December 26, 2005

Speed listening.

You often hear about people who can speed talk or speed read, John observes, but what about speed listening? That's an impressive skill. Yes, I'd like to see a speed listening contest -- on ESPN, like the National Spelling Bee. You could do it by using recorded passages and playing them to the contestants at ever increasing speeds. Then, they'd be quizzed on their comprehension. It would be fun for the home viewers, because we'd lose the ability to hear the passages, and they'd still understand.

IN THE COMMENTS: There's some questioning of the importance of the skill of speed listening. I add this:
I had some law school classes where I made recordings because there was more going on than I could pay enough attention to. I'd want to think about one thing, but I'd worry that I'd miss the next, which made it hard to understand anything properly. It's not necessarily the speed of the talking but the concision and complexity of the ideas.

You can tell when you're teaching that you can say something perfectly clearly -- your own recording will prove that to you -- and still know that students just can't absorb it in real time -- their questions will prove that. Often, you have to say the same thing three times before it's heard. If there were a recording, and the student could pause it and think, they'd understand it. I think it's helpful to speak a sentence fairly quickly (so the listener's mind doesn't wander) but then pause to let it sink in.

The subject of speed listening came up when we were playing Trivial Pursuit (90s edition), and we wanted to play faster so we tried reading the questions fast. The questions are written in a somewhat odd style, compressed, and studded with unexpected names. Reading them fast just slowed us down. We were all: Whaaaat?

One way to be disarming in conversation is to say one short but unusually phrased sentence with some surprising words in it and then stop. It forces everyone to try to understand what you've said. (There's some danger that they'll decide you're weird and ignore you.) It's much more effective than overexplaining everything and holding the floor too long.

I do think it's possible to train yourself to listen more efficiently. A lot of the problem is just the anxiety of worrying that you're going to miss something. It's most noticeable when someone gives you long driving directions or a phone number and you're not writing it down. It isn't really that hard to remember, but you're so worried that you'll forget that it becomes hard. Also, there should be a way to remember what was said and hold off until later to think through what it means. We all have the experience of replaying a conversation and realizing things about it that we couldn't figure out in real time. Sometimes it takes years to understand. The obstacle to speed listening, then, is that you are trying to combine listening and contemplation.

I think with a class, making a recording is usually unnecessary. Just take notes and write things that are truly perplexing down verbatim. Put a star or a question mark next to the things that confuse you and go back to those things very soon afterwards. If you can't make sense of them, ask outside of class or talk to other people about them. But don't wait too long to ask the teacher. Sometimes, I've had a student read me something they wrote in their notes and ask me what I meant when they wrote that. But it's a month after I said it!

15 comments:

CCMCornell said...

Eh...sounds about as enjoyable as the World Series of Simon.

Sanjay said...

But, jeez, that's not the relevant skill, right? I mean, sure -- some people read much faster than some other people. But when we talk about somebody "speed reading" he's doing something else --- zipping through the text and picking out the key points and ignoring the dross. You don't "speed read" a novel, say.
So the "speed listening" skill is not really what you're talking about, right? I mean, "speed listening" is what enables you to stay quarter-tuned in during a lecture or seminar --- half awake, or thinking about something else, or earnestly contemplating the attractive woman in front of you --- and still have an idea what was going on. It's multitasking hile listening.
And, _that_ would be a pretty nifty contest. The winner is the contestant best able to answer questions on a lecture heard while sending emails to a friend, watching a striptease and grilling a sandwich?

XWL said...

I've been listening to your podcasts at 1.4 or 1.5X original speed since you started. On the third podcast I mentioned it (as LeRoy W, but I've previously pointed out that was me under a different name, I'm less comfortable blogging under my real first name than commenting with it, don't ask, it's hard to explain)

David Schraub said...

Go to an elite High School debate tournament--you'll develop the skill soon enough.

Steve Dispensa said...

I've been known to speed up podcasts and audiobooks to get through them faster. I read fast; I should also be able to listen fast? Then again, if it's something I am reading for pleasure, there's limited utility in getting through it as fast as possible.

OddD said...

Sanjay--

Is that what people mean when they say "speed reading"? I'd call what you're describing "skimming". When I refer to speed reading, I mean, you know, "reading really fast".

But I see the Wikipedia agrees with you. You know, no matter how often it happens, I still find it disturbing to find conventional wisdom completely at odds with personal experience. But I guess I've had some odd experiences.

vbspurs said...

ESPN, like the National Spelling Bee.

It's funny that there is a correlation between spelling bees and speed "listening", as my mother is a case in point for both.

She has this irritating tendency (for other people) to speak numbers or when she's spelling a name on voice-mail, VERY VERY FAST.

Then SHE gets angry when they call back asking to have the info repeated.

She was the spelling bee champ of her old school.

I'm guessing she was taught to speak briskly, and it's second-nature now.

Sanjay, I took the old Evelyn Wood Speed Reading course (I was the youngest person in the seminar) and though there are tricks one is taught, I can assure you, I don't have to skim over words or ignore boring passages to speed read.

Once you are trained, you just read naturally quickly.

Even so, I can do tops 1100 wmp. JFK could do 2000.

Cheers,
Victoria

Mickey said...

~Speed freak jive, cant ya hear me talkin..~

Nick said...

Anyone who was on a high school debate team would definitely have a leg up. Not only did you have to be an expert in speed listening, but also speed talking.

Al Maviva said...

I'm sure they'll have it by next year on ESPN 8 - "The Ocho!"

Ann Althouse said...

I had some law school classes where I made recordings because there was more going on than I could pay enough attention to. I'd want to think about one thing, but I'd worry that I'd miss the next, which made it hard to understand anything properly. It's not necessarily the speed of the talking but the concision and complexity of the ideas.

You can tell when you're teaching that you can say something perfectly clearly -- your own recording will prove that to you -- and still know that students just can't absorb it in real time -- their questions will prove that. Often, you have to say the same thing three times before it's heard. If there were a recording, and the student could pause it and think, they'd understand it. I think it's helpful to speak a sentence fairly quickly (so the listener's mind doesn't wander) but then pause to let it sink in.

The subject of speed listening came up when we were playing Trivial Pursuit (90s edition), and we wanted to play faster so we tried reading the questions fast. The questions are written in a somewhat odd style, compressed, and studded with unexpected names. Reading them fast just slowed us down. We were all: Whaaaat?

One way to be disarming in conversation is to say one short but unusually phrased sentence with some surprising words in it and then stop. It forces everyone to try to understand what you've said. (There's some danger that they'll decide you're weird and ignore you.) It's much more effective than overexplaining everything and holding the floor too long.

spezialk said...

At the wisconsin medical school all of the lectures are videotaped and available online either as a podcast or as streaming video. Many of us have become quite adept at watching lectures at speeds between 1.6 and 2.0 times normal. The slower speeds are for women professors (whose voice gets too high if the speed is increased any more) and the occasional hyperkinetic pressured speech male professor. After getting used to listening to lectures and absorbing information at that speed, it is horribly boring to go to the lecture. I often find myself surfing the web or playing sudoku, and wishing the lecturer could pick up the pace.

OddD said...

Victoria,

Well, I'm glad you posted that. Apparently (according to the Wikipedia), you're not reading, but scanning with no better than a 50% comprehension.

So, uh, stop it. Or something.

vbspurs said...

So, uh, stop it. Or something.

Well it got me into Oxford and medical school, so I must be doing somethin' right.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

One way to be disarming in conversation is to say one short but unusually phrased sentence with some surprising words in it and then stop. It forces everyone to try to understand what you've said.

Ann, it's called being British.

Cheers,
Victoria