Repetition a key factor in language learning

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Repetition a key factor in language learning

Postby rdearman » Mon Oct 09, 2017 9:41 pm

I read an interesting article on the brains behaviour when acquiring new vocabulary.
It is based on research done at the university of Helsinki, you can read the full text here:
One item I found interesting was this:
The enhancement, originating in the left inferior frontal and posterior
temporal cortical sources, was specific to phonologically native word-forms and,
furthermore, independent of whether the spoken sounds were ignored or attended to,
suggesting a high degree of automaticity in native word-form acquisition. For novel
word-forms with non-native phonology, such a response enhancement was not
significant, while the response to known words attenuated over exposure, likely
reflecting repetition-related suppression.

So it seems that with native word acquisition you don't actually need to be paying attention for your brain to register and start to remember it, however non-native memory needs you to actively identify and work to gain vocabulary.

Now this seems to me to be a very useful point for us language learners, but seems to defy some peoples use of "listening in the background" to learn their target language. If your brain is only going to learn non-native word forms (or even register them) you're going to have to be actively studying. For me this strikes a cord because I really don't feel that I get much out of listening to French Podcasts while doing the dishes or some other activity. Does this mean we'd be better off sitting and doing intensive listening and anki reps?

I would be interested in hearing your views? :ugeek:
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Re: Repetition a key factor in language learning

Postby tarvos » Mon Oct 09, 2017 10:35 pm

I, for one, have to be actively involved with either listening or reading for it to work. When I listen to a video in a foreign language, I really have to concentrate on that. If I zone out, I don't learn anything from it.

On the other hand, reading 5000 pages does wonders, because so many words get repeated over such a volume that you'll learn something. And that's just the novels - I am not counting the articles, Wikipedia stuff, forums, speech and everything else going on.
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Re: Repetition a key factor in language learning

Postby IronMike » Tue Oct 10, 2017 8:44 am

I agree with tarvos and I think this really is an issue of productive and receptive. (I love that "they" have gone away from using active and passive.)

Listening for me has to be active. I zone out way too easily. Now, I can do things like walk the dog, but I certainly have to pay attention (and walk in a safe place, or else I'll walk right into traffic). Reading to me is very active as you can't simply passively read. At least I can't, not in any of my L2s. (English I can zone out in, but I find when I do, I stick to one sentence, reading it over and over again.)

Passive listening might work, could be in the brain somewhere, I'm not sure. Anecdotally, when I first learned Russian at DLI in California, my roommate set his radio to turn on at 0200 and play one of our language tapes, really low volume. We did that for the first few months or so. At one point, he woke me up in the middle of the night as I was repeating (as instructed by the tape) vocabulary in my sleep. Did my brain remember those words because of the sleep-repeating or because I learned/used them in class? Who knows for sure.
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Re: Repetition a key factor in language learning

Postby reineke » Tue Oct 10, 2017 1:04 pm

The "passive" set-up is described as subjects being instructed to ignore the sounds and concentrate on the silent film. That sounds foolproof.

In this study the "passive listening" group were asked to "simply listen":

Speech segmentation by statistical learning depends on attention
Juan M. Toro, Scott Sinnett, Salvador Soto-Faraco

Abstract "We addressed the hypothesis that word segmentation based on statistical regularities occurs without the need of attention. Participants were presented with a stream of artificial speech in which the only cue to extract the words was the presence of statistical regularities between syllables. Half of the participants were asked to passively listen to the speech stream, while the other half were asked to perform a concurrent task. In Experiment 1, the concurrent task was performed on a separate auditory stream (noises), in Experiment 2 it was performed on a visual stream (pictures), and in Experiment 3 it was performed on pitch changes in the speech stream itself. Invariably, passive listening to the speech stream led to successful word extraction (as measured by a recognition test presented after the exposure phase), whereas diverted attention led to a dramatic impairment in word segmentation performance. These findings demonstrate that when attentional resources are depleted, word segmentation based on statistical regularities is seriously compromised. q 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. Keywords: Language; Attention; Speech Segmentation

Saffran et al. (1997) showed that statistical learning took place while participants performed an incidental task completely unrelated to the speech input. Their concurrent task, however, could hardly allow for a strict control of attentional load because it consisted of self-paced free drawing. Our results from Experiment 2 (750 ms SOA) replicate Safran’s (1997) findings, as statistical learning was found in an incidental situation, when the speech stream was combined with a visual distracter task. However, when the concurrent task was more demanding (500 ms SOA) or within the same sensory modality as the speech stream, performance on the segmentation task dropped to chance levels. Thus, the present results clearly show that at least some attentional resources must be available and directed to the speech stream in order to segment it. This conclusion is along the same line as other results in the field of language perception, specifically, on word reading (Rees et al., 1999) and audiovisual speech integration (Alsius, Navarra, Campbell, & Soto-Faraco, in press).

