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Everyone Stops to Listen

Posted by Renee , in Africa, Orality 10 December 2012 · 1495 views

On street corners and in market places in Africa, one can often see groups of men and women gathered to listen to someone tell a story. This is a natural part of an "oral society" and is their primary means of transmitting information. I realized one day how powerful the "told" story is.

My family was invited to a wedding party at the home of one of our Muslim friends in North Africa. We were sitting in a very large living room, the men on one side and the women on the other side. As women, we were naturally talking about our families and our children. The next thing I knew, I was sharing the story of the birth of my third child and how God had miraculously healed my body after two near-death experiences with my first two deliveries.

Before I could get to the second half of the story, I realized that there was a silent "hush" over the entire living room. Everyone in the living room, both men, women, and children, had stopped talking and doing whatever they were doing to listen to my "story". I couldn't believe it.

In oral cultures, when someone starts to tell a story, EVERYONE stops to listen!

New to the Orality Blog?

An oral learner is:


Someone whose most effective communication and learning format, style, or method is in accordance with oral formats, as contrasted to literate formats.
Someone who prefers to learn or process information by oral rather than written means. (These are literate people whose preferred communication style is oral rather than literate, even though they can read.)
Someone who cannot read or write (this represents about 5% of the world's population).

Did you know?


There are an estimated 4.35 billion people who are oral learners. This includes 3 billion adults, 900 million very young children, and 450 million children between the ages of eight and fifteen; all of these have basic or below basic literacy skills. They are oral learners because of their limited literacy skills.
The vast majority of missions work has been done for a literate audience. Unfortunately the vast majority of the true audience is therefore not able to connect with the Gospel.
Oral cultures are very relational - they share their lives with one another.
Most oral cultures will communicate with one another in narratives, dialogues and dramas, proverbs, songs, chants, and poetry. When asked what he thought about a new village school headmaster, a Central African replied "Let's watch how he dances".

Partnering Projects

Onestory (OS)

Simply the Story (STS)  

Storying Training for Trainers (ST4T)  

ION  International Orality Network