Thursday, February 12, 2015

Learning While Speaking

The traditional wisdom of many cultures reminds us that we learn much more by listening than we do by talking.  I've run across many clever ways that this has been put.

I think that's wrong.  I've learned while speaking throughout my life.  When you have to put an idea together on short notice, your thinking is focused, and the associated ideas which are most likely to be quickly understood by you are front-and-center in your own mind. When it's my topic that I have been thinking about recently, and am deeply concerned with this minute, I am the most likely person to come up with some new insight. I come up with new associations or analogies while talking all the time.

Admitting such a thing is to declare oneself something of a blowhard, as anti-blowhard-irritation is the likely driver behind all the condescending cleverness against speakers.  An actual love for wisdom is not primary among the critics - else they would admit how often the learning-while-speaking people get it right, being swifter of thought.  Yes, blowhard is the risk, and I have been there many times. A bargain at twice the price.

The closest analogy would be writing.  We all believe that sitting to write about something is excellent training for thinking, and likely to result in fresh insights and wisdom. Speaking is the shortcut version of that. Is it superior to listening? Often it is. Different errors result, but I don't think more errors.


james said...

Many times I sat down at the computer with an idea to post, and when I finished an hour or so later the result had morphed dramatically. Sometimes the original idea was now a tiny corner of a bigger picture, and in a few cases I wound up rejecting the original idea altogether as wrong.

Christopher B said...

I find pretty consistently that I can answer my own questions when I ask a co-worker for information. Very often the act of organizing your thoughts to explain them seems to generate the 'a-ha' moment that has eluded me.

I agree that the value of talking things out is generally under-rated, so much so that the value of brainstorming has to be taught in project management.

Texan99 said...

This is pretty much the Socratic method, right?

I read somewhere recently, but can't think where now, about a study showing how much better we learn things when we practice drawing them out of memory rather than simply reviewing them. When we speak on a topic, we necessarily have to draw things out of memory; when we listen, we don't.

There's a good reason people who give instructions sometimes require their audience to repeat the instructions back. It's not just to confirm that they're heard and understood; it's to ensure that they're more likely to remember. I guess we wear little grooves when we retrieve information.

james said...

Christopher: the works I've read on computer code review say that most of the problems are detected by the author in the process of explaining the code to the auditor.

Anonymous said...

The current epitome of Western civilization feels frustration at reading anything longer than 2 paragraphs.

The world is not to their liking, hence so many who wish to change it, even though it will destroy it in the end.

Galen said...

Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.

Francis Bacon

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, I was thinking of that very quote when I made the analogy. I was hoping someone would bring it!

Assistant Village Idiot said...

From Avi's wife: As a school librarian when I am working with less able students on taking notes, I have them read it to me first. Then I ask them what they learned. IF they can tell me, they can write about it.