High Speed Listening

Are you "hard of listening" instead of "hard of hearing?" Do you really listen to
people or are you always thinking about what YOU are ready to say when someone is
talking to you? This exercise in speed listening will focus your listening abilities.
How fast does your mind assimilate verbal information? Translators at the United
Nations reiterate translations as the original language is spoken. Other people have
the faculty of being able to repeat any spoken words a split second after other people
have said them, and sometimes even backwards! Newscasters learn to read their
news material fast, steadily and without frequent errors.
As an exercise in listening intently, play a cassette tape with a lecture dialogue on
it. As you listen to it, repeat what you hear word for word into a cassette recorder.
Then afterwards, compare both recordings for accuracy.
If you read at a rate of only 200 - 300 words per minute, your attention will no
doubt wander from time to time. This absent-mindedness often requires regression
over the same material again and again. The same phenomenon sometimes occurs
when listening to a monotone lecturer that is speaking at a rate of 125 - 150 words per
minute. Your attention wanders and little is absorbed.
By listening to a process of compressed or speeded-up tapes, a delivery rate of
350 words per minute can be easily assimilated by your brain. Dr. Sally R.
McCracken at Detroit's Wayne State University uses a technique of editing tapes to
remove portions of recorded material. By taking out pauses between words and by
shortening the time needed to make vowel sounds, Dr. McCracken uses a special
machine that scans an audio tape and cuts out these short segments of "needless
sound." Originally used by blind listeners, it was found that besides reducing
listening time, the system also aids comprehension by forcing listeners to concentrate
more intently.
In the early 1970's, Sandy Greenberg, an engineering student at Columbia
University, discovered that he was going blind. Desiring to learn as much
information in the shortest possible time, Greenberg approached a friend, Murray
Schiffman, who set to work on a technique for varying the playback speed of
recorded tapes without affecting the pitch. Tape hobbyists knew, for example, that
when you played back a tape at twice the speed at which it was recorded, it was
difficult or impossible to understand. For one thing, the speaker's voice was
automatically raised a full octave, out of the range of normal speech intelligibility.
The technique had been used for comic effect in earlier days with the series of novelty
song hits featuring Alvin and the Chipmunks. So what Schiffman eventually came
up with was a circuit that would play back recorded material at variable speeds
without altering the pitch, and with up to 100% increase or decrease without losing
intelligibility. The technique is now called variable speech control or VSC.
Corporations began using speed listening cassette players to save valuable training
time and money. It was found that most of the students using VSC liked listening at
faster than normal rates. Tests showed that speeds from about 1.75 to 2.0 times
normal (about 275 - 300 wpm) improved comprehension and retention. In looking
for ways to speed up the training process, speech compression seemed to be the best
idea, because 90% of the course work was self-instructional.
Depending upon the quality of the tape recording device, information can be
progressively speeded up to 10 or 20 times normal speed and still be intelligibly
assimilated. For this exercise, you need to create just such a tape first. Assume a
self-hypnotic state and use the time distortion technique with a metronome (review
"Exercise -- Learning Self-Hypnosis" and "Exercise -- Learn Through Time
Distortion"). Indicate when you have achieved a time distorted perception by saying
to an assistant, "I'm ready." At this point, the information tape is played to you
through a head set at the high speed rate. You'll find that with practice, greater
quantities of information can be absorbed in this way in a shorter span of time.