Visual addiction

There’s an interesting post by Idahosa Ness on learning languages orally over on Fluent in 3 Months today. It suggests that it is better to focus on listening and speaking until you have a good grasp of the pronunciation, rather than learning reading and writing at the same time. This can work even if you believe you’re a visual learning and need to have things written down in order to remember them.

Idahosa believes that you should concentrate on learning to recognize and produce the sounds of a language first, and on learning how they go together to form words and sentences. A knowledge of phonetics and phonology can help with this as it shows you what to do with your mouth in order to make the sounds, and this can also help you to recognize them. At this stage you don’t need to know how the sounds are represented in writing; in fact learning that can interfere with your ability to pronounce the sounds.

This approach seems to make a lot sense to me – I always spend lots of time listening to languages, sometimes before I even start learning them. So my listening abilities tend to develop more quickly and thoroughly than my other linguistic skills. Perhaps I need to spend more time practicing speaking as well.

One book which uses a similar approach to Idahosa’s is Blas na Gàidhlig: The Practical Guide to Scottish Gaelic Pronunciation, by Michael Bauer, which uses the IPA and lots of recordings to teach you the pronunciation of Scottish Gaelic, and only introduces Gaelic orthography once all the sounds have been explained.

The only language I’ve tried to learn mainly orally is Taiwanese. As Taiwanese doesn’t have a standard written form, I concentrated on learning to speak and understand it. I tried to learn everything orally at first, but started writing things down after a while to help me remember them. If I’d had something to record the things I was learning, I might have been able to dispense with the written notes.

Have you learnt or tried to learn a language entirely or mainly orally?

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This entry was posted in Language, Language learning.

6 Responses to Visual addiction

  1. Delodephius says:

    I prefer to learn languages visually. In fact written language attracts me more than the spoken word. One of the reasons I started learning Chinese and Arabic was because of their writing systems.

  2. BG says:

    For the first few weeks of my high school German class we only listened and spoke. We had to perform an entire dialog like this before we were allowed to see how it was written. I think it helped most (but not all) of the class pronounce German better and not as if it were English. I wish I did this more in subsequent languages.

  3. Shimmin Beg says:

    I think it’s a great idea, and I’ve found the Michel Thomas courses very helpful for getting the basics of languages. The main problem I find is that there just isn’t enough opportunity outside lessons. Generally it’s much easier for me to track down written material to practice on (at my own pace, with dictionary if necessary) than find audio material that’s remotely comprehensible to a beginner, let alone anyone to talk to. A couple of hours of class, plus maybe a few sentences with someone you meet, versus as much time as you want working on reading comprehension. I know this is part of the reason I struggle with non-Roman languages, because I can’t binge on reading.

  4. DrGecko says:

    If there’s a Roman alphabet involved, writing messes me up. In Swedish, for example, I will routinely confuse the pronunciation of words written with a, , and , except for the most commonly used words, even though I’m otherwise vaguely fluent. Swedes never make this mistake, even with unfamiliar words that they’ve only seen written, because they consider these to be separate letters, not the same letter with diacritics. They’re alphabetized differently from each other, as well.

    I wonder if Germans ever mix up the pronunciation of unfamiliar words, since they have letters-plus-diacritics, not extra letters.

  5. Simon says:

    DrGecko – I’m not sure what letters you’re referring to in your post, apart from a, but WordPress thought they were HTML. It’s best not to put letters in <>.

  6. DrGecko says:

    Oh, blah – let’s try again. The extra letters in Swedish are å, ä, and ö (a-with-circle; a-with-diaresis; o-with-diaresis), and they’re alphabetized, in that order, after z. These would get mixed up, in my mind, with the ordinary a and o; a clear case of the writing system interfering with pronunciation.

    Somebody needs to get WordPress a course iin linguistic symbols. I’ve seen ads for college sourses on the internet. Don’t know if software such as WordPress is eligible to take them, but I suspect that they’ll accept any paying customer.