Learning and Listening
To become a good learner, one has to become a good listener. That is easier said than done, but fortunately Tomatis has developed a highly effective method to make you a good listener, and thereby a better learner.
Hearing and listening are not one and the same. As you will see, there is a huge difference between the two. It is good "listening" we are after. However, good hearing is the foundation of good listening! Therefore, we will then look at those aspects of hearing that impact our listening ability. We will also look at what else our ears do for us. You are in for an interesting ride into a land of science, unknown to many people. Ready?
Listening is a specialized form of hearing. Listening, not hearing, is the primary function of the ear. Tomatis makes a clear distinction between hearing and listening:
We can have excellent hearing but be poor listeners. Many children with learning difficulties or attention deficit have excellent hearing, according to the school audiologist, but still cannot read well or concentrate. Their problem is a listening problem, not a hearing problem.
Good hearing is the foundation of good listening, making sense of what we hear. So, what type of hearing problems could lead to listening, and thus learning problems? That is the topic of the next chapters.
The function of the ear is much too complex to describe fully
here. For our purposes, we will focus on a few functions only. When sounds
enter the ear, they first come to the eardrum. Like a musical drum, it
needs to be stretched. That is done by two tiny muscles that control the
hammer and the stirrup. If they are too weak (because of recurring ear
infections, for example), sounds do not enter the inner ear well, but are
distorted. One of the breakthroughs of Tomatis is that he has been able to
come up with a Listening Program to tune up these muscles. We will talk
about the benefits of this program later on.
What are the signs of vestibular dysfunction? Poor posture, clumsiness, jerky or fidgety movements, messy handwriting, poor sensory integration, avoidance of physical activities or sports are often signs of a sign of vestibular dysfunction. Because the vestibule affects so many of our basic functions, children or adults with vestibular difficulties often have learning disabilities.
Jean Ayres, a pioneer in the study of sensory integration, pointed out that when the vestibule is under-stimulated, children can become hyperactive. To compensate for the lack of auditory stimulation, the child will move around continuously. Unfortunately, the kid does not get a lot of benefit from it, as the vestibule is not able to translate it into a genuine stimulation of the brain.
Can hearing too much harm us? Yes, it can. To become a good listener, we need not only to be able to "zoom in" on information as but also to "zoom out" (or filter out) irrelevant background information. Good listeners have a zoom lens in their ears!
So, why do some people lack this defensive? Jean Ayres relates this problem to a vestibular problem. In this case, the vestibule does not act as a gatekeeper. It lets everything through. There is an additional reason, but to understand this one, we have to introduce a new concept.
We don’t hear with our ears only. We also hear through the bones of our body. Bone, indeed, conducts sound very well. When we talk, we hear ourselves through our ears (air conduction) and through the vibrations of our bones (bone conduction). That is why we do not recognize our own voice when it is recorded. The tape recorder only records the sounds transmitted through the air. It records what other people hear. The voice we hear inside will thus never be the voice others hear and what the tape recorder registers. That’s why people often swear that the voice on the tape is not theirs. Still, we each know it’s ours because the words and inflections are ours.
In order to learn, we need to be able to hear the internal bone vibrations. If, for whatever reason, we’ve tuned these vibrations out, learning becomes very difficult. They are the vibrations that make the internal sound when we read silently. They are the thoughts that we hear just milliseconds before we speak.
When a door is slammed without warning, or the tires of a car suddenly screech in the street, our body shudders instinctively. That's because we felt the sound before we heard it. Our body reacted faster than our ears. Bone conduction momentarily took over air conduction. Interestingly enough, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) children and adults experience this all the time. People with ADHD and ADD listen too much with their bodies, they hear too much through bone conduction. The problem is that they do not have a mechanism to selectively screen out sensory information that enters through the body. Therefore, people with ADD and ADHD have to either
At the Tomatis Centers, we'll train your ears to become the main entrance to sounds, and make your bone conduction the secondary entrance. That way, the sounds can be processed in the correct way. We'll do it by having you listen to gated music through a special headphone that is equipped with a vibrator. Through the vibrator you'll listen with your body, at the same time as you listen with your ears. Over time, you will adjust to listening primarily with your ears. Desensitizing the bone conduction reduces the stress and gives one the ability to pay attention and learn more effectively.
