by Stefano Lodola
The video game Monkey Island shows how to learn through comprehensible input, and audio courses can help you do that in real life.
Most language learners want to be able to communicate in real life.
However, their study time is often skewed towards grammar and translation, with little or no speaking practice. Typically, speaking is the most overlooked skill in their study schedule due to lack of confidence, money or time to take lessons or do language tandems.
Even if you’re alone, you can still practice speaking under proper guidance! In fact, there’s plenty of audio courses that train your listening and speaking skills. I personally use and recommend three courses that share a focus on speaking practice and teach through listening and repeating sample sentences: Pimsleur, Glossika, and Ripeti Con Me.
All these courses are designed to learn through what linguists call “comprehensible input”. Simply put, they show you how to say things. There’s no need for guidance in your native language like grammar notes.
Too simple to be true? Well, that’s how you learned your native language, in the first place. So, it works!
A hilarious example of learning through comprehensible input comes from a video game from the 90’s called Monkey Island.
At one stage of the game, the main character, a young pirate, faces various veteran pirates in a singular duel. You win your opponent not by fencing, but by insulting him in a witty way and answering their insults in an even wittier way. In the beginning, you’re just at a loss as what to say and quickly lose the first fights.
However, once you heard a witty line, you can use it against your next opponent. If he answers correctly you still lose, but at the same time, you also learn how you should answer next time. This way, you rapidly expand your repertoire until you’re able to outwit all your opponents. Replace insults with normal words in a foreign language, and pirates with native speakers, and you get the game of learning a language. That’s also how language immersion programs work.
In conclusion, by broadening the meaning of "speaking practice" from "conversation with someone" to "just saying something in the target language", we find out that there's actually plenty of chances to practice speaking. If you don’t have time or money for 1-on-1 lessons or immersion programs, audio courses that prompt you to speak following sample sentences are very useful resources.
Go beat those pirates!
Stefano Lodola was raised speaking only Italian, and now speaks nine foreign languages, mostly at an advanced level, several of which he learned without going abroad, some in only a few months. He has taught Italian to adults in language schools and universities. He works as an independent translator from Japanese, Korean and Chinese into Italian. He has lectured in polyglot clubs about his method. He developed his own Italian audio course "Ripeti Con Me".
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