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November 12, 2013 / Randy Coppinger

The Joy of Listening

The joy on Sarah Churman's face as she hears for the first timeWith millions of YouTube views, you’ve probably seen 29 year old Sarah Churman react to hearing for the first time in her life (video). You might wonder what events lead up to that moment, and what has happened since. Dick Gordon, host of The Story, wondered and conducted a wonderful interview with her.

Audio professionals take listening seriously, so my interest in her story of suddenly being able to hear was both personal and acute. “There are so many little things that people don’t think about that I enjoy.” She faced challenges too. Like how difficult it was at first to eat a salad with croutons and ignore the constant “crunch! crunch!” in her mouth as people were trying to talk to her. People explained that she would eventually learn to put that sound into the background and focus on the talking. And eventually she did. In time she learned how to listen the way most people do.

If you audibly reconstruct the world for film / TV / games, ignoring the croutons can be a problem. The ordinary, normal sound of things is important. Have you ever noticed how sound changes when you open a door and pass through? What does the museum sound like? How should things sound underwater? If these questions are difficult to answer, maybe we need to re-learn how to listen; maybe we need to listen like Sarah Churman did with joy and fascination at the way every little thing sounds.

Another delight she shared in the interview was the difference between lip reading and being able to hear tone of voice. “People don’t realize… tone and noises are so much in a conversation. And so you can read someone’s lips but without hearing some noise or grunt they made, you can miss the whole conversation.” This reminds me of the significant difference between words on the page and the meaning we impart by speaking, intoning them. Just as Sarah’s listening device brought new depth and understanding to ordinary conversations, taking a script from the page to a recording adds magnitude.

I’m so pleased that technology allows Sarah and others to hear. I am also glad that she shared her story, reminding us of the joy of listening.

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