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Noncompetitive Listening

Are you a fan—and a promoter—of reading challenges, time record-keeping around personal media consumption (books, audiobooks, movies), and other such gamified approaches to experiencing creatives’ narratives? Let’s put that on pause this summer and reconnect with the details that recording speed (not the application of hyped-up alternative playback speed) already offers.

Several generations of teachers and students have accepted audiobook listening as a way station for kids whose print reading skills lag. Did you know listening to audiobooks promotes stronger literacy skills—and interests—among bookworms, too? Teens (and adults) who are highly proficient readers tend to skim passages that, if they slowed that pace just a bit, can reveal finely crafted language choices, subtle clues and themes to the work as a whole, and more possibilities of connecting the narrative with the audience’s capacity for empathy. Listening to audiobooks at the speed they have been produced by the combined efforts of author, narrator, director, and producer adds even more depth and texture to the title. Listening at production speed also builds listening stamina, a capacity everyone living in a diverse culture needs to nurture for our own and everyone else’s sakes. Think of noncompetitive audiobook listening as an antidote to sound byte messaging as well as a launching pad for building stronger analytical and empathy capacities.

This is one of the reasons the free audiobooks from SYNC remain available in each participant’s personal app as long as they're wanted. There is no due date, no external pressure to speed the listening to get to the “completed zone.” Here is an area of teen life that can be taken deliberately. And the rewards of listening include much more than awareness of the content of any given title. Also included are new awareness of expressive speaking, connections between characters in dialog, exposure to authentic accents and tones, and more.

Roxana Ortega (l) and Christian Barillas (Barillas photo by Christina Gondolfo)

One way to extend the listening pleasure is through discussions of audiobooks members of a group have all had the opportunity to hear in full and at recorded speed. Among this summer’s SYNC titles, several stand out as of particular interest to those who want to discuss their audiobook listening (or book reading) socially. Those include Francisco X. Stork’s ILLEGAL, with its paired performance by Roxana Ortega and Christian Barillas (Week 1); the full-cast drama EXTINCTION, by playwright Hannie Rayson (Week 7); author-read SASHA MASHA, by Agnes Borinsky (Week 9); Ariana Delawari’s performance of SAINTS AND MISFITS, by S.K. Ali (Week 11); and Michael Crouch’s performance of Tom Ryan’s KEEP THIS TO YOURSELF (Week 14). If you are planning discussions, be sure to let everyone know when they can obtain their free-to-keep download and then plan the discussion weeks later so that there is plenty of time for anyone who wants to participate to get to the listening.

Agnes Borinsky (l) and Ariana Delawari (Delawari photo by Shelby Duncan)

Unlike sharing print book discussions, audiobook discussions also open a realm of theater-related details. If you initiate or join a SYNC audiobook group discussion with any of these titles (or any other audiobook), be sure to include performance in your discussion: How well does the style of the narration (single actor who creates multiple character voices; dramatic full-cast performance; author-read; etc.) fit the material? What specifically did you hear that you would not have been able to produce with your own “inner voice” if you read the same text with your eyes (such as a specific regional accent, fluent pronunciation of unfamiliar words, etc.)? What appealed to you about the voice(s) as well as the text? These discussion questions require attention to listening as well as to content. Instead of challenging yourself (or anyone else) to read or listen to more, make this a summer and SYNC season of attending more fully to the audiobook prepared for you by the creative team of author, actor, and publisher.

Take a break from competition and let audiobooks carry you into a deeper listening, and reading, experience.

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