Speak more and guess more - or practice what you know?

I know that it’s fine, and even good, to make mistakes (so you can learn from them) but I’ve been wondering:

  1. Is it better to try to speak beyond your ability and so simply guess at grammar, word structures and even words - as long as you try to get your point across eventually - or better to try to just reinforce and use sentences you know and gradually expand from there? This is oversimplified I know and I’m guessing the answer is a combination of both but I’m wondering if one tendency is more counterproductive than the other.

  2. I guess I’m wondering if you DON’T necessarily have anyone regularly correcting your speaking mistakes, will the natural progression be that you tend to make less mistakes in speech due to absorbing what’s correct from merely listening/reading? Or might you end up reinforcing those ‘wrong’ patterns?

If anyone has any thoughts or experiences, I’d love to hear.

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Personally, I think it’s better to develop your ability to improvise and just get your point across. It´s also, in my opinion, more frustrating for a native speaker to listen to someone, that uses grammar perfect, but sounds like a computer voice from the late 90´s. I believe that you will have more conversations, if you don´t focus so much on being perfect in every sentences. Of course you should have “big ears” and have a curious approach towards the use of the language (that includes listen alot to podcast, radio, audiobooks etc.) Good questions, it’s interesting in deed.

Thanks cribbe. Yes, I think the ability to improvise is important in so many aspects of life - and one I could definitely get better at :slight_smile: It’s sometimes easy to forget language learning is about flexibility too. And I imagine the process of searching for a way to say something is still reinforcing your existing (correct) knowledge anyway because you are still trying to recall and apply what you know. Sometimes though it feels like shooting arrows into the dark. But I guess ultimately it comes down to finding enough of a balance to counteract the ‘misses’ - be it with podcasts, reading etc as you say. I’m going to work on cultivating bigger ears though (great image).

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"2) I guess I’m wondering if you DON’T necessarily have anyone regularly correcting your speaking mistakes, will the natural progression be that you tend to make less mistakes in speech due to absorbing what’s correct from merely listening/reading? Or might you end up reinforcing those ‘wrong’ patterns? "

Many of us don’t want our words or expressions to be corrected all the time while speaking a foreign language, but there should be some not-too-strict feedback.

In my experience people don’t “absorb” what’s correct from “merely” listening or reading. That sounds too passive. Noticing language is an active skill, and takes some effort. You need to learn to do it, and be conscious of doing it. I think the reason for this is that people mostly listen and read for meaning. Once you’ve got the meaning (even though you might have got the wrong meaning) then it’s natural to want to move on. For example, I’m surrounded by examples of fluent Turkish in Turkey, but unless I make an effort to notice it, I can’t say it really improves my own language. Similarly, English students here can hear the same structure a gazillion times but still not use it correctly themselves.

As a result, I think that if nobody is correcting your speaking mistakes then without a lot of work on “noticing” on your part, those mistakes will persist and fossilize. It’s the same energy principle: once you’ve got your meaning across, and been successful in communication, it’s tempting just to move on.

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To answer your original question, though, it is a mix of the two, I think. It also depends on your level, and on the ability of the person in front of you to usefully correct your language.

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Thanks zbrntt. That’s an interesting point about meaning. It does make sense that the brain naturally exerts only as much effort as it thinks necessary to complete the goal and not any more. So if the goal is only comprehension, it will ‘stop’ there. I guess by ‘merely’ I didn’t necessarily mean passive listening. I just meant without active correction of output. So I assumed active noticing would be part of the process. When you say being surrounded by fluent Turkish doesn’t improve your own language, I’m guessing you mean speaking specifically? Surely, it would still improve your level of understanding…

I’m interested in how you see level affecting this? The more advanced the level, the more able you are aware of what you’re looking for and so more able to actively notice?

Speaking, listening, reading… I mean them all. And as for the question about level, my experience is the opposite of what you describe. I have a comfortable level of Turkish for speaking, listening and reading on everyday topics, which means that in most everyday situations, the communication requirement gets fulfilled. As a result, I feel as though I actually have to work a lot harder now to notice new structures and internalise them. I think lower-level learners are far more motivated to notice language as the benefits are greater: just one new structure can open up a whole new area of communicative potential.

Improving my Turkish does seem like hard work these days, even though I still have a lot to learn (as I have a lot of LingQs!). This is the reason I decided to try LingQ. Unfortunately I seem to have plateaued with this approach, too, and I’m trying to find a way to break through this barrier. But that’s another topic!

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I see what you mean. Still, I think I’d prefer to be in your position! I’m still only at beginner level but I guess to break beyond the everyday competence, you basically need to break out of the everyday situations? Read more specialised texts? Listen to documentaries/programs that also have more complicated structures? Attend talks/readings/lectures, that sort of thing? I am not sure when you say you are using LingQ to try to break through the barrier, you mean you are importing your own content or just using existing lessons… but my next plan is try importing more content as I haven’t yet done that and am hoping it will speed up my vocabulary acquisition and keep me motivated (as I feel like my motivation has plateaued a little lately too).

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I´m a big fan of grammar books and people thats correcting me (about the use of grammar), but I don´t like to deal with any of them, just because its not near as time-effective, as just listen and read alot/ having interesting conversations (without corrections all the time). I’m not saying that people that corrects your mistakes, is bad, but its like giving me a teapoon, and saying “now go empty that sea over there”.
Eventually over time you start picking up correct patterns, and better ways of saying things. And, as usually, nothing is black&white and sometimes, yes, corrections during a conversation, can help (like when talking to a tutor etc.)

As others have said the answer is probably a bit of both, but I imagine psychology and personality has a lot to do with it. If, like me, you tend to start your language learning by privileging accuracy over fluency then learning to speak more, guess more, and be more flexible with the language seems to have a massive impact on your progress. Alternatively confident chatabox speakers probably need to take on more feedback so that their mistakes don’t begin to fossilise. It’s more about being aware of your strenghths (accuracy or fluency) and compensating with more speaking or more feedback. And I suppose also that your strategy might change as your attitude changes. So as I become more confident at speaking fluently, I need to make sure I don’t overcompensate, and make sure I’m still getting enough feedback.

spcole83: Yes, I think thats a good way to put it. You also have to be realistic, and think “why I’m learning this language”, and right there is your answer to: more accuracy or more fluency.
Are you going to work as an interpreter or “just” having fun with it, or little of both.

That’s definitely true @cribbe although of course any achievement in a language will require some level of accuracy and fluency. But yes you’re right, and the key is knowing what your motivation is and what your strengths and weaknesses are, and then of course (the hard bit!) working on those weaknesses (e.g. overcoming a fear of speaking, or paying more attention to pronunciation etc.).

I just speak czech using English sentence structure, and sometimes ignoring the cases. I don’t think I’ll ever perfect this language, so there’s no point me waiting.