Another speak-from-day-1 polyplot

I think that people who say “you must NOT speak before X period of time” fall into one of two different camps: 1) they are worried about fossilization of errors, or errors in speaking that become habits that are hard to break or 2) they are trying to compensate for the overwhelming pressure that students put on themselves to speak early, that is, they do not REALLY believe speaking from day one is BAD, they just want people to question the very common assumption that they MUST speak early.

I fall into the second camp.


What is the point of speaking a prepared sentence to the native speaker with little chance to understand the reply?

Or are you assuming that you are likely to understand the reply?


“It’s quite possible to learn how to structure grammatically sound sentences right from the start”

I have never found this to be the case beyond a very few simple sentences which do not get you very far. I agree with Edwin.

I don’t know Steve’s definition of “simple sentences”. I don’t think that Alexander is suggesting “prepared” sentences. A sentence can be grammaticaly sound without having to look like it comes from the works of a Noble Prize author. You don’t have to have listened for hundreds/thousands of hours to realize where the negation should be, that verbs like can/will/shall/should/want to are always followed by the infinitive in most languages, how you can connect two short sentences into a longer etc. As soon as you get that, you can play with structuring doing your own sentences.

I am not saying it cannot be done Jeff, it is just that I have not found it practical, useful or interesting to do. To each his own.

Actually there IS something to be said for taking authentic sentences as a reliable model, and then ‘tweaking’ them to get new meanings. I agree that this can be done right from the start.

I remember doing this a lot when I was first learning German: I would take the boring sentences from a textbook and make them more colourful and outrageous - something which got the words into my long term memory 1000x faster than the normal rate. (Even if it did also convinced my teachers that I was mad!)

I’m currently doing this with the Czech version of “Eating Out” which I downloaded from TheDoctor’s website.

Maybe I’ll post some of my “improvements” here…

For those of you who are learning a third or subsequent language - when you do start to speak, are you mentally translating from a known language into the new language? Or does your speech come more naturally, without mental translation?

(I’m guessing there would always be some mental translation going on, but maybe not. And for myself, learning my second language - my first foreign language, it took quite a long time before my brain was able to produce anything like natural speech, usually just slow, slow translation. It is easy to understand why I needed a “silent period.”)

Mental translation is a big no-no, in my opinion. The whole aim of the game is to be able to think and operate completely within the structures of the new language.

I think it is important to do what we like doing. That keeps us involved. I can go 6 months or more without any speaking when I start a language unless the opportunity arises. The longer I wait, the better I am when I start speaking. But speaking also helps us to notice things in the language, so it is more a question of opportunity and what I like to do with my time.

Say right from the start, you have all these’ tweaked’ sentences with new meanings in your mind. What do you do next? Will you go out and try to to use those sentences?

Now the native speaker replies with something that is out of the script. How would you continue?

I’m really interested to know this too.

Personally I’ve never been outside of an English speaking country and have limited experience with language learning so far, so enlightenment would be useful.

The question is: When you’re at a low level and try to speak, what do you do when you simply can’t understand the answers?

I do not really get it, but apparently this approach works.

This is precisely the point.

Right at the beginning, you can memorize the whole phrase book, and even make up new phrases. You go out to meet your first native speaker, speak your first sentence. She replies, and oops, you don’t understand what she is saying.

That is why comprehension is important. And you can only improve it by input activities.


I’m not sure I understand where you guys are coming from.

Have you read my posts on page 1…?


You agreed with Jeff that you can derive new messages from existing ones even they are limited at the beginning. And what was your point? Please help me out.

Jeff said you can do it without doing too much listening. But listening to learn new sentences is one thing. Listening to improve comprehension is another thing.

I think another consideration is the position of the native speaker you inflict yourself on. I can imagine if someone approaches me on the street and says “My name is Juan, Hans, Pavel, or Taroo. How are you. I am 25 years old” and then smiles and does not understand what I say.

I prefer not to impose on the indulgence of native speakers. I wait until I am ready, unless there are obvious and natural opportunities to use the language, for example if I am in the country and buying things in stores etc.

But it is up to each person to decide.


I’m against speaking from day one for the reasons I said in my earlier posts. (Basically I agree with Steve on this.)

But working with model sentences is a different thing, IMO. This is a kind of exercise I use to help my understanding of structures and build up vocabulary - it has nothing to do with speaking.

Robert seems to advocate pretty much what Steve advocates. Lots of listening and lots of reading.

He (quite rightly) points out that having a hard and fast “silent period” rule is a bit dumb and not to his liking.

