Limit Passive Learning Activities (reading and listening)

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Cavesa
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Re: Limit Passive Learning Activities (reading and listening)

Postby Cavesa » Mon Dec 02, 2019 10:14 pm

As usual, the main problem is putting these two ways (which are not even well defined in practical ways) in opposition. While I'd agree that a beginner (a usual one) should just take a good coursebook and add lots of extra input later, those tons of input are absolutely a key part of the intermediate and advanced learner's routine. It's extensive listening, what made me a much better speaker. And tons and tons of reading helped too, they provided me with the necessary repetitions. Any kind of "optimisation" by removing fun from the process would have lead just to me giving up. As was said in this thread, our energy is limited. By removing these activities (btw anyone else just loves the word combination "a passive learning activity"? :-D ), we wouldn't automatically get more time for the more demanding tasks. We'd get more time for other less demanding ones, such as tv in our native languages. Not a helpful change.

To adress the various weird issues:

We have different childhood memories. I spent a large part of my childhood reading books for fun. As a result, I had huge vocabulary and knew and understood tons of stuff not that usual for children, and I'd say it was a good base for any further learning. While other kids struggled learning the ortograph and grammar, and other subjects considered general knowledge, I was ok. I'd say that tops the authors memory "my grandpa was actively teaching me tons of stuff that slipped my mind". :-)

The main problem is finding time for this. So, if your problem is lack of time, then perhaps looking for such "optimalisation" by drilling instead of reading is a good thing. But I think I'm a good living proof (and by far not the other one), that the bookworm's path definitely brings many benefits.

To that Russian learner's example: B1 after two years isn't bad. She managed to learn despite the method. And it is possible, that she actually reached her own goals, as she might have needed primarily to read. And if not, this was her fault, that she hadn't waved goodbye that teacher. I know lots of such examples, and many do things that would probably fall into the "active" category, as it is probably imagined in this article, yet they are totally useless. Guess what, doing just one activity doesn't work well.
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If at any point while reading this description, you told yourself, “Hey, this is pretty much how my lessons look like!” then run. Run the hell away from your teacher or language school. A visit to a local strip-club seems to be a better investment than this. At least you will know what you pay for.


Yeah, I'd agree. Most teachers are much less worth the money than most strippers. The stripper won't ever tell their public that not liking their performance is the customer's fault. Or say "this is the modern way to do striptease, dancing and taking off clothes is too old school and useless, just get excited without these elements". I could find many other such differences.

Self-study rules!
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The learning activity pyramid is a nice theory. But there are some catches, when it is applied to language learning.
For example: too much "practice doing" without "lecture" and "demonstration" leads to what I like to think of as "fluent neanderthals". And "Teach others", that is definitely a great activity, but should learners primarily focus on teaching others? Thinking of it, I actually know people getting paid for this. For teaching languages while being worse than some of their students.
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One minute of talking is worth 5-7 minutes of reading/listening (read more about the benefits of talking to yourself).

I'm all for discussing benefits of self talk. But it is not one or the other. If the one minute of talking is supported (and preceded) by 5-7 minutes of listening, I'd say we're getting somewhere. :-D Really, there are tons of people with learned mistakes because of having just spoken and spoken, without actually listening much.

Unintentional learning takes place when you acquire vocabulary accidentally. It is a by-product of repeating a given piece of information a certain number of times.

It’s worth mentioning that is it also one of the default and (most useless) strategies of almost every language learner.

The body of research shows that you need to repeat a piece of information (unintentionally) between 20 and 50 times to put it into your long-term memory. 20 to 50 times! (one of many sources)

It takes way too much time. And time is the luxury a few of us can afford. Of course, One might argue that 20-50 repetitions are not that many. After all, if you read extensively and listen, you should get to this number of repetitions after some time.


Well, getting from B2 to C2 in three years (after two years of almost complete break) by almost exclusively reading and listening, that doesn't feel so bad :-) But sure, when you show me lots of people who managed to do the same thing just by SRS and expensive classes (=people who tried and managed to stick to it without burning out), I'll even call my way inferior. But so far, it looks like every successful learner I meet has learnt a lot unintentionally. Of course combination of intentional and unintentional learning is the best, sure.

