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What is Listening?

Listening is a broad term used to refer to complex affective, cognitive, and behavioral processes. Affective processes include the motivation to attend to others; cognitive processes include attending to, understanding, receiving, and interpreting content and relational messages; and behavioral processes include responding with verbal and nonverbal feedback.

Listening differs from obeying. Parents may commonly conflate the two, by telling a disobedient child that he “didn’t listen to me”. A person who receives and understands information or an instruction, and then chooses not to comply with it or to agree to it, has listened to the speaker, even though the result is not what the speaker wanted.

In language learning[edit]
Along with speaking, reading, and writing, listening is one of the “four skills” of language learning. All language teaching approaches except for grammar-translation incorporate a listening component.[5] Some teaching methods, such as Total Physical Response, involve students simply listening and responding.[6]

A distinction is often made between “intensive listening”, in which learners attempt to listen with maximum accuracy to a relatively brief sequence of speech, and “extensive listening”, in which learners listen to lengthy passages for general comprehension. While intensive listening may be more effective in terms of developing specific aspects of listening ability, extensive listening is more effective in building fluency and maintaining learner motivation.[7]

A Brief History of Listening Research in Communication Studies
Because of its inherent applicability to a range of life settings, listening is a topic of interest that spans the academic landscape. Within Communication Studies, the history of listening research in many ways parallels the history of the discipline.[9] Over time, conceptualizations have shifted from representations of listening as a simple, passive activity, to a more active mode of information processing similar in many respects to reading, to a complex phenomenon that can be studied from several theoretical points of view. Table 1 presents a sample of the definitions of listening generated over the last 100 years. The following sections trace the evolution of defining listening from early conceptualizations driven by a linear model of communication to more contemporary conceptualizations that stress behavior in context.

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