Hello everybody,

Another language lover who I’ve skyped with told me about this thread, so I thought I’d just have a look at it since some of you seem to have a few questions regarding my videos. By the way, I’m Robert :wink: First of all, let me say that I’m pleasantly suprised at how benign all your reactions are. Before I joined youtube I had my doubts about whether this would be a good idea or not (and sometimes I still have). Anyway, let me try and answer a few questions. I did say that I don’t really believe in a “silent period”. I’m not good at being silent, not even in my mother tongue. I also said that to me building up vocabulary is very important and that a lack of words will hinder your conversational abilities. However, I never tried to suggest that you should have conversations from day 1, actually I don’t think you will be able to do so. Unless, you consider the exchange of a few standard expressions a conversation. What I very much believe in, though, is that you ought to try and SPEAK the language right from the start. I talk to myself a lot and I know that may sound crazy or even creepy ;-). Let me give you a short example: If you only learn the personal pronouns in a language and then add to that five simple verbs, you already can make a lot of sentences. And, yes, speaking these sentences to me makes sense and is good practice. Besides, if you’re passionate about learning that language you will easily add 5 to 10 words every day. Within a week you’ll be able to say some pretty useful sentences (it all depends on the words you choose). As for skype conversations, yes, it will be difficult to have a conversation with a very limited vocabulary. However, if I go into that skype conversation with a knowledge that allows me to form 5 random sentences, I expect myself to be able to double that amount by the end of the conversation because I’ll keep asking my skype partner how to say this or that etc. The next time I’m not just “armed” with these 10 sentences but with another 5 or so that I added during my self-study period. It’s like a snow-ball effect, you keep adding words and expressions and, of course, the amount of the mistakes you make will also increase, especially in the beginning. The only thing you have to stay away from in this period (and maybe even later on :wink: is unappreciative people trying to belittle your efforts. I found that most people who gave up learning a language were seriously discouraged by others at some point of time. And that is very sad. I don’t know if what I’ve said makes my approach more comprehensible. The bottom line is that I believe in the importance of vocabulary over a super-detailed knowledge of grammatical pecularities. I’ll leave it with that for today and I hope I did not disregard your forum etiquette by writing such a long entry. Greetings from Austria. P.S. Of course, you should listen to the language as much as possible. During the first week of my Chinese studies I bought a Chinese audiobook with 15 hours of beautifully spoken Mandarin. My friends thought I was either crazy or seriously overestimating my language abilities;-) They could not understand that I would actually enjoy listening to that CD for hours without understanding hardly anything. It was the pure beauty of the sounds that attracted me and kept my motivation alive to study this beautiful language. As of today, there are quite a few things I don’t understand on that CD but I keep listening.

No one – well, certainly not I – is suggesting you go out and talk to strangers on the street with only basic, prepared sentences, the reply to which will be awkwardly incomprehensible.

What I’m advocating is that even after a few days or weeks of acquiring basic sentence models that you can play with and adapt, and which give you insight into how the language actually works (negative, present, past, subject, object, word order, etc.), you should attempt to use that knowledge at every reasonable opportunity, namely with people you meet in appropriate social contexts such as friends, friends of friends, language partners, tutors, etc. You should seek and create such social opportunities, and you shouldn’t skip on any opportunity to use the language. Even if it implies possibly making a fool of yourself, even if you may not get the answer.

The idea that you shouldn’t speak until you know you can understand the reply is excessively prohitibitive – you never know what answer you’ll be getting and the possibility that you won’t understand is ALWAYS there. It will there in 6 months, and it will still there in 2 years. If you don’t understand, say it. People will repeat or rephrase; it’s not rude, and most people appreciate anyone trying hard to learn their language – in the appropriate context, of course.

If you can, take the time to prepare mentally for upcoming social events by looking up the words you think you’ll need and try to anticipate eventual replies. This way, you focus on the way the language is actually used in the real world.

I understand Steve’s message that you shouldn’t worry about the details and that you should do whatever brings you pleasure in your study, and I’m not suggesting you ignore that by any means, but most people also hope to reach a reasonable level in a reasonable amount of time, and the reality is that most people struggle to reach fluency. I can’t see how delaying speech can help acquire fluency faster, but I suppose that isn’t on top of everyone’s priority list.

There are many approaches that work for many people. There are many learning tricks that perhaps could be effective for me, but which won’t work because I don’t like to do them. I have tried but cannot do Anki or massive flash carding, or shadowing or repeating along while I listen, or talking to myself, or listening to content I don’t understand, or seeking out language partners before I am ready. I have all of those things to a limited extent but just can’t continue doing them. So they are not for me. But they might well work for other people.

I stick with my seven principles of successful language learning that I used in my recent youtube video series.

  1. Spend the time with the language
  2. Do what you like to do…for me that is listening and reading,easy and painless.
  3. Learn to notice what is happening in the language…some of the principles behind LingQ.
  4. Words over grammar…through meaningful input
  5. Be patient…the brain learns but it takes time
  6. Get the tools…iPod, books, whatever
  7. Be an independent learner…find our your own path