But condemning unintentional learning just because extremely few people are able to do the same thing faster through other means, that just doesn't make sense.
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Unless you learn three thousand words, reading is a very slow and inefficient activity.


And until you reach this number, your odds of learning words contextually are slight. Sure, you can infer the meaning, but there is a good chance that your guess will be incorrect.

And what about rare words which you might find useful?

What If I need to know the word “thimble” because that was my dog’s name, and I feel the need to share it with English speakers? How many thousands pages must I read to stumble across this word, say, ten times? Hell, I don’t remember when was the last time I heard this word in my native tongue!

What about other words like tangs, udder, piston, and so on? I need such words frequently during interpreting or teaching. Relying only on passive learning activities would make me an inefficient teacher/coach/interpreter.

So there you have it. L2 Learners are simply at a disadvantage as for the number of repetitions of words. If you want to optimize your language learning, limiting passive learning activities is one of the first things you should do.


I agree with a part of this statement. And if the author clearly targeted just beginners with the article, I'd agree a bit more. Those people trying to just listen to songs, some youtube, and avoid any coursebook, those are unlikely to get anywhere. But once you get to the 3000 (I'd even say 2000), get reading. And listening.

Btw 3000 is still not much, those words up to 5000 are still not rare. And the truth is, that if you don't encounter the word "thimble" in a few thousand pages, you actually don't need it that much.

If you're a translator, than by all means, learn every word with an exact translation right away, don't waste time on 20000 pages of books (that's the number I like to recommend intermediate learners as a good goal). But not everybody learns a language to be a translator. For most people, learning "thimble" a few months later, or not at all, changes little. And anybody in need of the word can learn it through other means.

I would love to agree with the last statement in this quote so much. It is such a truth that the rarer words that you still might want to learn are harder to learn through exposure, due to being presented less often. But it is also true, that those words (I'd say those between 5000 and 20000 on a frequency list) are much less represented even in resources for learners. Just saying.

Limiting "passive learning activities" is actually the last thing you should do. If a word appears twice per thousand pages, then reading less won't make you encounter it more. You should read more, if you've got the time. And let's not forget that real reading and listening teaches you much more than just vocabulary.

Instead of limiting the "passive" ways, increase the "active" ones. I mean it. It will help a lot to increase the exposure to the rarer words. But don't get rid of the "passive" stuff. I know lots of learners, who have drilled tons of words, by SRS or otherwise. They'll regurgitate them very efficiently and precisely. But they simply don't speak well. In this context, reading and listening actually does the "demonstration" and "practice doing" role, from the already mentioned pyramide. The same is true about another popular "active" activity, using the teachers. They learn well the content of the classes, but they are usually simply lost outside of it, because the classes are simply much less affordable and also much less realistic than a good tv series.
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Re: Limit Passive Learning Activities (reading and listening)

Postby golyplot » Tue Dec 03, 2019 1:58 am

Cavesa wrote:I know lots of learners, who have drilled tons of words, by SRS or otherwise. They'll regurgitate them very efficiently and precisely. But they simply don't speak well. In this context, reading and listening actually does the "demonstration" and "practice doing" role, from the already mentioned pyramide. The same is true about another popular "active" activity, using the teachers. They learn well the content of the classes, but they are usually simply lost outside of it, because the classes are simply much less affordable and also much less realistic than a good tv series.


I definitely agree. Drilling makes you good at taking tests, but is substantially less effective for anything else. When you learn via TV, you're not just associating a word with a definition. You're associating it with an image, a feeling, a conversation, etc. And you do so unconsciously, which is essential if you want to be able to speak without having to laboriously assemble each sentence in your head beforehand.
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Re: Limit Passive Learning Activities (reading and listening)

Postby Iversen » Tue Dec 03, 2019 2:09 pm

When I hear a new word on TV (or during a conversation) the simple reality is that I don't get it written down, and as a consequence I forget that I have ever heard it .. and then I don't learn it. Simple as that. OK, if it occurs 30 times within the next hour I may take notice and remember it for being extraordinarily persistent, but that's a rare case. On the other hand: if I study a text intensively and meet a new word (or find it in a dictionary) then I have the time to write it down, and then I have the opportunity to do the repetitions that will push it into my longterm passive memory.

