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Listening Better

October 21, 2012

In his TED Talk “5 ways to listen better,” Julian Treasure discusses listening, or the ways we “make meaning from sound,” and provides exercises to help improve listening — not just to speech but to all sound around us.

As to the importance oflistening, he claims that we spend 60 percent of our communication time listening, but only retain 25 percent of the information, and describes reason why, in his estimation, we are all getting worse at listening.  One reason is the invention of writing and recording technology, which has diminished the importance of careful listening. In addition, “with this cacophony going on visually and auditorily, it’s just hard to listen; it’s tiring to listen. Many people take refuge in headphones, but they turn big, public spaces like this, shared soundscapes, into millions of tiny, little personal sound bubbles. In this scenario, nobody’s listening to anybody.”

Treasure is the chair of the Sound Agency, a firm that could only exist in today’s technological world.  It “advises worldwide businesses — offices, retailers, hotels — on how to use sound.”

Implications for L2 Listening

One aspect of listening described by Treasure — pattern recognition (identifying familiar sound clusters or words) — is particularly hard for L2 learners who have less experience with a language and are less familiar with the words and patterns, thus making it more difficult for them to process the sounds they hear in a stream of speech.  Filtering out background noise is also more difficult, especially in a “cocktail room” type setting where there is a lot of speech going on at the same time. I remember at the early stages of learning Spanish, when I found it very difficult to follow a conversation if there was a television or even loud music in the background (or impossible if the TV or music was in English).

I agree with Treasure that listening should be taught in school, especially to L2 learners. Many of his suggestions for listening better could be used in the L2 listening classroom.  We are usually unaware of our listening as a skill in our native languages, and any exercises to make students more aware of listening will help improve their skill in a new language.


TED Talks: Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better


Treasure, J. (July, 2011) Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better [Video File] Retrieved from

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