LIE to a Polyglot

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LIE to a Polyglot

Postby leosmith » Wed Dec 14, 2016 1:18 am

I’ve been studying languages for a long time now, and one cool thing about language learning is that no matter how much I think I know, or how well developed and stable my learning methods feel, sooner or later something will come along and just utterly blow everything out of the water. This has happened to me so many times I’ve lost count. Actually, my epiphany moments are always related to language learning techniques, and never personal progress in a language. This is me trying to explain my latest epiphany to you.

The last time I made the effort to write out my learning method, I called it synergy. In addition to using the method myself, I wanted to draw attention to the fact that all language skills reinforced each other, and that practicing them concurrently is very beneficial. Or perhaps a better way to look at is, if you don’t practice them all concurrently you’ll be missing something crucial. I felt this fact was underplayed or even ignored by a great deal of language learners, so I took it upon myself to reveal it. I could say it was the strongest principal running through my method.

While I still believe strongly in synergy, a few years ago I began to think I was missing something major. My pondering started as a general disappointment with how slowly we acquire listening. Then I started thinking about input - reading and listening. It seemed to me that the true source of input was listening, not reading. Reading hasn’t been around nearly as long, and isn’t even needed to learn how to speak. I’m just telling you what was going on in my mind; I’m not trying to start an argument about theoretical fake vs real input lol. Anyway, that’s when and why it hit me – Listening Is Everything to a polyglot. Every other thing I do, I do it for the main purpose of propping up my listening, or at least that’s the way I should look at it. Listening really is, in my mind, the origin of everything, and by knowing this fundamental truth we should be able to reap some benefit. So I started to look for a way to do that.

I haven’t made much progress yet, but my goal is to create a language learning method that places importance on/draws attention to this truth. I call it LIE. I’m still going to use synergy, but I want lie to be primary. Why am I interested in doing this? First of all, just like with synergy, I feel that the importance of listening is underplayed, ignored or unknown by a great deal of language learners. I want to draw more attention to it. Secondly, I think we make decisions with our study path that could cause a positive or negative impact on our listening, so it would remind us how important listening is, and encourage us to err on the side of better listening wherever possible.

Now this is a bit controversial, but a few months ago I took the time to write down a few principles I believe in which I’ll share with you:
Becoming a good listener takes a long time and the support of other techniques and skills to do it efficiently imo. Here is my prescription for becoming a good listener:

1) First, listen a lot. It takes 1500-2000 hours of listening for your brain to acquire the ability to parse a foreign language at normal speeds (source). You can understand a language to varying degrees with less listening, but the time on task listed above is required to become a good listener.
2) Although a lot of pure listening is required to become a good listener, doing nothing but listening not very inefficient. This is because in addition to parsing, you have to be able to understand thousands of words and grammar. The following is a sample of things you can do, other than pure listening, to support the acquisition of listening.
a) Read. Reading the transcript for the material you are listening to is ideal, but any reading is beneficial to listening because it improves your grammar and vocabulary. Reading also gives you a visual memory of words, which helps your recall.
b) Write. Like reading, writing familiarizes you with vocabulary and grammar, which in turn helps your listening. Also, when you write you read, which I’ve already stated helps listening.
c) Speak. Speaking familiarizes you with vocabulary and grammar, which in turn helps your listening. When you speak you hear your own voice, which is listening practice, and one of the many reasons why reading out loud is a good skill to practice.

I decided to end the list here because not only does it show some ways to become a good listener, but also the study of these three skills, and therefore the learning of the entire language, can be considered to be in support of listening.
It seems every time I have an epiphany moment, I end up reading an article or study that supports what I thought I had “discovered”. It can be a little annoying, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll probably never discover anything new in the world of language learning. Anyway, rdearman posted a link to this study, so I’ll close by including some key excerpts.

