Tag Archives: language skills

+ How Much Does the Way We Listen Influence What Is Said?

[FWIW:  I found this valuable. Human interaction operates on many subtle levels. We are teachers and parents who want to receive and impart information as effectively as we can.]

by Chip Richards

[O-G Tutoring in Columbus OH: see below]

“It takes two to speak the truth – one to speak and another to hear.”
– Henry David Thoreau

I was leading a workshop recently, with a large group of people who were highly engaged and committed to creating a breakthrough in their work together. As the workshop grew to a climax I paused for a moment and became suddenly aware of an almost piercing silence in the room. Locking eyes with several in the crowd I could feel the intense focused attention of the group. They were open, connected and listening so intently that it created an atmosphere, a feeling in the room that seemed to pull the words from my mind and mouth and transform them into fresh possibility in the room. Much of what I was saying was a direct reflection of what I had heard them say, but the way they were listening literally drew the gold from the moment. I left feeling empowered, in service and aligned with an overall feeling of positive connection and contribution with the group.

A few days later I was in a similar conversation with an individual who was having a bad day. The same need for a breakthrough was required and he knew it, but he was also stressed and distracted by other things. His eyes kept diverting to the pings coming through on his phone and with each new text message his attention drifted further from the point of our discussion. He continued to nod and “uh-huh”, but I could tell he was only half present (at best). Even though I was quite passionate about the topic being discussed, with his attention darting this way and that I actually started losing track of the core purpose of our conversation. I noticed myself begin to censor and pull back from sharing anything too personal and eventually looked for an early exit.

How could this be? Two days earlier I feel like Shakespeare in front of an entire group, and now here I am with a single person and I’m like a drowning comedy act waiting for my set to end. In this way I begin to realize that how we listen not only determines what we hear… it also powerfully impacts what is said!

Our thoughts move much faster than our words

Prior to around 3200BC (when writing was first known to be used by Sumarians and Egyptians), listening and then repeating back what was said was the primary way we shared and communicated knowledge. With no way for us to replay or press “command S” and save the essence or message someone was speaking, we had no choice but to bring our full presence to the moment and to listen closely!

In modern times, the average human speaks at a rate of 100-200 words per minute. Interestingly, we can hear at a rate of 400-600 words per minute… and we actually think 1-3000 words per minute. The difference between talking and listening speeds shows us we are physiologically more set up to listen than to talk, and the fact that our thoughts move 3-5 times faster than our words suggests that there’s a huge space for our mind to wander if we aren’t fully engaged with what is being said.

The way we listen impacts what we hear

Have you ever noticed how you listen to different people in your life? The other night my wife and I were speaking to our 15 year old son, complimenting him on an aspect of his being. We were speaking purely from our heart, but the way he was hearing us was coming through a filter of, “Yeah, but you don’t count because you’re my parents and you love me, so of course you see the best in me.” I so wanted my compliment to find a way in and land square in his heart, but I could tell that in the moment it was sort of bouncing off, based on how he was choosing to listen.

Hearing is a physiological function which we don’t have a technical way of turning on or off, but somehow we do have a way of ‘selecting’ what and who we listen to and what we hear in what they say. We have a different way of listening to a life teacher or a coach than someone who is trying to sell something to us over the phone. Both may have something valuable to offer us (or not!) but the way we tune in and what we choose to hear is different based on what we expect to hear from the person who is speaking.

The way we listen impacts what is said

Interestingly and less obviously, the way we listen also impacts what is said. If you go to your boss with three important things to talk about and you try the first one and realise they are not open to hearing about it, then you try the second topic and they totally shut it down, what are the chances that you will risk to share the third piece of what you wanted to talk about – even if (or especially if) it is the most important item to you? If you really don’t feel listened to, at some stage you will likely pull back and begin to censor what you are saying. I’ve had entire meetings planned where as soon as I get into the room I realize that there is “no listening” for the topic and so rather than put it out there to be squashed, I simply hold onto it for another day, another person or group to share it with.

A research study in the US revealed that on average, physicians interrupt 69% of patient interviews within 18 seconds of the patient beginning to speak. As a result, in 77% of the interviews, the patient’s true reason for visiting is never even elicited. Because of the way the doctor is choosing to listen (or not listen in this case) the patients are literally not able/empowered to speak their full truth of what is going on for them.

We all have automatic ways of listening depending on the speaker and situation and the powerful thing to realize is that the way we listen not only influences what we hear, but it also impacts the person speaking and influences what and how they choose to say what needs to be said.

Listening completely

I saw [a symbol] in an acupuncturist office one day. It is the Chinese written character for “To Listen” and it is made of several other characters, the ear being only one of them.

Imagine what we would start to hear and what we would evoke in the speaking of those who were sharing with us if we truly engaged with our heart, with eyes, with our undivided attention – with all of us – when we listened to another.

