Why should I wait to try speaking?
Why not learn to read and write from the start?
Surely if I was to learn a few vocabulary words it would help me advance more quickly.
These are all commonly expressed ideas – and with anything so complex as learning a new language, the answers are not simple.
The comment was made on our YouTube site, “…for those who already have significant experience in learning numerous languages, however, prohibiting speaking at the early stages is not necessary…”
This view is the common view and at first, might seem to make sense; that is if we wish to ignore the fact that adults, who are the only ones who think this way, are terrible language learners, even when they’ve learned several languages already, and that young children who never ‘try’ speaking before they’re ready, achieve perfection regularly and in a comparably short amount of time.)
So what’s the point? Simply stated, it is this: One cannot speak a new language early in the game without borrowing from another language that’s already inside her head. This sort of transfer is what young children cannot yet do – and it’s the reason that their language acquisition is perfect.
You want to speak without first listening enough? (more in a minute on how much is enough.) You must borrow the sounds (phonemes) from another language. You must borrow the words (vocabulary) from another language, and you must borrow the grammar from another language. This begs the question as to which language you will actually be speaking! You’ve borrowed (translated) the sounds, vocabulary and grammar from another language! No wonder adults are such miserable language learners!
And somewhere wrapped up in all of this, is the culture or the way that a group of people are making sense of their world. You must borrow that too – and here’s where a multitude of problems arise. You may actually think that you’re saying one thing, but due to the culture point, what people are hearing is something quite different.
So what alternatives do we have? Do what the children do. They look. They listen. They guess about the things happening around them. And in about 1 year, they start to speak – a little at first, they ‘know’ what they’re trying to say. They’re not trying to say something in order to know it! (This means they’re saying things from what’s in their heads already rather than saying something so that it will get into their heads)
We can observe young children listening for about 1 year of living with peers, family, etc., and then they start speaking. What about an adult – takes longer right? Wrong.
Adults are NOT slower – we don’t take longer to acquire a language. That only pertains to study – which generally takes forever and still we’ll have a difficult time remembering. Years ago, when I was operating the Raakgaew English School, parents would bring in their children to sign them up for class. When I said that it would take about 1 year of regular input, before the child was going to be ready to speak, the parents would say, “Children learn so quickly!”. Then, as we talked, parents would ask about the adult program. When I said that it would take about 1 year of regular input, before they were going to be ready to speak, they would say, “Such a long time!”
In truth, all other things being equal, adults can acquire language faster than children, because we can guess better. But our desire to study gets in the way, and we ruin it all by trying to say, remember, read, practice, and all the other adult type stuff that children don’t have the time for.
Our observation is this: Once you borrow, you never pay back. When I was a student of Thai over 20 years ago, I borrowed a couple of sounds that I hadn’t listened to in the Thai context enough to ‘know’ them yet. To this day, these two sounds cause me trouble in both listening and speaking. Why? because I borrowed them from English, and once that ‘pathway’ is created in my brain, it’s not going to be undone. What can I do? Live with it.
So what needs to happen? Don’t imagine that I’m proposing that the only way is to enroll in our program! The key is that you must gain understandable experience in which the language is used. Exposure to the language, (experience) is the primary key. If you’re living in a society where the language you wish to acquire is used, there are many ways to gain such experience. The most difficult part is for you to deal with what’s going on inside of you. If we use young children as our guides, we can answer the question of what do they do? They look. They listen, and they guess.
So… what about you? How much do you want to borrow?