Having got to this by a round about route I was quite inspired by the thread and it really made me think a bit.
My own approach is very reading centric though have always tended to listen a lot without realising its value and I think there can be some value to that; except that there are a number of areas where - provided you can find listening that is comprehensible to you (or can be made so) listening may have a few key advantages:
- reading requires a lot of work and is quite demanding and is a skill added much, much later in human evolution. Very difficult to read unless sat down somewhere!
- the speed of language in listening is usually very fast compared to reading (I am not a speed reader), meaning - provided you are in some way attuned to what is being said your brain is working out the content more dynamically (being hit by language faster and probably more unpredictably)
- speech is a different type of register in that a lot of words and constructions exist in the written realm that may not be utilised in speech - the spoken language may have a smaller actively used vocabulary and sentence structure (grammatical rules for spoken and written language usually differ)
- most of language in the world is spoken even in languages that make use of writing
- because reading is tiring it is easier to have auditory input for longer periods, therefore more of it
- due to the Internet we now have what we didn't used to have which is unlimited access to a lot of spoken language through radio, youtube and also DVD technology which previous generations didn't have
- listening clearly is going to help with recognising accents and hopefully improves work with different sound formations in the spoken language
- I am interested to learn if different parts of the brain are involved in say reading and listening
- purely speculatively I wonder if lack of comprehension is actually a bigger block to conversation ability at a certain level (needs more study) - I could reply with a very limited sentence with stumbles and shrugs and things like 'I'm not sure, let me think about it' and so on and the conversation can go on but if I fundamentally can't follow the speaker dialogue of any kind is going to be hard!
The advantages of reading are of able to reread and take it at your own pace, so likely to be helpful at different points
I would probably want two tracks of input so reading wasn't neglected but if there is something to the LIE (Listening is Everything) approach then making sure you listen to as much as possible is likely to be the cornerstone of gaining proficiency.
I think it would be interesting to see if extensive listening has a direct effect on different areas of language learning that language learners are interested in (listening comprehension, accent, speech fluency, vocab, grammar, reading and writing skills), which would of course need to be tested.
To be clear I don't think that having input without attention (e.g. while sleeping) or without comprehension (with a new language unless to be able to just gauge the sounds used) or when not ready is likely to be fruitful at all. I don't think language just washes over you passively (however I don't know if this has been researched. One may speculate that being surrounded by a language does mean you're readier to learn it as soon as some sort of structure is in place). It may be some structure might need to be there in order for listening to do any good and some reading might be necessary to break open to a certain level.
Of course there are probably examples of people who have learnt to a high level using only or mainly reading; there may be examples of people learning using only or mainly listening. I guess one could focus where either one's deficits or centres of interest lay and one method is probably as good as an another in the end provided you enjoy it.
The next question is how a mainly listening approach might function in reality. In the Internet age there is a huge availability. Provided it is comprehensible I think that any listening will probably be good provided you enjoy it. It might be a good low energy method of maintaining a language one has learned it.
Here, then, are some of my ideas:
- make sure that the listening is comprehensible and not tedious; also you need to attend to it, not merely have it in the background
- material can be made comprehensible by re-listening and reading summaries or transcripts. If the news, then you can read articles about the same thing
- podcasts are great, as are plays, interviews and films you are familiar with
- you can also read for speech by reading novels with a lot of dialogue. There's usually a tonne of stuff on Youtube (dependent on our language of course)
- do 'the film' and 'book' together
- if listening has primacy then, provided you have comprehensible input, you can listen a heck of a lot!
- sporting fixtures, parliamentary debates, speeches, running news (e.g election results), church services give a lot of running speech but not for everyone and dependent on interests
- instructional/motivational videos e.g. exercise
- listening to different accents (e.g. Swiss, Bavarian and Austrian radio for German)
- songs (!)
- naturally, stays in a country can be rich in listening opportunities provided you seek them out - just being in the country might not expose you to much (especially in people talk to you in English!)
- finally the most potent exposure method is one of talking with people. Here a lot of the focus is on our talking but perhaps a more important skill is to keep the conversation going by listening and using one's speech to keep the other person speaking (threatened with a premature end of conversation or reversion to English), hence keeping the listening in the target language
Overall I am very much influenced by Krashen's ideas - he seems more focused on reading but his ideas seem equally applicable to spoken language. I think it's worth experimenting, perhaps alternating between methods, doing the opposite of what you've been doing up to now.
A final question is difficult to resolve which is the extent to which reading is a kind of aided listening. This probably depends on whether we read 'as speech' in a flow pattern with or without subvocalisation. If in a flow then writing is probably a remnant of speech - if the brain's main model of language is auditory this would explain why comprehensible listening might be particularly potent in foreign language acquisition and maintenance.