Imagine if, instead of listening for right or wrong, good or bad or where we can interrupt the conversation in order to make our own point, we listened intently to understand the other, to find alignment and shared values, to hear what truth, deep commitment or inspired thought is beneath their words which is truly trying to come out.

Listen to your listening

As you enter different conversations in your day today, take some time to tune into how you are showing up as a listener. Are you present or mentally checked out? What are you paying attention to? Become aware of how your listening impacts the person speaking and see what happens when you bring yourself fully to the space and listen for “the gold” in what they are saying.

BY CHIP RICHARDS    http://upliftconnect.com/sacred-power-listening/  

Orton-Gillingham tutoring in Columbus OH: 614-579-6021 or email aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com


+ Language Skills Development: “Extending Expression”

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From Sara L Smith’s excellent book “Expanding Expression,” here are some key definitions of  the main components of language:


  • Phonology — the “sound system” of a language and the rules governing the sound combination.  Children practice the sound system through (for example) rhyme and songs, counting syllable, and identify beginning sounds.
  • Morphology — refers to the system governing the structure of words and word forms.  “Morphemes” are the smallest units of meaning and “free” morphemes can stand alone (“tree,” “girl”).  “Bound” morphemes are attached to a free morpheme: for example,  suffix -s or -ing.
  • Syntax — the system governing the order and combination of words to form sentences, as well as the relationships among those elements.  Elements include sentence type (declarative, interrogative), length and structure (how subject/verb/object/clause must work).


  • Semantics — the system governing the meaning of words and sentences.  This includes not only definition, but also the relationship of any word to the others in the sentence.  Discussion of similarities, opposites, categories, multiple meanings, word sorts… establish this system in a child’s mind.


  • Pragmatics — refers to the system that combines all these components functionally and appropriately.  The focus is on the intention or goal of an utterance:  for example, questioning, requesting, initiating and maintaining a topic, turn-taking, conversation repair, eye-contact.

Sara L. Smith’s curriculum, “Expanding Expression: A Multi-Sensory Approach for Improved Oral and Written Language” has been developed to strengthen a child’s facility with all these components, although the primary target is semantics.

Called EET, the system includes a kit to help build the following language skills:

  • oral expression
  • vocabulary comprehension
  • defining and describing skills
  • similarities and differences
  • written expression
  • organization
  • making associations
  • stating functions of objects
  • categorization
  • writing from prior language
  • autobiographies/biographies

The EET is a way of teaching kids how to give informative descriptions and definitions.  It’s a great way to help students organize their thoughts and determine what information is pertinent to their audience.

EET provides visual and tactile cues in its kit which facilitate this learning.  It can be easily adapted to classroom assignments involving oral language and written expression.

A principal — and entertaining — element in the kit is the “EET Strand” – a string of colored wooden balls that assist in describing items.  Following along the colored balls on the strand, children memorize the following verse:

“Green- group;” “Blue- do;” “What does it look like” (ball has an eye on it) ; “What is it made of” (wooden ball); “Pink – parts;” “White – where;” “What else to I know” (ball has a question mark on it)…

During this process of describing objects, students have the opportunity to participate in spoken language activites.  The routine is useful, in addition, for developing writing skils.

During this process of describing objects, they gain strength in the realms of grammar and word order, as well as rhetorical skills, including turn-taking and eye-contact.

Writes Smith

…as you are targeting oral language, you also continue to develop reading and writing skills.  Since writing and spoken language have a “reciprocal relationship” and “each build on the other,” the EET is designed to work for both oral and written expression.

The method can be supplemented with informational texts, Internet sites, encyclopedias and more as students research topics.

To learn more about EET, or to order the materials, visit http://www.expandingexpression.com/pdo.htm

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com.

+ Teach “Code Switching”: How to Speak in a Formal Register

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Ruby Payne writes in the April 2008 issue of “Educational Leadership” (a magazine of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) about “Nine Powerful Practices” for helping raise achievement.  Number 3 is Teach Students to Speak in Formal Register.  The following is adapted from her piece.  Find ASCD at www.ascd.org.

In 1972 a Dutch Linguist, Martin Joos, found that every language in the world includes five “registers” or levels of formality.  They are

  1. FROZEN  The words are always the same.  Examples: The Lord’s Prayer; the Pledge of Allegiance.
  2. FORMAL  The word choice and sentence structure used by the business and education community.  In English, uses a 1200 to 1600 word spoken vocabulary.  Example: “This assignment is not acceptable in its present format.”
  3. CONSULTATIVE  A mix of formal and casual register.  Example: “I can’t accept the assignment the way it is.”
  4. CASUAL  Language used between friends, which comes out of the oral tradition.  Contains few abstract words and uses nonverbal assists.  Example: “This work is a no-go.  Can’t take it.”
  5. INTIMATE  Private language shared between two individuals, such as lovers, or twins.

Both school and work operate at two levels: the consultative and formal.

All people use the casual and intimate registers with friends and family.  Students from families with little formal education often default to these registers, never having been made aware of linguistic differences.

