Listening with your mind’s eye

I notice that I visualize the letters of the words that people are speaking. I see the text as the words pass. I wonder whether other people experience a visualization like this.

If I were to learn a new language, the need to spell text might be limiting.

Arabic and Farsi would first require me to learn how to pronounce and write Arabic script. It would be an added step that I wouldn’t have learning new European languages. I don’t think visualizing it would be a great challenge once I could read and transcribe words.

Mandarin Chinese, in contrast, might be acutely difficult for me to learn. Since words are not written phonetically, I would need a completely new level of interpretation to see what I am hearing. I suspect that skill would develop very slowly (if at all.) There are phonetic transcriptions of the sounds, but if the variations in the pronunciation of words is subtle, I might not “see” the correct “text.”

In some languages, people speak more words per minute than in English. Would my ability to visualize the words be overwhelmed by the speed that the letters go by?

What would happen if I had a stroke that broke that neural link between my hearing and the visualizations? I wonder whether I could track a conversation when I couldn’t see the words anymore.

I believe song lyrics access a different part of my language system. When I read the lyrics to familiar songs, the words don’t register as familiar. Often, I find that I never really knew what the song was about. My visualizations didn’t seem to help. I’m wonder whether a PET or fMRI of me listening to a song and its lyrics would be different from one recorded while I listening to the same words as prose.

It’s interesting to notice skills that are natural to me. It would also be interesting to learn skills that are natural to other people that I’m unable to experience.

An aptitude might be broken down into micro-level skills. Some may take practice to develop fully. It is a form of neurodivergence to identify skills that might be missing in one person and robustly available in another.

Consider the ability to recognize faces and the ability to visualize images. I’ve heard informal suggestions that people have different levels of proficiency. These are examples of everyday skills that might have a spectrum of ability. Mathematics may be hard for some people because some necessary sub-skill is neurologically disadvantaged.

Brains are mysteries full of puzzles. They hide individual differences. I don’t know things that I can’t do that are natural for you. It’s hard for you to know things I take for granted that you struggle with.

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