Two Ears to Hear & One Mouth To Speak: The Art of Listening

Two ears to hear and one mouth to speak. 

Some of you may have heard of this expression before, and personally, it is one of my favorites. 

Often we are so quick to speak but not to listen. Students on Cambly are hoping for engaging conversation so they can practice becoming native English speakers. 

They want to sound natural in all sorts of topics to use in everyday life and work. So, it is essential that we deeply listen to their mistakes, note them, and provide valuable feedback instead of thinking about what WE will say next. 

When listening to students, I often type in the students note section a quick shorthand about :

  • who they are 
  •  where they live 
  • what their English goals are 
  • how do they want to proceed

When I have a new student, no matter how brief I make those few notes, and if they choose to return, I feel ready to respect every bit of their time with the information above. 

Often students are unsure where to begin or how to proceed, and this is where I ask, “what are your goals?” and from their answer, I guide them through the possibilities.

But, what happens when students just want casual conversation?

Maybe you are short on conversation topics, and you don’t know what to say. I get it; we’ve all been there! 

When I’m stuck on how to continue the conversation, I return to my student notes and read “who they are.” In the getting to know you phase, many students will tell you about their families or living arrangements. 

I always take note of this because it shows that you care when you ask about the details of their lives. Often I find conversation happens naturally when you ask about this, but if they don’t want to share, here are some links I use to warm up:  

Also, don’t be surprised if your student remembers everything you said in your last conversation, even if it was many weeks ago! Students are listening to your every word to grow their listening and comprehension skills, plus there’s a good chance you’re the last tutor they spoke with, so that information will be fresh in their mind.

Often questions will seem personal because some cultures are more forthcoming than native English speakers. Take this as a sign of interest and a jumping-off point to steer the conversation.

Quick note: Don’t be hard on yourself for not remembering every little thing about your students; we meet so many students each day that it’s humanly impossible, which is precisely why it’s beneficial to take high-quality notes. 

What happens when my student makes a mistake?

At the beginning of a lesson with my student, I lay down a few guidelines to set the class up for success. 

A little thing that I do is I always share corrections in the chatbox for future reference because students usually review their lessons or take notes during class. I wait for the complete thought the student wants to make and then mention the correction orally and in written form. 

If they have mistakes that require more time in class, that’s where the student notes come in handy. For example, I often have students that need more help with letters R/L combinations. So, if I run out of time in our current class, I can take note of those difficulties and address them in our next class together. 

Pro tip: Some students mention when they want to be corrected on their profile, so make sure to check this when a student is new and ask if this still applies. 

Location is immensely important when it comes to listening

Your teaching location makes all of the difference when it comes to listening more than you speak. 

Let’s face it. If we’re in a distracting environment, we probably won’t listen fully to our students. 

Remember to find a quiet place to have the class to give your student your full attention. Noise-canceling headphones with a microphone are handy when your student may be soft-spoken or there are surprise noises in your work environment.  

If you’re looking for a new pair of tutoring headphones, here are the ones I have that feature noise-canceling and long battery life.

Listening is an art form in online tutoring

The more you listen to your student, the more you learn about them and their needs. Remember to be upfront if their request isn’t something you feel comfortable teaching and politely offer to end class to respect their time if they desire.

Graciousness is always received well in all cultures.

When speaking, remember to keep your language at the same level as your student to keep their confidence high. If they are slower to speak and form sentences, match their speed. If your student seems comfortable at an intermediate level, then adjust where needed. 

You can always ask them to self-examine where their level may be and take further steps from there. 

When you listen more than you speak, you may find the student will become the teacher, and you will learn something too. 

Happy Teaching!

About the Writer
Vicky loves to laugh, cheer students and truly listen to others about their lives and dreams. She currently lives in the Florida Panhandle with her husband of 21 years, three children, and six pets. She has been an online educator for over four years and has loved making connections with people worldwide. She’s lived in Puerto Rico, Kenya, and different parts of the East Coast. She has also volunteered to remote villages in Guatemala as a bilingual speaker of English and Spanish. Currently, she loves making art in various mediums and learning Turkish in her free time.

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