Listening is known to be a complex process and as such can be defined in numerous ways, depending on the salience of a particular aspect of the process to the “definer”.   Here are some examples of definitions given by experts in various disciplines. 

ArchitectureAn innovative and generative practice,  a strategy of engagement that we employ deliberately to explore a different landscape other than the one framed by vision’
Audiology An active process, requiring us first to pay attention to, then process selected auditory stimuli, while ignoring other auditory information. 
Interpersonal Communication behavior enacted by an individual in the service of communicating and interacting with others. 
Language Learning The primary modality that enables speech perception as the basis for language learning. 
Linguistics How people understand spoken language, conceptualized as a complex process that involves both bottom-up (literal) and top-down (inferential) processes   
Management and Leadership A relational construct that involves understanding the expressed idea and attitude from another person’point of view 
Media StudiesA means of engagement with media and the ways in which we can engage with each other through media  
Musicology Analytical mode of information processing performed by listener, how we hear organized sound intensities, pitches, timbres, and durations. 
Philosophy A cognitive activity that serves the epistemic goal of advancing knowledge that does not require interaction with other agents. 
Psychology The intentional selection organization and integration of verbal and nonverbal information provided in oral and/ or audio communication
Sound Studies The primary way that humans experience sound. 


MR:  Constructing meaning through conscious attention to a source.


• Which of these definitions most appeal to you?  Why? 

• Which surprised you (that is, you’ve never considered the way it is defined)?  Why? 

• How would you define listening in relation to your own profession — language teaching?  

About The Author

, Defining listening , Lateral Communications
Michael Rost, principal author of Pearson English Interactive, has been active in the areas of language teaching, learning technology and language acquisition research for over 25 years. His interest in bilingualism and language education began in the Peace Corps in West Africa and was fuelled during his 10 years as an educator in Japan and extensive touring as a lecturer in East Asia and Latin America. Formerly on the faculty of the TESOL programs at Temple University and the University of California, Berkeley, Michael now works as an independent researcher, author, and speaker based in San Francisco.

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