Speaking from day one, or speak later?

In language learning there are many paths, and yet people who follow different paths often feel that theirs is the only way. Comparing and discussing different approaches to learning can help us find the way that best suits us as individual learners.

We often hear debates between the grammar focused learners and the interesting content focused learners. Similarly we hear the debates between the input based learners who delay output until they have a strong enough passive knowledge of a language, and those who want to speak right away.

Personally I prefer to focus on interesting content, listening and reading, acquiring a sense for the language, and a large vocabulary, before speaking. I find this more practical, and easier to do.I don’t need to find a willing partner who will put up with my stumbling efforts in the language. I don’t find the early halting efforts at speaking to constitute real communication. This has been my approach in Czech, for example. Now I am speaking 5 hours a week with my tutors, and when I go to Prague next month after a year of mostly input based learning, I expect to understand, and I will have a great deal of knowledge of the history and politics of the country, acquired through my listening and reading in the language.

Writing is different. Writing early is something we can more easily do, since when we write we have all the time we need to find the right word, to look up the grammar, and we can do it without imposing on a partner. I probably would write early if I were learning for an exam or for a job. However, as my learning is more of a hobby, I prefer to do things that are easiest and more interesting. I prefer to listen to content of interest, from literature, or on history or politics or life in the culture, than to struggle to write something with my limited tools. Again, early writing is not fully authentic communication, but I think it is very useful and valuable.

What do other people think?

Just celebrating this post as my first LingQ-import with 0 new words in a lesson [but with “put up with” as a yellow lingq in the text] :slight_smile:

“You have added 0 words to your Known Words total. … Good work!”


@eugrus Congratulations! A first!

@steve As I find writing easier than speaking (in any language), I tend to concentrate on listening, reading and writing. Speaking from Day 1 doesn’t do much for me, my feeling for a language develops through listening and linking to the written word. Speaking (or the wish to speak) comes much later. I guess personality plays a role in this kind of preference.

@Steve: “…We often hear debates between the grammar focused learners and the interesting content focused learners.”

This is often polarized into an ‘either-or’ debate: formal study of grammar v. natural assimilation.

Personally I would advocate doing BOTH things from an early stage.

"This is often polarized into an ‘either-or’ debate: formal study of grammar v. natural assimilation.

Personally I would advocate doing BOTH things from an early stage. "

I think it is not a matter of either-or, but rather one of emphasis. Traditional language teaching emphasizes learning grammar rules, and the listening and reading is only there to support the grammar acquisition. The inherent interest of the content itself is usually secondary. The result is a lot of low resonance learning material.

I prefer to emphasize input, meaningful and interesting content, as the driver, with the occasional reference to grammar as needed to get through the content. I do not think I will learn the language by focusing on rules and doing exercises, and so I avoid doing these things.

You know, I think we basically agree here, Steve. I’d certainly agree that a formal study of grammar alone and without context would be a very poor approach.

I would say: engage with interesting content, focus on learning vocabulary, but keep a constant eye on grammar too. (By “grammar” I actually mean “essential grammar”; it is, of course, not at all necessary to learn rare finer points at an early stage.)

In my Hebrew Ulpan (for those unfamiliar with the word, it’s an intensive language course in Hebrew that is more or less immersive) we learned grammar but the classes were in Hebrew and the teacher did not speak any other language. So we were forced to speak, although in fact speaking was limited to reading out the answers to grammar exercises.

I’m not sure I found this approach helpful because it precluded asking the teacher questions :slight_smile:

Speak from day 1 is a cute marketing slogan but as with all marketing slogans it is simplifying reality for the sake of a pretty catchphrase that’s easy to remember.

Grammar approach to learning and Speaking from day one are the opposite things!..
The ‘first speakers’ from my experience were my students from Spain and Italy who despised Grammar rules und used right away the words that they heard from me during the lesson.
And the’last speakers’ were the students from Switzerland who were afraid of speaking improperly.
I like all my students, but I prefer the students who are not afraid of speaking from the first day but not refusing to listening, reading and learning some essential grammar.
I’m lazy for writing, that’s why I never make my students write, but if they would like to do it, I correct of course.
I’m so focusing on speakimg because all other activities are quite passive: listening, learning grammar and even writing where you don’t have the time limit, and only speaking is a really active process what is happenning now and never more!..
It needs a lot of practice, and we have to start this practice from the ‘day one’.

For me definitely speaking from day one. The first thing I do when learning a new language is to learn stock phrases that I immediately test out on natives eg:

What is that? – (you can learn a lot of new words from that)
I have just started to learn Japanese
Could you repeat that again please.
How do you pronounce/say that?

I am an auditive learner and seem to be able to store what people say to me (I can hear the sentences in my head). I am best at learning from listening and context. I need to have interacted.

I just went to Japan with a colleague , a fellow language enthusiast, and the different approaches were clear. She would need to have written it down before she was ready so speak so it took her a few days before she was able to start…
I needed to hear it (and not write it) and on that basis could form the sentences straight away. We are both equally good at languages and will probably end up progressing at the same rate. She speaks fluent Arabic for example. I think it is a question of different learning styles.

Speak from day 1:

FOR: suits extraverts, people with ADHD, gives a sense of fun and progress so long as you don’t get too frustrated with limited early vocab or bad pronunciation

AGAINST: requires access to a lot of patient native speakers for many hours a week

Listen and read from day 1:

FOR: can do anywhere any time, can access a wide variety of content for vocab acquisition, far less awkward and frustrating

AGAINST: may not be challenging yourself enough for real world immersion and feedback (although I believe this criticism is well over rated).

Any other key pros/cons?

90/10 没问题

Been there, done that. Speaking from day 1 simply does not work. First of all, you will always have this fear of not understanding another speaker because of not developing enough listening skills and you are not fully sure how you are going to respond to a particular question because of not having a huge vocabulary on your arsenal. If every day, day and night, all you have got to talk about is " what is your favorite color?", “What is your favorite place”, “How’s the weather?”, “What do you like to eat at breakfast?”, then all you have got to utter is a one-liner answer then speaking from day 1 is good. To me, speaking from day 1 approach has a negative effect on my learning approach. I might be de-motivated way too quickly and fall off the wagon in no time if I am unable to answer to a certain question thrown at me or do not understand what the other speaker is saying to me. It is very discouraging. Also, the real pleasure you drive from speaking in a foreign language is when you can understand another person effortlessly and respond them quite fluently. This approach might work if you are living in your target language country and surrounded by the language 24/7. However, if you are not living in your TL country which is the case with most learners then they are much better off with increasing their overall passive skills. That’s how I think about this issue.

My approach has always been to read outloud everything that I come across in textbooks or manuals, and to repeat any new words. This is how I learn. I should also say that I always put significant emphasis on understanding all the sounds of the language when I begin, and so I can say the words and dialogues with confidence. If I’m uncertain about the pronunciation of anything, I can find an answer and correct myself. But speaking the language is my main motivation, it’s what I find most interesting, so people with a focus on literature may have a different approach.