Researchers have found that the more generations a person lives in poverty, the less formal the register that person uses (with the exception of people from strong religious backgrounds who may live in the language of formal religious texts).

A study of 42 families by Hart and Risley in 1995 found that children living in families receiving welfare heard approximately 10 million words by age three, whereas children in families in which parents were classified as professional heard approximately 30 million words.

Since teachers instruct and conduct most tests in formal register, those linguistically impoverished students are at a distinct disadvantage.

What Can Teachers Do?

Payne feels teachers should address this issue openly.  They should help students learn to communicate through consultative and formal registers.  She writes, “Some students may object that formal register is ‘white talk;’ we tell them it’s ‘money talk.’  ”  The outside world makes its money and rewards people in these modalities.  It expects anyone who participates to be fluent.  Those who aren’t can be shut out.

She suggests direct instruction in the differences in register.  Explain; compare and contrast;  model correct usage.   Let students practice translating phrases from casual into formal register.  

For example, a student was sent to the office for telling a teacher that something “sucked.”  Asked to translate that phrase into formal register, he said, “There is no longer joy in this activity.” 

Payne feels teachers should use consultative language (a mix of formal and casual) to build relationships with students.  They should teach content in formal register, but provide additional explanation in consultative mode.

source: Ruby Payne’s article in the April 2008 issue of “Educational Leadership”.  Read the entire article for the complete list of nine “Powerful Practices.” 

Also check out Rebecca Wheeler’s article “Becoming Adept at Code-Switching.”    Her book, “Code-Switching: Teaching Standard English in Urban Classrooms,” 2006, by Wheeler and Swords, is published in Urbana IL by the National Council of Teachers of English.

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email   aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

+ Girls Shown to Be Better at Language Than Boys

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An article by Howard Wolinsky, in the Chicago Tribune, tells of research done at Northwestern University’s Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory.  The study suggests that girls are superior to boys in language abilities, such as reading.

The reason: girls’ and boys’ brains perform differently while doing language tasks.

There may be implications in the way boys and girls are taught in the classroom, as well as the way men and women communicate with each other.

A neuroscientist at the lab, Doug Burman, says, “Language areas of the brain are more active in girls.  But even more surprisingly, boys and girls rely on different areas of the brain for processing language accurately.”

Burman and his fellows report their results in the March online issue of the journal Neuropsychologia.

Richard Haier of the University of California at Irvine has told ScienceNOW Daily News that the research fits nicely with his studies on sex differences in the brain areas used in intelligence tests.  He adds, “This paper is part of a growing awareness that not all brains work the same way.”

The Key: Brain Activity      

Thirty-one boys and the same number of girls, ages 9 to 15, were put through a series of rhyming and spelling tasks as they lay in an fMRI scanner.  They read words on a mirror over them, or heard words through a headset.

Clicking on a button to indicate their answer, they made “rhyming judgements” to indicate whether words rhymed (“jazz” and “has”), as well as “spelling  judgements” to indicate whether word pairs were spelled similarly (“pint” and “mint” would be, but not “jazz” and “has”).

Researchers ofund that  the testing activated areas in the brains of both boys and girls, but girls had more intense activity than boys in certain language centers.

This difference was observed even after considering the effects of many factors, including accuracy on the tasks.

Previous studies, factoring fewer variables, either found weak differences that could not be directly related to language skills, or no difference at all.

Looking at IQ tests that tested language abilities, the Northwestern researchers confirmed that girls outperformed boys overall.

Boys, they found, relied more on vision and hearing to make language judgements, while girls were using more abstract — rather than sensory — parts of the brain.

What difference does it make?

“For girls, it doesn’t matter whether you are reading or hearing the words, the information gets converted into abstract meaning, an abstract thought,” Burman says.  “For boys, the research suggests it’s really going to be very important whether they’re hearing or reading words.  That is going to determine how well they’re processing the language.”

He said that based on these results, girls may have an advantage in testing, at least in elementary and middle school.  Boys may have more difficulty with written tests; possibly faring better with oral tests on lectures, and written tests for reading. 

Advice for Parents

Burman says, “It might be important for parents of boys to really work at teaching them both visually and through hearing.  If you’re reading a story to a boy, it might be better for young boys to have a picture book, where they can reinforce what they’re hearing with what they see.”

Further research is needed, he says, to determine if girls have a developmental advantage, and if boys eventually catch up.

Men keep directions simple, while women provide detailed directions with landmarks and cues for each turn, says Burman, drawing on his observations of himself and his wife.

“Men may be wired to react, to have associations, with a visual object or a visual word, enabling them to react quickly.  Having additional information is just serving as a distraction,” offers Burman.

“For women, everything is being processed in terms of language.  The more information they have that’s relevant to an abstract concept of where they should turn, the more helpful it will be for them.”

source: www.chicagotribune.com.  Howard Wolinsky article on 4/1/08.

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com.