Pro Speaking is Listening

The Silent Way is an approach to learning that emphasizes silence.
The teacher keeping silent by keeping their mouth shut. The students cultivating silence by keeping their minds open. By learning to listen well. Not an easy thing to do.

One person speaks. One person listens.
The speaker tells a short story, usually describing a place that only they know. This is important because it keeps the listener focused on what the speaker is saying and not caught up in their own ideas about the place.
As the speaker tells their story they place blocks down to represent places or ideas, for our activity sheets I use shapes.

Every sentence or two the speaker stops and the listener repeats what they heard. It is not a test. If you don’t remember everything that is ok, repeat what you can. It is important to repeat exactly what the speaker says. That shows you are listening to them and reinforces the idea that this is their story not yours, the listener. If the speaker says, ‘This is where I live’ the listener needs to say back ‘This is where you live’. Not ‘This is your house’, the speaker didn’t say that. If the listener repeats back ‘this is your house’ it becomes the listener’s story not the speaker’s.

It is harder to do then we think. Because we often do turn other people’s stories into our own. You might say ‘house’, I would say ‘home’. Home is beautiful to me, warmer. I like the image it creates in my head of a snowy day, a chimney and a fire… and now you see I am not listening to the other person anymore. I am daydreaming about a place I would rather be.

The listener repeats what the speaker says. When the story is finished the listener repeats it on more time. You said a,b,c,d,e.
If the listener forgets something that is ok. The listener can say you said a,b,_ ,d,e. After they repeat what they know, the listener can go back and check for information they don’t remember. Point at C, and ask, ‘What is this?’. And of course repeat what the speaker says. If the speaker says ‘That is where I live’, the listener will point at C again and say, ‘This is where you live.’

If other people are listening they can now be invited to repeat something that they heard. They can do a,b,c,d,e if they want. If they only want to say one thing, that is fine. They can point at C and say ‘this is where you live’. At this point people are ONLY repeating what the speaker said. It is still their story and we are all listening to them.

Next the other people can be invited to check on information. Ask about something the speaker said that they did not hear or do not remember. They can point at B and ask, ‘What is this?’

The last step, after we have shown the speaker that we are listening to them, we can ask for new information. You could point at C and say, ‘You said this is where you live. What kind of place do you live in?’

It seems so simple. In a way it is. It is also not the way we normally listen to each other. And not the way people normally listen to us. To have people truly paying attention, and demonstrating they are paying attention, is deeply moving. For people who are shy or nervous about speaking English it is incredibly empowering. It shows them people are listening to me and want to understand me.

Try it, you’ll like it.