And then I can (mostly) recognize it when I read and remember its meaning.To be able to use it actively I have to use it, but I can't use it unless I already know it at least passively - words just don't fall from heaven when you need them.

The first problem with the article is that it defines reading and listening as purely passive activities, the second is that it seems oblivious to the fact that you can't use anything actively before you already know it - and the third is that because of problem no. 1 it is oblivious to the possibility that things might be known from active versions of the supposedly passive activities - like when I copy text while checking my comprehension and extract new words for further treatment in a wordlist. Or when I read some grammar and then look for examples. As for listening ... well, it's harder to learn words from speech than from text, but you can definitely do active study of the sounds before trying to speak yourself.

As for the learning pyramide in the article it exemplifies the same errors: it tells you that teaching things to others is very efficient, and yes it is - but you can't do it before you have learnt the matter in question yourself (which doesn't have happened long ago, but you can't just inverse the temporal order). Teaching to others is efficient because it forces you to be be aware of the details and because you get personally involved - it is not fun to be caught as an ignorant jerk by your pupils - but you can't teach things you don't know. And you can't have a conversation without knowing enough words to have that conversation (plus some grammar).
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Re: Limit Passive Learning Activities (reading and listening)

Postby Serpent » Tue Dec 03, 2019 4:47 pm

iguanamon wrote:The number of lessons to do before engaging in reading is an arbitrary number and his advice is geared to and for adult monolingual beginner self-learners
And generally the ones learning FIGS languages, often false beginners who've learned something at school before but don't remember much.
Saim wrote:A Polish person was reading articles with their teacher one hour a week over two years and “barely reached B1” in Russian... which proves reading is bad?
Makes me wonder what her goals were and whether struggled with basic grammar stuff like identifying a case. I doubt she was reading articles from day 1, except as pronunciation practice.

Also, since the author is Polish, I wonder if it has to do with the belief that to improve your English you need to read books and watch movies/series in the original. This is certainly a common assumption in Russia, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's also the case in Poland. But again this is about false beginners or perpetual intermediates. Very few people believe in using native materials from day one. I do, but I acknowledge this is not for everyone and I certainly don't believe 1 hour a week is enough.
mentecuerpo wrote:Probably one of his points is that to learn new words, it is more efficient to do "word recall" than repeating the word multiple times.
When I did flashcards, I did L1-L2 only. There were some words I could recall easily but if I saw them in a text I had no idea what they meant (though I definitely knew that they were on my list, and often I also knew which unit of my textbook they were from).
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Re: Limit Passive Learning Activities (reading and listening)

Postby trui » Tue Dec 03, 2019 8:36 pm

Saim wrote:A Polish person was reading articles with their teacher one hour a week over two years and “barely reached B1” in Russian... which proves reading is bad? That’s absolutely not a lot, I don’t think any advocates of reading and listening as the main pillar of language acquisition would expect that to give great results. Assuming they had class literally every week that’s only 100 hours of intensive reading with no other activities mentioned, I wouldn’t expect a B1 in Kashubian or Slovak (let alone Russian) in that amount of time and solely based on that one activity, nor would anyone methinks.

I don't know why more people in this thread aren't pointing this out, and some even seem to be saying that the teacher might be bad?

Only 100 hours for B1 in Russian? Sign me up! (I'm actually dabbling in Russian at the moment). This anecdote that he tried to use to backup his argument is ironically convincing me that he's completely wrong, since it shows that what that teacher did seemed to be working quite well.

So what's his point again?
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Re: Limit Passive Learning Activities (reading and listening)

Postby Cavesa » Tue Dec 03, 2019 10:46 pm

Iversen wrote:When I hear a new word on TV (or during a conversation) the simple reality is that I don't get it written down, and as a consequence I forget that I have ever heard it .. and then I don't learn it. Simple as that. OK, if it occurs 30 times within the next hour I may take notice and remember it for being extraordinarily persistent, but that's a rare case. On the other hand: if I study a text intensively and meet a new word (or find it in a dictionary) then I have the time to write it down, and then I have the opportunity to do the repetitions that will push it into my longterm passive memory.


This is obviously very individual. For vocab learnt in context, I usually don't need to write it down. Of course, it applies to a certain part of the vocabulary, words that are too rare (at least in that type of media I am using) are a problem.

