Wednesday, January 28, 2009

sounds familiar?

As I have been saying, the language you hear and don't understand is not wasted time. Natural acquisition begins with a large amount of input that you won't be able to comprehend but still is needed to become used to the language. All the time exposed to the language is a preparatory period that is vital to later acquisition.

The Foreign Language Doctor has found this article that was published just today.

Sound patterns boost language learning - study

4:00AM Wednesday Jan 28, 2009

Exposure to the sound patterns of another language, even if it is initially meaningless, could hold the key to quickly picking up a foreign tongue, says a researcher.

Victoria University PhD graduate Paul Sulzberger made his discovery while trying to find out why many students dropped out in the early days of trying to learn a new language.

He believed his findings could revolutionise language teaching.

Listening to a language's sound patterns was critical as it set up structures in the brain required to learn the words, he found.

"Our ability to learn new words is directly related to how often we have been exposed to the particular combinations of the sounds which make up the words," he said. "Neural tissue required to learn and understand a new language will develop automatically from simple exposure to the language - which is how babies learn their first language."

He was interested in what made it so difficult to learn foreign words when we were constantly learning new ones in our native language. He found the answer in the way the brain developed neural structures when hearing new combinations of sounds.

"When we are trying to learn new foreign words we are faced with sounds for which we may have absolutely no neural representation.

"A student trying to learn a foreign language may have few pre-existing neural structures to build on in order to remember the words."

Extending exposure to foreign languages had been made easier by globalisation and new technology.

Listening to songs, movies and even foreign news reports on the internet were all easy ways to expose the brain to foreign language sounds, Dr Sulzberger said.



  1. lol

    Is he serious? The upcoming revolution in language learning: listen more! Brilliant! Haha

  2. I agree with this article. Listening is the key. When I first started with Arabic I would watch Al-Jazeera even though I could only pick out like 1 out of 20 words and couldn't tell what was going on at all. I really think I benefited from doing that. Somehow it wires your brain for the new language.

    Also, I had a question for you that you've probably already answered, but I'll ask anyway. Are you using audio input like TV exclusively in your learning of Chinese or are you doing other things. I find this experiment to see how well you can pick up the language without studying it formally really interesting and I'm trying to do the same thing right now with the Egyptian and Iraqi Arabic dialects.

  3. I did a large amount of listening and a small amount of study of Chinese before starting the TV method. Since beginning the TV method in October, I do not study Chinese anymore. In fact, I'm trying to train myself to not think about the language at all. I don't even want to think about the meaning of what I hear. I don't need to think in order to understand.

  4. I can attest this from a personal experience. Just like one previous commenter did with Arabic, I used to watch CNN without understanding a single sentence when I started learning English. I believe that was crucial for me to get used to the sound patterns, the rhythm of the language.

    I'm glad that this promotion of listening is so ubiquitous now. Every language blog I visit seems to be echoing the mantra of "listen, listen, listen", and I seriously believe that's the way to go about it.


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