Listening Skill Requires a Further Look into Second/Foreign Language Learning
Current English-as-a-second and foreign-language (ESL/EFL) research has encouraged to treat each communicative macroskill separately due to space constraint, but the interrelationship among these skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) is not paid due attention. This study attempts to examine first the existing relationship among the four dominant skills, second the potential impact of reading background on the overall language proficiency, and finally the relationship between listening and overall language proficiency as listening is considered an overlooked/passive skill in the pedagogy of the second/foreign language classroom.

Arguing for the role of listening in the communicative macroskills, Hunsaker [8] found that more than three quarters of what children learn in school is achieved through listening in the classroom.

The essence of listening skill for effective communication has been recognized almost for a century. Rankin [17] conducted a study and found that listening skill was the most dominant skill for the mode of human communication. Listening skill occupies almost 50% of our daily communications. In this regard, two studies conducted by Ralph and Stevens [18] and Rankin [19] reported that listening (46%), speaking (30%), reading (16%), and writing (9%) involve our daily communication.

As the studies reveal, listening comprehension lies at the heart of language learning, but it is the least understood and least researched skill in language learning, and the listening process is often disregarded by foreign and second language instructors [25].
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Re: LIE to a Polyglot

Postby iguanamon » Wed Dec 14, 2016 1:35 am

Catchy acronym L I E, :). Leosmith is right. Some learners who say they want to have all the skills of a language often place a low priority on training listening. Some think their course audio is sufficient to cover listening training. It isn't. Each skill does indeed reinforce the other. Listening is a skill that can be trained with effort and dedication. It's not a skill which is as easy to train as reading and takes a long time... longer than some learners may think and may be willing to devote.

Nice post, leosmith. Leosmith wrote one of the most highly voted posts ever on the old forum- listening from the beginning. I would love to see him update it and put on the static site for Hopefully, this thread will be the genesis of that.
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Re: LIE to a Polyglot

Postby NoManches » Wed Dec 14, 2016 1:54 am

This is one of those threads I was going to pass over because I'm short on time. Very glad I didn't.

Looking forward to any other comments that show up here. Listening is most definitely one of the most important language learning skills. Leosmith, I am very familiar with the post Iguanamon linked to on the old site and I couldn't agree with it more. If/When I decide to learn a new language I will keep everything you wrote in mind
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Re: LIE to a Polyglot

Postby whatiftheblog » Wed Dec 14, 2016 2:43 am

I have nothing but self-anecdata to share, but it reinforces your principle(s) - my French is leaps and bounds stronger ever since I started consuming hours and hours of French media - TV news, radio, debates, documentaries, series, vlogs, movies, everything. I started really focusing on this in August and feel like I've improved exponentially, and I can now effortlessly use certain constructions because they've been branded into my brain. My Spanish, once believed to have been lost forever, also rebounded through literally zero effort on my part - I just happen to have a largely Spanish-speaking workplace, so I "sit in" a bowl of Spanish all day. No formal study or instruction past half a Duolingo track, yet suddenly I can figure out a (grammatically incorrect) conversation that's rich in vocabulary and gets my point across with details.

I've even noticed it with Portuguese - I've spent about a month total immersed in lusophone environments, and with every passing hour it becomes clearer and clearer. I started 3% on Netflix with the Portuguese track and English subs, and it's surprisingly clear to me, spelling included. We got a cab from the airport in Rio, and I apparently did a very poor job of explaining that I don't speak Portuguese, because the next 45 minutes of Rio traffic were all in Portuguese - at first I understood maybe every 10th word, but by the end of the ride, once a bit adjusted, I had managed to understand the phrase "and this is a monument to Princess Isabel, who emancipated the slaves of Brazil in 1871" in its entirety. Not bad for 45 minutes.
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Re: LIE to a Polyglot

Postby PeterMollenburg » Wed Dec 14, 2016 6:32 am

I've also read that excellent post by leosmith about listening back on HTLAL a few times. It's taken a few reads for it to sink in though. I just don't think I was ready to hear just how valuable listening is, or wasn't ready to make enough room for it in my daily routine. Me being a little stubborn and sticking to my preferred methods, I, admittedly, have been one of those language learners who's not included listening high enough up on my priority of language learning needs. Yes I've certainly included a good amount of listening via courses and watching the odd blocks of TV, but not nearly as much as I perhaps could have. I'm certainly convinced lately by a good number of very experienced learners here on the forum, that more emphasis/importance/respect with regards to listening being a high priority in my attentive study routine will be particularly wise as part of my synergy and evolution of language learning methods. Glad to read this thread myself too :) thanks again leosomith!

