The Silent Period

Listening

When you are learning a language, you should absolutely focus on listening over reading, writing, and especially speaking.

The reading that you do should be to recap what you have heard in your listening – practice repeating it as you remember it sounding.

The writing you do should be copying out words and sentences from your listening. A good test of your listening skills is to see if you can copy out what you’ve just heard correctly.

You could also compose some basic sentences based on the patterns in your listening.

Why listen above all else?

Think about how you learned your first language. You had at least a year or more of just listening before you started producing sounds that were comprehensible. This period was your ‘silent period’ where you simply attended to all the different sounds around you and began to comprehend them.

Many successful second language learners have realised that this silent period is extremely important when learning a second language also. Most adult learners try to produce their new language before they are ready to, and consequently are unable to do so with any ease or accuracy.

The best thing that you can do when learning a language, is be gentle with yourself and imagine you are learning like a child. Spend your time playing with the sounds of the language, with the knowledge that doing so will help you later on.

Listen and repeat. It sounds simple, and it is.

Podcasts are one of the best ways to practice listening. I recommend finding a podcast that has a minimum of explanation in English. You are much better off spending your listening time in direct contact with the language, rather than listening to people explaining it in your first language.

Innovative Language Learning produce audiobooks containing conversations that contain minimal explanations.

LingQ also has a huge library of content that will enable you to listen to your language directly, at your level.

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Trust Your Ears

Make listening your priority and trust your ears over your eyes.

Classroom language learning has unfortunately developed with a stronger emphasis on the visual, and what we often forget is that language is actually an auditory phenomenon.

If you find a mismatch between a written text and a spoken one, you would be wise to assume that the mistake is in the writing, for it’s much less likely that a native speaker (hopefully you are listening to one) would make a elementary mistake with their language that you would be able to spot.

Portable devices like smart phones and the huge libraries of content available on sites like LingQ.com are making it possible for you to do most of your language learning through listening.

As Stephen Krashen explains in this video, we all acquire language in the same way. There is only one way that it can be done, and that is through getting enough comprehensible input into your ears.

Listen to Krashen explain to you for himself:

Get in Touch Often

When you have some time and you decide to do something like read a book, check your favourite blogs, or watch an episode of┬áBreaking Bad – first, get in touch with your language.

Make this a habit and you will have a very effective way of reviewing – something which is absolutely key to language learning. The point here is, there is a limit you can take in in one study session and the real learning occurs when you are forced to compare the way you think the language is, with the way it actually is. Finding your mistakes here helps you to restructure your interlanguage and get a step closer to producing the language as it really is.

I recommend spending these 5-20 minutes testing yourself with your flashcard deck, and practicing the items you get wrong, adjusting mnemonics that aren’t helping you to remember.

Other good uses of this time, when you are at a computer would be:

  1. Doing Memrise
  2. Opening and LingQing a new item on LingQ