Learning Spoken Language for Rules

There are four simple rules to follow when learning a second language:

  • To learn to speak the language correctly, you must speak it aloud:

It is important that you speak loudly and clearly when you are learning your target language.  You must always use spoken exercises.  You are retraining your mind to respond to a new pattern of proprioceptive and auditory stimuli.  This can only be done when you are speaking aloud at full volume.

One of the reasons that traditional language study methods require so much time to produce results is that silent study does nothing to train the proprioceptive sense.

  • To learn to speak a language fluently, you must think in that language:

The proprioceptive sense is not all you are retraining when you learn a new language.  There is cognitive learning which must also take place.  Traditional language teaching has emphasized cognitive learning to the exclusion of retraining the proprioceptive sense.  Nonetheless, cognitive learning is an important part of the language process.

For speech to occur, the mind must be actively involved in syntax development.  The more actively the mind is involved, the more effective the learning process becomes. However, just as you will short-circuit proprioceptive training by silent study, so you will also limit cognitive learning if you simply read from a text rather than constructing the syntax yourself.  You must force your mind to think in the target language by using your recall memory when you are studying spoken exercises.

This will be discussed again in Selecting a Text because there will be times when reading from a text such as a newspaper is an effective language learning tool.  But when you are doing sentence responses using recorded exercises, you must force your mind to develop the syntax by doing the exercise without reading from a text; Learning Grammar.

You are not thinking in your target language if you are reading a text.  Making your mind work to create the answer is an important part of learning to speak a new language.

  • The more you speak the language aloud, the more quickly you will learn to speak fluently:

Proprioceptive retraining is not instantaneous.  It will require many repetitions to build the new patterns in your mind.  As these new patterns develop, there will be a progression from a laborious, conscious effort, to speech which is reproduced rapidly and unconsciously.

When any of us speak our first language, we do so with no conscious awareness of tongue or mouth position and the air flow through the vocal cords.  In contrast, when we first attempt to make an unknown discrete sound — called a phoneme — in another language, it requires experimentation and conscious effort.  Some new sounds are relatively simple.  Others are more difficult.  A good nasal French “on” in bonjour will require some careful practice for the English-speaker, but it is within reach.  The six tones in Cantonese Chinese will be extremely difficult for the same English-speaker, and will undoubtedly require an immense amount of repetition in order to perfect their use. Do you learn How to Speak Fluently English in Week?

To add to the complexity, each phoneme has other phonemes or stops adjacent to its which change its sound slightly.  (A stop is a break in the air flow.) The nasal “on” in “bonjour” is slightly different from the “on” in “mon frère.”  The objective is not to be able to write the letters representing the phoneme in the target language.  The goal is not even to be able to say it with reasonable accuracy. The objective for the English-speaker learning French is to be able to say, “Bonjour, mon frère,” so perfectly that a Frenchman would think he had just been greeted by a compatriot.

That degree of perfection will require thousands — if not tens of thousands — of repetitions.  Therefore — to be somewhat facetious — the more quickly you correctly repeat a particularly difficult phoneme ten thousand times, the more quickly you will be able to use it fluently.  That is what is meant by the statement, “The more you speak the language aloud, the more quickly you will learn to speak fluently.”

  • You must never make a mistake when you are speaking:

When you are learning a language using this Feedback Training Method, you are strongly reinforcing the learning process each time you speak.  However, when you construct a sentence incorrectly, you have not only wasted the learning time used to construct your faulty sentence, but you must now invest even more time retraining your mind, mouth, and hearing so you can construct the sentence correctly.  The more you use a sentence structure incorrectly, the longer it will take for your mind, mouth, and be hearing to identify the correct syntax. Improve Your Spoken English How


Ideally, if you used only correct syntax and pronunciation, you could retrain your speech in considerably less time.  Consequently, you could learn to speak the target language more quickly.

Yet before you roll your eyes and declare this to be impossible, let’s look at a way in which it could actually be done.  (Well, almost!)

Traditional language study:

Traditional language study attempts to engage students in free speech as quickly as possible.  Though the goal is commendable, in practice it has a serious drawback.  A beginning student does not have enough language experience to be able to construct sentences properly.  More to the point, the instruction program seldom has enough personnel to be able to work with individual students so as to help them correct their errors.  Consequently, beginning students regularly use incorrect sentences having improper syntax and verb construction.  The instructor often praises them for their valiant effort, despite the reality that they are learning to use the language incorrectly.  The student will now need to spend even more time relearning the correct syntax.

Controlled language study:

The better alternative is to derive all initial spoken language study from audio recorded (or written) materials that contain perfect syntax, perfect use of the verb, and perfect pronunciation.  This sounds restrictive, but, in fact, it could be done relatively easily.

Say, for example, that during the first four weeks of instruction, beginning students worked only from recorded exercises.  They would repeat the recorded lesson material that was accurate in every respect.  As an alternative, they could read aloud from a written text.  The disadvantage of the text, however, would be that the mind would be considerably less active, and a pronunciation model would be absent.  For the entire instruction period, each student would work independently while repeating the exercise lessons. What Common Mistakes to Avoid for Beginners?.

Needless to say, in four weeks’ time, the students would have spoken the new language correctly far more than had they been somewhat passively sitting in a traditional language class.  But more to the point, everything the students would have learned would have been correct.  Their syntax would have been correct.  Their use of verbs would have been correct.  And, as much as possible, their pronunciation would have been correct.

To continue the example, say that it was now time for the students to begin venturing into free speech.  Yet mistakes must still be avoided.  Consequently, all free speaking would be based upon the many sentences they would have already learned.  Questions would be asked that the students could answer in the exact words of the sentences they would have studied.  Subsequently, they would be given questions to answer that would use the same structure as the sentences they already knew, but now they would substitute other vocabularies that would be in the same lessons.  

Making the application:

The assumption in this book is that you are a college student or a young professional and that you are highly motivated to learn your target language.

The above illustration was not given to suggest that you should be treated like a high school freshman, forced to sit at a desk by yourself, repeating sentences in Japanese, Swahili, or Gujarati.  Nonetheless, you should be able to see what is being said.  As you read through this book, you will see the repeated suggestion that you take a high degree of control of your language learning, irrespective of whether you are in an established language school or developing your own language study program.  You will do much better if you seek out ways in which you can speak the language correctly from the very start.  Strike a careful balance between venturing out into the unknown and forcing yourself to follow a pattern of correct language use.  Do everything in your power to use the language correctly.

In the early weeks of language study, this may require that you spend more time reading simple material aloud than in trying to engage in free speech.  Later, however, you will need to spend a great deal of time talking with others.

Nonetheless, every time you encounter new syntax in your target language, use controlled language drills long enough that your mind becomes thoroughly familiar with it.  As you progress in the language, searching a newspaper article for examples of the new sentence format can reinforce correct syntax.  Mark the sentences, verify the vocabulary, and then read — and repeat from recall memory — the sentences aloud until they become a natural part of your speech.

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