Just to add, although I was doing things out of balance, is comforting to know that many a language learner has good evidence that more listening works very well. I can only look forward to improvements by including more listening, that's definitely a plus! ;)
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Re: LIE to a Polyglot

Postby garyb » Wed Dec 14, 2016 10:17 am

The importance of lots of listening seems to be a conclusion that most of us end up coming to, to the point where on here "listen more" is often prescribed as the solution to all problems. While I don't go that far, I do agree on its importance and see it as the base of effective language learning. It's nice to see that your post addresses the quality as well as the quantity of listening, which I feel is sometimes neglected in the "just listen more" responses.
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Re: LIE to a Polyglot

Postby rdearman » Wed Dec 14, 2016 1:15 pm

Sorry to be a buzz kill. :D

I think you need to make a distinction between hearing and listening. I have frequently heard a TL audiobook but not listened. Listening is an active skill which I would liken to intensive reading. Just putting a DVD in your player and zoning out thinking about you dinner isn't going to magic your TL into your head.

Listening requires attention and active participation.
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Re: LIE to a Polyglot

Postby AnthonyLauder » Wed Dec 14, 2016 1:33 pm

You mentioned that listening is key to everything, and that reading merely supports it. However, it seems that super successful polyglots often experience reading as listening. That is, when most of us are reading we can "hear" the words in our heads, but several super successful polyglots have told me that they hear words they are reading, not in their heads, but in their ears. So, reading practice is listening practice.

I was inspired by studies on top level music composers, who don't need to listen to music to hear it. According to research, they can read sheet music and hear the music in their ears. Astonishingly, neuroscientists have discovered that when these people are not imagining this. It is really happening. The connection from the brain to the ear works with them in both directions. That is, when they read, or even think of, sheet music, it triggers vibration of the tiny hairs in the ear that would have been triggered if they were actually listening to the music.

I wondered if something similar happened to polyglots, and so I asked around. A few highly successful polyglots told me that they experience something similar: when they read text, they hear a voice whispering in their ear.

They also have another similarity to composers, who listen to music and see the music score in their mind's eye. Some of the polyglots told me that when they hear people speaking, they see "subtitles" in their mind, which they can read.

Now, my own questions on this were informal, and this was far from scientific, but it has triggered me into using myself as a guinea pig, with much of my focus these days seeing if I can train my brain to hear (in my ears) what I read, and to automatically see subtitles for what I hear.
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Re: LIE to a Polyglot

Postby jeff_lindqvist » Wed Dec 14, 2016 2:44 pm

AnthonyLauder wrote:That is, when they read, or even think of, sheet music, it triggers vibration of the tiny hairs in the ear that would have been triggered if they were actually listening to the music.

Do they have to think of sheet music, or music? I never think of sheet music, but I DO think of tunes and songs during all awake hours. The way of the lazy fist keeps my repertoire alive. 8-)
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Re: LIE to a Polyglot

Postby whatiftheblog » Wed Dec 14, 2016 3:13 pm

AnthonyLauder wrote:They also have another similarity to composers, who listen to music and see the music score in their mind's eye. Some of the polyglots told me that when they hear people speaking, they see "subtitles" in their mind, which they can read.

It's so interesting that you mention this because this happens to me, but only with French and, to a much more limited extent, Spanish, but not English or Russian. I don't think of myself as anything approaching an accomplished polyglot; I thought this was fairly standard for language learners, actually. This also translates into speaking - with more complex sentence structures in French, I "see" the "subtitles" of what I'm saying a split second before I say it.
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