Thus, our data add to these recent demonstrations and call for some discretion in the interpretation of previous results indicating segmentation under incidental situations. In conclusion, the present results show that even if speech segmentation based on statistical learning can occur without the need of explicitly instructing the listener to focus on the speech stream, it is clear that some degree of attention is needed to attain word extraction successfully. Another question is, for instance, whether certain features of speech are in fact a very salient stimulus for the human, thus, potentially recruiting whatever attentional resources left available that are not being used in other processes, or even capturing attention already allocated to less salient stimuli. This is especially important in the context of language development...'
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Re: Repetition a key factor in language learning

Postby MorkTheFiddle » Tue Oct 10, 2017 5:23 pm

Extended L2 audio that is new to me is incomprehensible unless I pay attention.
If the dialogue goes too fast for me, I can't understand and need a transcript. But even if I do pay attention and do understand, I quickly forget what was said earlier.
Listening to FLI material while driving the car works for me, but with FLI all the vocabulary is familiar to me, even if I've never heard it spoken. But I rarely do this.
When I review something I sort of already know, I can put on headphones and listen while I putter around the house or go for a walk. This works in the car, too, but again only for material I may not know perfectly but am reviewing.
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Re: Repetition a key factor in language learning

Postby reineke » Tue Oct 10, 2017 8:34 pm

In case you are starting to wonder Where's the beef? here's a thread about repetition: ... =14&t=4803
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Personal experience (anecdotal)

Postby coldrainwater » Thu Oct 12, 2017 12:17 am

I have listened to several hundred hours of background podcasts in my L2 with the hope that they would pay off and my gut feeling is that they have helped notably. Against my better judgment, I'll hazard a guess as to what may be going on. After the first 10-30 hours of listening to a given podcast, I get a free listening boost based on voice familiarity (have replicated that finding many times over). I can get that familiarity by more or less ignoring the content of what I am listening to. I also suspect that part of the issue is that provided really good headphones and generally pleasant voices, it is hard to fully tune out. Due to the nature of how I listen (tune-in, tune-out, rinse repeat), I believe this sort of background listening is helping me to parse the individual sounds (and assists with speed). In my case/opinion, I am almost never trying to acquire new vocabulary listening, but am rather mapping known vocabulary to the spoken sound. Where this background listening really flops in my case is in deeper understanding connecting stories across the listening hours. I can listen to an entire audiobook and not be able to tell you much about the plot if I don't pay close attention. However, when I focus and tune in for short periods, the voice familiarity and capacity to parse words makes it much more likely that I can catch up with the storyline and engage. Incidentally, I am placing most of my confidence related to efficacy on the reality that these background hours constituted the vast majority of my initial 300+ dedicated listening hours in Spanish. Also, after background listening, I absolutely have tons of L2 floating around in my head and feel primed for speaking (way better than silence for warming up).

I have also run aground and expectedly hit some major limitations with the approach. Nonetheless, I have so many background hours at my disposal, I'll likely end up milking them for all they are worthwhile filling the gaps with other more expensive language learning activities. Given what I know, I think it would be cool to get off my technological couch and take a long wordlist with monolingual definitions and play it on repeat (FSI style). With high repeat frequency, I honestly do think I'd come out knowing definitions for a fair number of words. Thanks for posting the article.
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Re: Repetition a key factor in language learning

Postby zenmonkey » Thu Oct 12, 2017 6:22 am

Personally I think that the division into passive and active listening isn't sufficient. It's in practice a large spectrum from active listening, able to echo, possibly reading the transcript (full active multi-channel input), to paying attention, to listening while doing tasks, to "it's droning 'behind my ears# but I'm thinking about something else while I drive, oh, look I better get dinner."

When I listen to an audiobook in the car, focused and concentrating - there are obviously words that I don't get. I have no way of noting them down, no way to look them up, and as studious as I might like to be, I usually do not get back to them. That's not really efficient and understanding isn't likely to pop up (despite what Krachen might say) as easily as if I looked them and got the meaning.

I might set up my phone, now with the new iOS11, to be able to ask it in my L2 "how do you say 'insert missed words' in English'.
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Re: Repetition a key factor in language learning

Postby Henkkles » Thu Oct 12, 2017 6:48 am

Thanks a lot for posting, fascinating stuff. I only read the abstract so far but I'll try to read the entire thing soon.

What this seems to suggest is what dr. Kjellin is known to advocate; namely, learning the phonology first, because if you don't know the sounds and the sound structure of the language, the words won't stick.

However that is the extent of the sophistication of my knowledge.
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