I took the LACE training course in December. What that means is that for 30 minutes a day for three weeks, I sat down in front of my computer in a quiet room and did listening comprehension exercises designed to improve my listening skills, complete with regular testing to monitor my progress.
Besides helping me hone my ability to focus on speech even in tough circumstances, the LACE training was fun, a bonus I hadn’t counted on. Here are the things I liked best about it:
‘Competing Voices’ Exercises In a nutshell, LACE training consists of five types of listening exercises. Competing Voices features two speakers talking at the same time about two totally different topics. The trick is to follow one of the voices (which means blocking out the other voice) and be able to repeat the sentence. The program makes it more difficult by increasing the volume of the voice you don’t want to hear. Just like life!
Testimonial Videos The first few LACE training sessions include short testimonial videos from people who’ve completed the training. One of these is San Francisco Chronicle senior pop music critic Joel Selvin, who says he took LACE training as part of his research for an article but discovered unexpected benefits shortly afterward when he found himself seated at a large round table in a, yes, noisy restaurant.
‘Some guy across the table decided to strike up a conversation with me,’ Selvin says. ‘I was astonished because, for the first time in I don’t know how long, I could hear somebody from across the table. This is a direct product of the Speech in Noise training from the LACE training, no doubt about it. The guy’s voice just popped out of the background noise, and I could hear what he was saying.’ Watch the video of Joel Selvin talking about LACE.
I’m Relearning U.S. History! For certain LACE exercises, you get to choose from several topics, one of which is ‘U.S. Revolution.’ The nature of LACE means I’m listening to one sentence at a time (e.g., ‘They’d been instructed to make as little noise as possible’ followed by ‘Instead, Paul Revere decided to make as much noise as possible’) and really focusing on each one. Turns out U.S. history’s pretty interesting! And I seem to be retaining more than I did my junior year in high school…
Making Progress The ‘Speech in Noise’ exercises simulate conversation in a very noisy place, like a restaurant or party. Against a chorus of loud background talkers, a voice speaks a sentence on a topic of your choosing, like ‘Exercise,’ ‘Money Matters’ or the challenging ‘U.S. Revolution.’ Then you’re asked whether you understood the sentence.
Most of the time I miss the first one. I mean whiff it bad. I’m just caught off guard by all that background noise, and then I get with the program and my performance usually improves. One memorable day (OK, I wrote it down; it was the eighth session), I nailed the first Speech in Noise item right out of the gate. I think I did a little happy dance. Progress feels good!
A Sense of Humor Some of the sentences in the exercises reveal a wry sense of humor and also keep you on your toes. Statements like ‘Naked people have little influence on society’ test your ability to roll with it when a speaker utters an unexpected combination of words. Mostly, though, they’re just funny. Because jeez, I lost some hearing, not my appreciation of a good joke!