Auditory memory is the ability to process information presented orally, analyze it mentally, and store it to be recalled later. Those with a strong capacity for this type of memory are called auditory learners. The ability to learn from oral instructions and explanations is a fundamental skill required throughout life.
As one of the most important learning skills, children with weak auditory memory often have difficulty understanding what words mean, and can show a delayed grasp of language. This is because phonics requires auditory short-term memory for children to remember word sounds and piece them together to form words. Furthermore, since many children learn to read by being read to, those with problems with auditory learning will likely take longer to learn to read, and these delays may be reflected later in life with poor reading and writing skills.
The capacity for auditory memory appears to have a genetic basis. About 5% of the population in developed countries has learning disabilities that hinder auditory learning. The disorder tends to run in families and is commonly shared in identical twins. The disorder has also been linked to genetic diseases and developmental disorders.
Parents can test a child’s auditory short-term memory by testing his or her ability to repeat a sequence of numbers back to the tester. A parent can begin by saying a sequence of four simple numbers, such as 5-2-8-4, and ask the child to repeat the sequence back. If the child is successful, the test sequence can be increased to five numbers and continued until the child is no longer able to repeat the sequence correctly 75% of the time on the first try. Children should have the ability to repeat six or more digits in order to have the capacity to learn phonics.
Auditory learning skills can be developed through a number of exercises. Parents looking to develop them in their children can employ a number of simple practices throughout the day. For example, they can ask their children to repeat spoken messages out loud, as well as to repeat important information, such as their phone number and address to commit them to auditory memory. Parents can also play memory games with their children, such as clapping a rhythm and asking the child to repeat the sequence. Children may also enhance their skills by learning word associations and categorizations of words and objects.
Developing auditory skills is not limited to only young children. Older children and adults can sharpen their short-term auditory memory by interpreting verbal cues into written notes. Additionally, they can read a sentence or paragraph from a book and explain the content in their own words or practice repeating sentences verbatim.