When learning a language, it’s important to train passive skills at first, so reading and listening. I will here mostly speak about listening. Why? Because each passive skill trains the active one. Training listening helps training speaking. Speaking is difficult for many people who would like to be able to handle and speak the target language. I will here thus speak about listening and explain how to practice that skill to learn to speak. I will thus answer the following questions: why working on listening? How to work on listening? What are the advantages of listening? How to find the time to work on listening?
Listening, the main skill of babies
Listening is thus extremely important, as Alberto, an Italian youtuber and polyglot explains it in his
second linea guida of his method italianoautomatico. Why is listening so important? I will answer this question by asking you another one: how did you learn your native language? By listening.
During the first year of your life, you haven’t uttered a single word, but you have listening, the entire day, what people were saying around you. You have heard, recorded, interpreted. You have heard sounds, your ears and your brain got accustomed to these sounds, and your brain stored an incredible amount of information. Vocab and grammar have slowly appeared in your brain. Do you ever remember learning grammar before going to school, while you were already speaking to your parents, family, …? Nope, because your brain stored the language.
Listening and automation
I’m not saying it’s possible to learn an entire language as an adult that way. The brain has lost a part of its plasticity. Indeed, during the first year of our life, our brain has the ability to learn any single language at a native level. It can make out any sound from any language. However, with time, a filter emerges and it becomes increasingly difficult for the brain to reproduce the sounds of a foreign language (which is why it’s very difficult for an adult to have a native pronunciation in a foreign language). Nevertheless, we learn by listening (and learning grammar, vocab, …). This is, of course, my own point of view.
Some people follow the method suggested by Benny Lewis, who encourages to Speak From Day One. Actually, I do like his method, but in my opinion, it remains vital to work on listening, much more than developing speaking from the very beginning.
Listening is important because the more you hear things, the more your brain will get used to the sounds of that language, even if you don’t understand anything of what is being said. Furthermore, as you keep listening to the same words (the most frequent words of the language), the same typical sentences and irregular verbs with become automated and their meaning will become clearer. It will become easier to use them without having to think about it
Listening and prosody
One thing that I find great and super useful about listening, is that we get used to the prosody of the langue (its musicality, the rhythm of the sentences, the intonation, …) This prosody helps me not mixing similar languages (Portuguese and Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, …). When I speak a language, it has a particular, unique prosody, which is directly related to the vocab and grammar of that language, even when these are similar in two languages. The prosody of Portuguese is very different from that of Spanish, even if they share a lot of vocab and grammar. However, I don’t mix them up (except for a few things).
Practically, how to do it?
As you have understood, it is important, in my opinion, to focus on listening from day one. I recommend using podcast with a very low level (youtube channels like Spanishpod101, Frenchpod101, …) and to listening to them all over again. Try finding a youtuber, the style and voice of which you like, with interesting content, and download a few dozen podcasts on MP3 file. Put them on a playlist on your phone and listen to them again and again for weeks until you begin to know some sentences by heart. When you understand them well and they got easy, find new ones with a higher level.
Keep this listening training all the way through your learning. You’ll see that with time, you’ll understand more and more. You will also feel the impression that the audio gets slower and slower. Even if you don’t get a thing at first, keep doing it, as long as you use the most basic content possible. Let your ears the time to get accustomed to the sounds of the language. This can take a while ^^’
When should you do that?
Listen to podcasts during dead times, so when your focus is free and you’re not doing cognitive tasks: biking, running, shopping, calking, cleaning, cooking, …
For all these reasons, training listening is very important. It enables the retention of words and phrases, refresh your vocab and grammar, helps pronunciation and automate speaking.