Receptive vs Productive Language

I’ve been monolingual for 63 years and lately have been attempting to learn Italian. After taking some informal grammar based classes, I am trying LingQ.

I’m wondering if one’s receptive (passive) language is actually processed through a different part of one’s brain than productive (active) language. Or is it just “the language part of the brain” which processes both receptive and productive language? Comments appreciated!

I can’t help you unfortunately. This is certainly a question for Steve.

Thanks, Colin. Maybe I should post this on “Ask Steve.”

I was joking about that. This certainly is not a question for the big man. I would be interested to know the answer to this too.

Oh, OK. I didn’t pick up on your humor. :slight_smile:

It might be a good idea to ask the same question on a forum for neurolinguists :slight_smile:

Well, it depends jbk. What do you mean by “language?”

Yeah, I don’t know what I’m talking about.

@Paule89 - yes, perhaps it would be more appropriate to pose my question to neurolinguists. :slight_smile: But I was just wondering if anyone had come across any information.

Since I tend to mix up languages at the beginning of Skype chats etc, both my passive and active vocabulary certainly seems to be stored all in one place, for all languages. When I search for a word in, say, French, during a conversation it might pop up eventually, but often in another language altogether. It is a sort of an iceberg or perhaps my very own Tower of Babel? That said, the borders between the languages I am really good at is much more fixed, less porous.

Ahhh, that is very interesting. I hadn’t considered how it would be for a person who is multilingual !! Tower of Babel indeed! :slight_smile:

I am not a neuro-scientist. I have read quite a few books about how the brain learns. Nowhere have I come across any information that suggests that our passive knowledge and active language skills are acquired or stored in different area of the brain. From my reading, it appears that many areas of the brain are involved in language learning.

My own experience, and much research by Krashen and others, suggests that our passive knowledge of the language is a condition for developing active language skills. Even if we try to “speak from day one” like our friend Benny, in fact it is the listening part of that interaction in the target language that is building up our language ability. We don’t have the language within us, it has to come from outside. The neural networks that are created through passive learning form the base from which we develop speaking and writing skills, it seems to me.

If you want to read on how the brain learns, I recommend you read “Learning” by Manfred Spitzer. I have the book in German, and the English version seems to be not available right now from Amazon.

One interesting phenomenon that may be related to how our passive knowledge affects our active knowledge, is that of mirror neurons. Here is a brief summary from Wikipedia.

A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another.[1][2][3] Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. Such neurons have been directly observed in primate and other species including birds. In humans, brain activity consistent with that of mirror neurons has been found in the premotor cortex, the supplementary motor area, the primary somatosensory cortex and the inferior parietal cortex.
The function of the mirror system is a subject of much speculation. Many researchers in cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology consider that this system provides the physiological mechanism for the perception/action coupling (see the common coding theory).[3] They argue that mirror neurons may be important for understanding the actions of other people, and for learning new skills by imitation. Some researchers also speculate that mirror systems may simulate observed actions, and thus contribute to theory of mind skills,[4][5] while others relate mirror neurons to language abilities.[6] Neuroscientists such as Marco Iacoboni (UCLA) have argued that mirror neuron systems in the human brain help us understand the actions and intentions of other people. In a study published in March 2005 Iacoboni and his colleagues reported that mirror neurons could discern if another person who was picking up a cup of tea planned to drink from it or clear it from the table. In addition, Iacoboni has argued that mirror neurons are the neural basis of the human capacity for emotions such as empathy.[7]

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The thing with this concept of speaking from day one is a bit exaggerated .It’s true that you should train yourself in giving a little amount of output in the beginning to train our organs that are in charge with the aspect of oral communication so as to reach a point ( much later of course ) in which we are not embarrassed when we start speaking.

We must not forget that 90% of the worldwide communication is done through writing so there are no reasons to fret if we are not as native-like as possible from the get go ( I’m not sure if 'get go ’ should be written like this so I apologize if I got it wrong ) .

Thanks, Steve. I will see if I can get a copy of Spitzer’s “Learning” as an inter-library loan. My attempts at active language (in L2) just feels so different than processing passive language. But, as I said, I am brand new to this…and, surely, my 63-year-old brain is well entrenched in its ways. I’ll keep at it!

@Madara - I realize that because I am used to understanding/speaking only one language, the transition from input to output seems seamless. It is only since starting to learn a second language that I have become so very aware of the differences between receptive and productive language. Thanks for the encouragement…Typically I hear the word “get-go” instead of see it written, so I’m not actually sure if it is a hyphenated word when written, but I think so.

I don’t believe that we need to “train our organs” by speaking at any particular time. When we want to start we just start.

jbk,It takes time to learn a language. The passive, input stage, takes long, months or years, depending on the language. But throughout this long period you are building up your potential to speak, constantly. You need not be impatient to speak. Whenever you start to speak you will struggle to activate your passive knowledge. The bigger your “passive” base, the more meaningful your speaking will be and the faster you will improve. But it will be a sonewhat intimidating adventure, frustrating at times, but ultimately rewarding, very rewarding.

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I meant that we should try at the beginning to exercise the correct pronunciation so that we won’t sound strange as we go along with that language we want to learn .

I find it easier to start pronouncing the language after I have had a significant amount of experience listening to it. I see no benefit in attempting to pronounce correctly when we start a language. In fact I don’t try to speak or pronounce anything for at least a month or more. In some cases like Russian, I waited much longer

Thanks to Steve and everyone for your comments and encouragement! They are much appreciated!

@ jbk

Have you tried speaking much Italian yet, or are you concentrating on LingQ-like activities?

I am doing a fair amount of reading and listening both on LingQ and elsewhere and am pleased with what I understand. I’ve only been a member of LingQ for 5-6 weeks and have had two 15 minute conversation sessions with wonderfully patient tutors. These LingQ “conversations” were my first attempt to actually speak more than a phrase/brief, simple sentence here or there in my prior grammar classes. So, I guess I’m dealing with the tremendous difference between feeling fairly comfortable with reading and listening to actually spitting out the words!! :slight_smile: