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"This way of learning a language made complete sense to me. Working with the SpeakEZ German course, I was able to understand more in 2 weeks than in five years of German in school!"
      -- Asbjørn Finsnes

"The way in which this method is presented provided me with language that will suit me in a foreign country instead of a collection of unusable vocabulary words.

Those who have studied languages realize that looking-up individual words cannot convey a language in the correct manner. Becoming fluent means being able to verbalize ideas ; not learning technical rules and identifying the Past Predicate Indicative.

The audio part of this method has been my favorite portion of the learning process. Not only is the pronunciation slow and clear, but it is presented so that I remember the flow of sentences and concepts.

Thank you for the opportunity to work with this amazing program; it has been a blessing for me."

-- Destiny Yarbro, College Student

Are You Listening?
by Nathalie Fairbanks

Intuitively, we all know that a little girl learns her native language because her parents talk to her. The more they talk, the better she speaks. Drs. Betty Hart and Todd Risley published a study (Meaningful Differences) that shows us just how much her caregivers need to talk for that little girl to reach her full language potential, maximize her IQ and excel academically: three million words from birth to age 3. That's an average of 30,000 words a day!

Click here to see a short video summarizing the recommendations of the study.

As a language learner, you share a few characteristics with that little girl. Although adult language learning is often treated as an entirely different subject, I maintain that we can learn a lot from early language acquisition.

As an adult, you have the advantage of already having organized your language center and understand how the sounds of a language are connected to the meaning you're trying to convey. However, the physical logistics of pronunciation, fluent speech and listening comprehension are the same whether you are an adult or an infant.

In order to apply the results of this study to your own language learning, you'd want to get exposure to 30,000 words a day in your new language. If you don't live in a country where people speak your target language, this will take some organizing--I call it "Passive Listening."
Vera F. Birkenbihl coined the term. It basically means to listen while you're not listening. Let me explain:

She likens this exercise to living in your target country and, e.g., riding a bus. Several conversations are going on around you, but you are only paying attention to one or two, if at all. Your subconscious takes in all the sound bites you are exposed to, without any effort on your part. The phrase melody, pronunciation, facial expressions and body language all make an impression on your memory.

Since most of us won't start learning a language when we already live in the new country, we need to approximate this experience as best we can while we are at home.

Obviously, a recording won't be able to recreate the visuals for you, but it can do an amazing job with your audio capabilities. The more you are exposed to how words sound in your target language, the more you'll unconsciously pick the correct pronunciation when you encounter a new word, and your phrase melody will match a native speaker's.

This ease and intuition for picking the right sounds and pronouncing them correctly can't come from just sitting in class and listening to your teacher reading a text once or twice, and certainly not from listening to your fellow students unintentionally butchering the pronunciation. What you need is native speaker exposure.

You could just turn on the radio or the TV if you have access to programs in your target language. That's a great start, but I'll suggest something even more effective:

Instead of listening to random content, take the lesson texts you already understand and listen to those. Ms. Birkenbihl says that repeated listening to content we have studied before will blaze all of its aspects into our memory.

The "passive" part of "Passive Listening" means that our attention is on something other than the recording that's running. You may do things around the house, study another subject, drive, even watch TV. The only requirement is that you are able to hear the recording, however faintly. By accessing your memory via your subconscious, you can't forget what you feed it.

In terms of logistics, you want an "auto-repeat" function on your CD player or MP3 player so you can listen to the same track over and over and over.

You'll ask me: "How many times do I need to repeat a track?" I did some math for you--our average SpeakEZ German or SpeakEZ Spanish dialog is 2.5 minutes and 250 words long. To get to 30,000 words a day, you'd need to repeat it 120 times. That'll take you about five hours.

Students often protest--"but I don't have five hours a day to listen to German CD's!" Well, that's not the point at all. What you want is to NOT listen to them. You should just be exposed to them and not pay attention.

© 2007 Nathalie V. Fairbanks

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