Speaking......when to do it?

Hello Guys,
I have set a target of listening to 1000 hours before thinking about producing sentences in my target language i.e German. Hopefully, I will be able to produce simple and accurate sentences by then. I have spent so far 60 days * 8 hours. I have done 480 hours of listening to date.

Right now what I have noticed is I am able to do is shopping and buying stuff from grocery stores with my limited greetings and vocabulary stock (they are increasing because of massive exposure to the language)but that is not akin to having meaningful conversations.

Speaking is the easiest part as long as your brain has accumulated a lot of inputs. (Even with my limited vocabulary stock German native speakers are so forgiving and helpful and conversations take place and job get done in real life.)

Now I am focusing on listening to meaningful content so that I can upgrade my vocabulary stock and grammar knowledge. (listening to short stories, news articles etc)

Have you set any measurable goals of arranging speaking sessions either with a tutor on italki or spending a short holiday in your target language country?

Have you set any specific goals for getting some listening done before thinking about speaking?

I have set a specific goal of having done 1000 hours of listening before thinking about having meaningful conversations. Given my intensity and all, my goal is to achieve it by the end of this year (as I have academic studies to take care of so I am not sure will be able to spend 8 hours daily but I will make sure to get more hours done on weekends when university is off.)


I prefer to get speaking as soon as practicable. Speaking is a skill in itself and I don’t think that, as you say: “speaking is the easiest part as long as your brain has accumulated a lot of inputs.” You can watch a lot of people swimming, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get into the water and just swim! Since speaking is real-time interactive, you need the urgency of needing to reply, making mistakes learning the patterns of conversation people actually use. When you speak with people as a beginner they tend to adjust to accommodate you a little. This is the only way to get speaking.

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My experience has been very opposite after living in Germany for a couple of years now. Speaking in short phrases or yes/no is not working fluency. Yes communication takes place but gets boring after a while. And, you are not learning anything new so getting lots of inputs beforehand is very important. How early is your speaking practicable? When do you consider it practicable ?

If you wish to speak, you must practice speaking badly.

No one, not even native children or geniuses starts out speaking well.

You might do a lot of pronunciation work with recordings or with a tutor monitoring at first – that is before trying to speak to “real people” or in “free form conversations”.

(Though I suspect the recording is actually better since you can more quickly train yourself to “hear” the distinctions).

Pronunciation is important but no matter how long you practice in private you will not develop a facility SPEAKING the language until/unless you actually speak.

I also believe it is a good idea to separate speaking from listening comprehension. There are two different skills though of course related.

You can teach yourself to read, write, and even “hear and understand” with audio programs, videos, TV, films etc, but you need a real live human being to truly develop speaking and you may not be able to undertand that human even after you can speak freely or fluidly.

My French tutor is permitted to speak English (he seldom does) but I will NOT leave French. Half the time I have no idea what he said the first time or 2 he repeats and I really don’t care when working with him.

I just answer whatever I think he asked and then let him comment or ask the question again – he seems to understand my French far better than I understand his French OR his English, and that is fine by me.

No one ever learns to run without first stumbling, walking, and then running, and probably falling down a lot.

You will make mistakes so the sooner you start making AND CORRECTING them the sooner you will speak.

When seeking “Language Exchange Partners” I find people who will speak ALL ENGLISH while I will speak ALL FRENCH.

Not saying we cannot revert to our own language to offer examples or corrections but the idea of 15 minutes of French and 15 of English is a very poor use of time and effort by both parties compared to just speaking the target language.


I feel I was vastly underestimating the importance of speaking. At some point I found myself to be similar to a dog - can understand everything, but can´t speak. I think speaking - is a separate skill that you have to specifically develop once you have a language base properly stated.

The main idea is that you have to get the feel for the language, hear the language well, and start speaking. If you can hear the mistakes in your pronunciation, can discern different accents and variations - you´re doing it right. If not - it´s too early to start.

Also there is a problem with voice-sound itself - we hear it distorted. I bought the Rode USB mike with sound monitoring. It helps me to hear myself speaking (also works as a sound-card).

