the same building, a quick walk in the fresh air can be a big help.

4. Get to class early. You can select a seat where you are less likely to be distracted. This often means a seat near the front. You won’t be distracted by watching other students. Students near the front are less likely to be talking to each other or texting.

5. Sit up straight rather than slouching. In fact, leaning forward just a little makes you appear eager to learn and it always makes you more mentally prepared to learn.

6. Be really interested in the lecture. “But?” you ask. “What if I’m not interested?” You probably know that when you feel sad, the simple act of smiling will actually make you feel happier. The same is true here. If you have to fake interest, that’s fine. Sit up straight, watch the teacher’s face, nod occasionally. Act like this is the most interesting subject you know of. And, if you’re a fairly good actor or actress, you will find that it’s lot more interesting than you thought.

7. Stop your mind from wandering. But how can you do that? Just telling yourself firmly that you intend to pay full attention and take good notes makes a real difference. You can also pinch yourself or something similar every time you catch yourself not paying attention.Taking notes, even if the material is familiar can help keep your mind on the subject. A trick I found helpful was to pretend that I would be tested on the material at the end of class. Sure, I knew I was pretending, but it helped. I think it gave me a little jolt of adrenaline.

8. Do not be distracted by the professor’s appearance or strange accent. This person was assigned to teach this class because of his or her knowledge in the area. It is your goal to learn as much as possible.

9. Focus on the main ideas. Ask yourself what you are hearing that is new to you. If the material is confusing, it means you need to work harder to understand it. Do not quit. You might write notes about what you don’t understand and, if you still don’t understand by the end of class, you might ask the professor to go over it again. Ask a classmate to explain it.  Check your textbook and other references like the Internet. If you are still confused, talk to the professor in his office to ask for help.Good listening and good note-taking go together.

10. Turn your cellphone OFF  before the lecture or class begins.

To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, completely and freely, to what is before us, not  really knowing what we’ll hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.    — Mark Nego

I think the one lesson I have learned is that there is no substitute for listening.
Diane Sawyer

This entry was posted in Learning Skills. Bookmark the permalink.