And then I can (mostly) recognize it when I read and remember its meaning.To be able to use it actively I have to use it, but I can't use it unless I already know it at least passively - words just don't fall from heaven when you need them.


You are right that they don't just fall from heaven. They are drawn from the pool built by lots of exposure or practice. A large part of my vocabulary comes from reading and listening, without writing stuff down, and I have no problem with using it.

The first problem with the article is that it defines reading and listening as purely passive activities, the second is that it seems oblivious to the fact that you can't use anything actively before you already know it - and the third is that because of problem no. 1 it is oblivious to the possibility that things might be known from active versions of the supposedly passive activities - like when I copy text while checking my comprehension and extract new words for further treatment in a wordlist. Or when I read some grammar and then look for examples. As for listening ... well, it's harder to learn words from speech than from text, but you can definitely do active study of the sounds before trying to speak yourself.

Well, I'd agree that reading and listening are not that passive. But that can be true even without copying, dissecting the text, turning it into lists, and so on. I am not saying those activities are bad, they are obviously great. But generalisation and underestimating the other way because of that generalisation, that's what I don't find correct.

Again, we are hitting the wall of the original article making no clear distinction between the various levels of the learners. Yes, a beginner should learn first and speak freely later. But at the intermediate and advanced level, lots of stuff can pass directly from listening/reading to speaking/writing, without passing through any drilling phase.

but you can't teach things you don't know. And you can't have a conversation without knowing enough words to have that conversation (plus some grammar).
Lot's of people teach things they don't know :-) That's why I sometimes recommend teaching your dog, cactus, or an imaginary friend (not in public, please). You'll get the benefits, and nobody's learning will be harmed. Too bad some professional teachers suck at the language and still are allowed to teach real people. But I would sign the last sentence several times, if only I could.

I'd say one of the problems of many today's learners is the attitude that speaking is much more important than listening or reading. That it is the only important goal, and that focusing on the rest is just a waste of time. Even if we set aside (just for a moment) all the benefits of listening and reading for one's speaking skill, it's still wrong. It is an attitude problem. I simply find it wrong, that it is so popular to underestimate the value of what other people might tell you (with their vocal cords or with a written text) and overestimate the value of their own (at first poor) production. I find it rather narcissistic and really common. (I don't mean Iversen, despite responding to his post here). But have you noticed how often is the language learning advice focused on glorifying even not too meaningful speaking practice, and undermining both the "passive" activities of reading and listening, and the active studying with coursebooks or other tools (including intensive reading)? The result are tons of people, who get stuck at the touristy level, and they won't improve, because they simply don't study anything else and they are not worth any attempts to talk about other stuff.
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Re: Limit Passive Learning Activities (reading and listening)

Postby golyplot » Wed Dec 04, 2019 3:14 am

Serpent wrote:When I did flashcards, I did L1-L2 only. There were some words I could recall easily but if I saw them in a text I had no idea what they meant (though I definitely knew that they were on my list, and often I also knew which unit of my textbook they were from).


I find that interesting because it's the opposite of my experience. The amount of words I can understand has always vastly exceeded those I can recall. I suppose it shows that you get better at what you train.
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Re: Limit Passive Learning Activities (reading and listening)

Postby Cenwalh » Wed Dec 04, 2019 8:17 am

Serpent wrote: When I did flashcards, I did L1-L2 only. There were some words I could recall easily but if I saw them in a text I had no idea what they meant (though I definitely knew that they were on my list, and often I also knew which unit of my textbook they were from).


It's possible that this is because of the nuances of the word. Dictionary.com says that the word "set" has 100 definitions plus several phrasal verbs each with several definitions plus several idioms. Yet on a flashcard you'd likely just have one.

I don't know how you could possibly do one word to one definition flashcards to learn all the nuances of a word. You'd probably need several or dozens of full sentence to full sentence or cloze cards to do that.
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Re: Limit Passive Learning Activities (reading and listening)

Postby Ccaesar » Wed Dec 04, 2019 10:16 am

I'd recommend being practical. Find the nuances you will need and let the rest come to you later on your "travels" through the language ;)
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Re: Limit Passive Learning Activities (reading and listening)

Postby IronMike » Wed Dec 04, 2019 6:39 pm

I thought we all agreed decades ago to call this receptive and productive versus passive and active? :lol:
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