Without Active Listening, Students Fall on Deaf Ears

In the second part of our Rumi in the Language Classroom series, Jaber Kamali of Farhangian University promotes active listening.

Rumi in the Language Classroom Series Vol 2

(See Vol 1 of the series here.)

One of the Rumi’s poems in ‘Masnavi-e-Manavi’ tells a story of a deaf man who planned to pay a visit to his sick neighbor. Since he was deaf, he decided to prefabricate a potential conversation and imagine what would go on in it. The conversation in the deaf man’s head went as follows:

I would say, “How are you?” He would reply, “Fine. Thank God.”

I would say, “Thank God. What have you eaten?” He would reply, “Soup or cooling sherbet.”

I would say, “Bon appétit. Who is your physician?” He would reply, “Such and such a person.”

I would say, “He is most welcome. He cures all patients.”

After getting this conversation ready, he went to visit the neighbor and asked “How are you?” The neighbor replied, “I’m dying in agony.” The deaf man then replied, “Thank God,” (as he already prepared). The neighbor felt bad and said to himself this man is my enemy. The deaf man asked “What have you eaten?” and the neighbor replied, “lethal poison.” The deaf man responded with his already-planned “Bon appétit.” The neighbor became absolutely furious. The deaf man asked, “Who is your physician?” The neighbor answered, “Azrael (the angel of death in Islam).” The deaf man said, “He is most welcome.” The deaf man went out of the house satisfied with making the neighbor feel better. However, the neighbor was writhing in agony murmuring “He is my enemy.” Thus, their friendship ended.

This story details a lack of active listening. Active listening, in contrast to passive listening, means listening attentively to what is said, acting appropriately both verbally and non-verbally and providing proper response (Newman, Cohen & Danziger, 1987).

I have observed a number of English classes where the teachers do not really listen to their students’ answers. They only do back-channeling instead of listening attentively to them. This is an excerpt from a classroom I have observed:

Teacher: Ok Mina, what did you do on the weekend?

Student: Nothing really. I had to go to hospital because my father is sick.

Teacher: Oh, good [looking into the course book] thanks.

It is evident from this excerpt that the teacher did not listen carefully to what the student said, otherwise, they would not answer in such a manner. Not only is this type of teachers’ reactions to students’ contributions very discouraging, but it can also reinforce negative feelings within the students.

What I can conclude about this poem and its implication for the language classrooms is that teachers should always be attentive in the class, and not distracted by other burdens on their shoulders such as topics they want to teach or classroom management issues. To do so, having detailed lesson plans with all components can be a great help (see Spratt, Pulverness, & Williams, 2005 for lesson planning). We have to bear in mind that as teachers we deal with humans within whom emotions come first. Therefore, listening to what the learners say, providing sufficient verbal and non-verbal reactions, and responding accordingly should be some of the most prominent responsibilities of teachers.

References 

Newman, R. G., Cohen, M., & Danziger, M. A. (1987). Communicating in business today. DC Heath.

Rumi, M. J. M, (2017). The Masnavi I Ma’navi of Rumi. )E. H. Whinfield, Trans(.. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Spratt, M., Pulverness, A., & Williams, M. (2005). The TKT course. Cambridge University Press.

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