2021 Vision – Voice : It’s Good to Talk but also to Listen

Voice /vɔɪs/

the sound(s) of speech or singing ;

indication in language of whether the subject is performing (active) or affected by an action (passive)

to express (opinion, concern, etc.) in order to influence others

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To listen to this as an audio version, click here

This week I ventured into the world of audio podcasts with my first series based on these very blog entries, and discovered it is indeed good to talk. Being blessed with a ‘face for radio’ it seems the obvious choice.

Talking has never been something I shied away from, and you could say it’s got me where I am today (for good or ill). But listening to yourself in recorded form certainly helps you reflect on how you might sound to others. And listening to others gives hints as to how you can make your own voice sound better, clearer, more engaging. Listening too is where you find out what others want and expect, as I found in discussion with a student this week that’s led to a review of his goals, plans and our shared approach.

As a language teacher and as a university lecturer I’m accustomed to finding a balance between, listening and … silence. Teacher talking time (TTT) is the bane of many a language teacher, especially when you consider that the language student primarily (sometimes exclusively) sets their sights on speaking with others. Yet it all starts with listening – as a learner, listening offers up one of the greatest challenges, but also the greatest of opportunities – not just to hear and become accustomed to the sounds of a language, but to learn about what lies beneath. Why do we say what we say the way we say it…? And what happens if we say it differently?

So this week, I’ve been paying special attention to the words and voices of those I’m working with, and to my own. A regular English speaking club I co-host is a chance to focus on fluency for students wanting to speak with, and like, a native. It’s a chance for them to listen to me, to another teacher, and to each other as they all discuss their views and opinions on the topic of the day. Truly ‘international English’ takes account of context and shared understandings, which may differ from standard English but be, in fact, more useful for intercultural and international communication. So I take perhaps as much as the students from these discussions.

In conversation with undergraduate and postgraduate students about their research this week, it’s again been about understanding where the student wants to take their efforts, what they want to achieve and how I can help. It’s not about telling them what to do, it’s more akin to mentoring and coaching, with more listening and questioning than direction. And in so doing, I’m learning myself as the student becomes expert, develops the confidence to voice their own opinions, and questions what lies at the surface. Learning is only shared if you listen and reflect as much as speak, if not more.

Learning to talk with people at different levels in an organisation, people from different backgrounds and those with different interests or motivations, is an essential skill for most of us. And there’s always room for improvement. Talking isn’t just about using our voice, it’s about using our ears. Babies, the earliest of language learners, learn to recognise the voice of a parent in the first few months and in 6 months are generally using their own voice to show pleasure, discomfort and to ‘talk’ to themselves. They learn much by copying, and thus by observing and listening – these receptive skills come first, so as adult learners we can take a leaf out of the children’s book so to speak.

Published by John Humphreys

Education and leisure industry professional with over 30 years' experience and a focus on delivering international experiences and employability development.

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