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Yesterday, I heard a story, Why Seeing (The Unexpected) Is Often Not Believing on National Public Radio (in the US) about people at a crime scene blocking out what is right in front of them. Even those who have “normal” vision may block out what’s right before their eyes. I often point this out to people who are bad listeners. They may hear what others say, but they don’t listen. As my specialty is in language acquisition, I see this all the time with language learners who don’t pay attention to the sounds of the language around them.

As I’ve written on many occasions, foreign language learning comes from being a good listener.  Listening and hearing are two separate activities. Someone may have normal hearing but not pay attention to what is said around him or her. This creates major communication problems. I’ve given up or severely limited my interaction with friends or acquaintances who don’t pay attention. My mom is deaf in one ear, but she’s a good listener and her accent in English is less strong than those of Russians I know who have normal hearing in both ears. I have a German friend who is legally deaf although she has some limited hearing for major sounds. Her accent in English is actually not as strong as some Germans I’ve met who have full auditory abilities. Why? Because she pays attention. She did mirror work to learn how to pronounce words in English.

If someone can miss seeing a fight right in front of them, it’s because they are not paying attention. The same goes for those who do not listed carefully to a foreign language as it’s spoken around them. Pay attention and you are sure to pick up on more of your target language than others. It’s all about awareness.

Listen first!