We will also train you to correctly use the bone conduction. One of its functions is to forewarn the ear that sound is coming. This can be best illustrated with an example. When you want someone to really pay attention, you tap them on their shoulder and say: hey listen! The function of the bone is exactly the same: it says to the ear: hey listen! Ideally, the ear should obey to this command almost instantaneously. In people with ADD and ADHD, however, it can take a relatively long time. So, their ears are not ready to process the incoming sounds in time. Fortunately, we can remedy this. When we start the training, will send the sounds to the bone a long time before it is sent to the ear (up to 250 milliseconds in case of severe Attention Deficit). Over time we will gradually reduce the interval to a few milliseconds only, getting your brain adjusted to the proper use of your bone conduction.
Children with autism often suffer unbearable pain because of auditory hypersensitivity. When you "feel too much", you cannot pay attention. Unconsciously, you will cut off the source of your suffering and become aloof and detached.
When we work with autistic children and adults, our first goal is to desensitize them (paradoxically through the use of sounds).
Sound is a very complex
mixture of hundreds of frequencies, of varying intensities. Even the most
sophisticated computers have trouble analyzing it. That is why "voice
recognition systems" are still so imperfect. The part of our ear that is
responsible for analyzing sounds is called the cochlea. It
must analyze the sounds quickly and accurately. People with dyslexia
often have problems in this respect.
What would you do if you
had such a problem? At first, you would do your utmost to catch up,
costing you a lot of energy. You may get exhausted, be constantly tired.
You would now and then answer the wrong question, making you feel dumb. At
one point in time, after having tried too many times in vain, you may
decide to bail out. You do not really pay attention to what people say any
more. Lacking the stimulating discussions, you stop growing. Behind your
back, people are saying that you are not very smart, and somewhat immature.
To make things worse, auditory processing problems make reading a struggle
Did you know that your right ear has a different job to do than your left ear? Did you know that we all have a dominant ear? Did you know that it makes a hell of a difference whether your right or left ear is your dominant ear? Tomatis discovered that people who are right ear dominant learn much more easily than those who are left ear dominant. In hindsight, that is quite logical. The right ear is directly connected to the left brain, the brain that processes language. That is a direct, fast connection. If you listen with your left ear, the sounds first go to the right brain. That part of the brain has no language center and, therefore, the information has to be rerouted to the left brain via the Corpus Callosum. Because that’s a longer pathway, the information is delayed. Left-ear-dominant people thus have to play catch-up all the time. Not only is the information late, it is also incomplete. In the transfer from the right brain to the left brain, some of the higher frequencies are lost. As we have seen before, these are the frequencies that are key to distinguish similar sounds (like a B and a P). Left-ear-dominant people thus not only have to play catch-up, they also have to play with an incomplete deck.
Tomatis also discovered that our speech is controlled by our ears. People who are right-ear dominant are better able to control the parameters of voice and speech … its intensity, frequency, timber, rhythm, flow of sentences. It is one of the reasons why many great actors and singers trained with Tomatis!
Ear dominance also impacts our emotional well-being. In 1975, Badenhorst, a researcher, wrote:
The Tomatis Listening Program will help you use your right ear more effectively. Towards the end of the program, we'll gradually shift the sounds from the left ear to the right ear. You'll also do some reading exercises through a microphone coupled with our electronic equipment. We'll filter your voice and return it exclusively to your right ear. Over time, you'll become right ear dominant, and read, learn and speak better.
When we think about our ears, we usually focus on hearing. That is certainly the most obvious function, but there is more to the ear than hearing. Tomatis point out that several functions of the ear are as important. All of these functions are taken into account in the Tomatis Listening Program .
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