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Listening and Paying Attention

November 11, 2012

For another general-audience discussion of listening, see The Science and Art of Listening by Seth Horowitz in the New York Times.  He discusses the difference between hearing and listening, which hinges on what we are paying attention to.  In other words, we hear many things at once in our environment, but usually are trying to pay attention to only some of them, such as a song or a conversation. Paying attention is often an intentional act, although it can also be reflexive, as seen in the startle reflex when we hear a loud noise. He suggests that we are losing our listening ability in a world with so much distraction, and suggests practicing by consciously paying attention to the sounds and speech we hear around us.

Implications for L2 Listening

Paying attention to speech can be extremely challenging for the L2 listener, especially if the listener is at a lower proficiency level, is tired or bored, is in a noisy environment, or is distracted or fatigued in some other way. As suggested in my last post about Julian Treasure’s TED Talk, thinking about listening in the L1 can help a learner be more conscious of the listening process in the L2.


Horowitz, S. (2012, 11 09). The art and science of listening. The New York Times. Retrieved from

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