How to Develop Listening and Note-taking Skills

According to experts, the ability to listen well is essential to learning. Experts also claim that listening is a basic form of communication and is necessary to a successful dialogue. In most areas of education, listening is emphasized as a basic element in all forms of communication and is just as important as the other communicative activities including talking, reading, and writing. In fact, according to a research, when adults engage in communication, listening takes up the biggest portion of the time—an average of 45%, while only 30% is spent on speaking, 16% on reading, and 9% on writing (Adler, 2001 in Listening Skills, n.d.). This shows how important listening is in the process of communication.

What are the benefits of listening well? According to experts, listening results in better and more meaningful communication with peers and superiors. Other benefits of effective listening include: improved memory, better concentration, better reading, and improved academic performance.

You may think that hearing is equivalent to listening, but just as mumbling is not the same as eloquent speaking, listening is more than just hearing the words. Listening well entails hearing more than just the words and understanding them for what they mean, both in a literal and symbolic sense.

The distinction should be made between active and passive listening, between engaged and half-hearted listening. Half-hearted listening is the equivalent of ignoring the one talking, pretending to listen, or not listening at all. Active and engaged listening is not the same as pretending to listen, tuning in or out, or in today’s parlance “zoning out” while the other person is talking. Active listening is giving one’s full attention to the other person and trying to find meaning in what the person is saying.

The following chart shows several degrees of listening that an active listener can engage in:

An active listener listens for meaning and may progress from repeating the speaker’s exact same words as he listens, to paraphrasing where he makes use of similar words and phrases as the speaker, then to reflecting, where the listener uses his own words and sentence structure to express his understanding of the message. In all three, the process of active listening involves perceiving or becoming aware of the message, paying attention, and remembering, then thinking and reasoning at the higher levels of active listening.

Listening well means understanding beyond what is actually said. Like any skill, the ability to listen well can and should be mastered. One way for you to develop good listening skills is to recognize that barriers to effective listening exist. You should recognize that certain factors affect your ability to listen well. Your mental state affects your ability to listen. For instance, when you are ill, tired, or stressed, your ability to listen is negatively affected so it would be wise to be prepared mentally and physically during occasions when you have to listen well such as seminars, presentations, including daily classroom discussions.

Here are some suggestions on what you can do before and during a listening activity, especially in a classroom setting:

  • Before the listening activity, it would be wise to read up on the topic for a top-of-the-mountain view. You will also be able to anticipate the ideas that will be presented during the discussion. After your research, draft questions based on what you know so far. Try to answer them to gauge your understanding. This activity will also enable you to focus on important aspects of the talk.
  • During the actual discussion, choose the most strategic position where your listening experience would be heightened. While listening to the speaker, take down the points that answer the questions you have drafted prior to the discussion, as well as new information and perspective on the topic. • As you listen, you may also try to visualize what is being explained to make it easier for you to understand difficult concepts.
  • It would also help to listen to cue words that highlight certain issues, locating which part of the discussion you’re at. The following are some examples of cue words:

The most important point I want to discuss today is …

Listen now, you have to listen to this…

In summary…

The next important point we’re going to discuss is…

  • Aside from verbal cues, be alert to the lecturer’s cues and facial expression, including gestures, for all these have a bearing on what is actually being said. When you do this, you are processing what you are hearing and making connections in your head.
  • After the discussion, review your notes. Check how the speaker answered your questions, then compare it with your answers before. You may also review by verbally reading your notes or writing a summary.
  • Keep an open mind. It’s possible that you will not always agree with the speaker’s argument, but it is important to always think logically. While the discussion or lecture is going on, train your mind to challenge the speaker’s argument against your own. If you wish to express your dissenting opinion with the speaker, do so respectfully and in the proper venue. Above all, continue listening to the speaker until the discussion has ended.

Effective listening is related to effective note-taking. When you are able to take down notes efficiently, that is an indication of your ability to listen. Your ability to understand the topic depends on how well you listen, and your notes are the direct by-product of your listening skills.

How do you improve your note-taking skills? To be an effective note-taker means being a flexible note-taker. What this means is that your notes should aid you in your studies, not make it more difficult for you. Your notes should be your guide in helping you improve your study habits.