In the late 1940s, Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis identified the principle that was to become the very foundation of his revolutionary new system. The principle he identified states that the voice can only reproduce what the ear hears well, or rather, what the ear can listen to.
In other words, for Tomatis, the perception and understanding of speech were deeply rooted in its activation by the sensory motor system.
Time would prove him right: his intuitions have now been validated by research.
Dr. Tomatis was also the first to claim that the fetus could hear his/her mother’s voice, transmitted through bone conduction.
Tomatis considered the mother’s voice to be a kind of primordial and unbreakable acoustic bond between mother and child, which constituted an essential factor in a person’s emotional, psychological and linguistic development.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, research in psycholinguistics on the role of the mother’s voice in the development in the phonetic and prosodic aspects of language again confirmed Tomatis’ theory.
Briefly stated, this research showed that acoustic stimulation from the mother’s voice leaves a particular linguistic imprint on the brain of the fetus.
Thus, the prosody conveyed by the mother’s voice will orient the baby’s listening to the sounds of the language to be learned.
Tomatis’ reflection on the nature of intrauterine life, and on a primary prenatal dialogue between mother and fetus, led him to develop the unique system of educational listening that now bears his name: the Tomatis Method.
Listening can be defined as the ability to adapt to the constant changes in our acoustic environment by continuously readjusting the content and form of the messages we receive.
At the same time we immediately verify the result of this adjustment for the purpose of learning, achieving a goal, or communicating. Thus, as Tomatis often liked to remind people, it is possible to have good hearing, but be a poor listener.
According to Tomatis, because it closely combines perception and action, listening is by definition sensory-motor: adapting to changes in our acoustic world is also about being able to adapt the body to these changes.
One of Tomatis’s great merits was that he always considered the ear to be both an sensory and a motor system.
The auditory system is both afferent and efferent. This means that the auditory receptors located in the inner ear send messages to the brain (afferent), and the brain, especially under the influence of emotions, can send messages to the auditory receptors by ordering them to function more or less efficiently in return (efference).
This efferent aspect of the auditory system is one of the characteristics of listening, since it implies that the brain has a major influence on our ability to use hearing for the purpose of communication and learning.
The vestibule is the motor part of the ear, but because it detects movement, it is also considered to be a sensory part of the ear.
The vestibular system collects all kinesthetic information, in other words, all information relating to movement. It is therefore fundamentally involved in the mechanisms of balance and posture. Its primary role is to enable us to resist gravity and to keep us upright.
And, in association with the cerebellum, the vestibule intervenes in the development of procedural memory, which is the memory of know-how (“doing” function or “how-to-do” function).
Tomatis used to say that the listening function involves the whole body, the person as a whole.
In order to establish and develop the listening function, Tomatis created an original device called the Electronic Ear, the essential principle of which is based on the notion of “gating”.
Gating functions as a system of alternation between two sound sources distributing the same information but with different timbres and intensities.
A course of training under the Tomatis Method consists of a series of successive and rapid adjustments of the auditory system, leading to the desired transformation of the listening function.
In particular, on a cerebral level, the triggering of the successive mechanisms of adjustment and prediction favors the development of selective attention, enabling the subject to focus on relevant information while dismissing information that is not relevant.
Dr. Alfred Tomatis was truly an incredible pioneer.
Extracts from The Listening Journey, by Nicoloff, Le Roux (2011).
Introduction by Jean Pierre Granier. pp. 13-22.