This guy described it well (though in my opinion he slightly over-complicated the simple idea): Matt vs Japan's Ideal Shadowing Setup - How to Shadow - YouTube


After a couple of years you should be speaking at a basic level; especially as you are surrounded by the target language. I’m not saying it’s exactly the same time span for everyone, but only gathering lots of input with the idea that one day you’ll come out speaking interactively, is not going to happen. You need to keep learning as you are speaking; making mistakes; developing patterns of expressions (a lot of everyday speech is made up of patterns and phrases). For input reading naturalistic dialogues and listening to speech (at the level right for you) is the way to go. The reason I think you need to be speaking as well as learning is because you start to use what you’re learning and cementing it into a habit, rather than filling-up on content that you’ll never be able to recall. The latter is more like cramming for an exam.

So go out, ask for things, ask people the time, go to the train station and ask for information. Arm yourself with the questions and some of the content of answers you’ll get. When the reply is incomprehensible ask for an explanation, for the person to repeat a bit slower. Listen to how other people respond in shops, when talking to people, when getting on the bus etc, and copy it. At home when studying you can work out these interactions more comprehensively to understand them, but mostly it’s about doing.

Can I ask if you are taking organised lessons? Often one of the best benefits of this is that you are among people around your level and the teacher guides the input/output.

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As far as I remember, listening only method (or ALG method) proposes 1000 hours of understood listening - that is, if you listen for an hour but understand only 10 minutes of it, this counts as 10 minutes, not an hour.
Of course, I don’t know if that’s what you are doing, or if you’re simply using 1000 hours as a personal goal. Listening only methods have their fans and their critics, like all other methods do.

I think it’s important not to limit yourself by some arbitrary figure but rather notice how you feel and what your brain wants. Like others said, it’s important to start speaking at some point, but not necessarily in full and correct sentences. I really doubt it’s possible to start producing correct and meaningful sentences right away, no matter how much passive listening you do. Children start speaking in bits and pieces, uttering separate words or short phrases and making a lot of mistakes. There is nothing wrong with that. You can start by speaking to yourself, or simply by thinking in the language (not forcing yourself to form complete and grammatically correct sentences but just following what comes naturally). It will be broken and disjointed at first, but that’s perfectly normal.


Nope, I am not taking any organized lessons however all my friends are spending like $400-$500 per level A1, A2, B1 etc at a local language school. They are all over the place in Germany. They go through prescribed books and lessons, and all. The thing is, with me I prefer listening and reading to all kinds of contents and looking up words that suit my learning style.

I live at a retirement home with elderly German women. Our student hostel is built there in one part of the building however as students we come across these elderly women and they know us very well.

The thing is, I was fully enrolled in the English degree program so from 8-7 Evening I was at the university only listening to English, doing assignments, and coursework only in English. Hardly having any time for learning German language learning intensively.

I have done this mini immersion thing at home recently and my listening skills have improved drastically from noise to full-fledged sentences. My vocabulary stock and my ready-made sentence stock has increased quite a bit because of it.

Now I can go and start a conversation with these German elderly women. It is like a free speaking practice.

Your advice is valuable. I will try to put it into practice.

Another way to look at it:

You cannot spend a year reading without learning proper pronunciation if you wish to speak intellible.

A year of reading without being able to pronouce will fossilize a non-native accent, possible forever, but definitely difficult to fix – and it will have to be fixed at some point which will be at a very minimum as difficult as it would have been to get it close to correct in the beginning.

Olle Kjellin (Facebook Pronunciation Best Practice) has a theory that one should spend something like a couple of months, first listening, then just getting 10 or 20 sentences spoken perfectly (he believes just a few sentences will generalize to much of the language if prosody and other elements are near perfect in addition to simple pronunciation of the phonemes.

Not sure I agree completely with him but he makes a compelling case and I strongly suspect the truth is much closer to his method than most of us expect.

In any case, as an adult, I want to READ (LingQ) and LISTEN to a lot of the language, at a level that is interesting in order to learn the language unconsciously.

Reading requires pronunciation, even if you do it in your head you are still pronouncing (unless you are an accomplished speed reader and can go to fluent reading in a new language without going through the subvocalization stage.)

However, directly to speed reading want teach you word order, prosody or anything about “hearing” the spoken language, and it’s likely you would not pick up nearly as much vocabulary as quickly.

Speed readers read out of order even in reverse quite often, care little for noticing grammar markers, are comfortable with ambiguity so just ignore words they don’t know as long as the sense comes through.

As adults we also need vocabulary to avoid having to read every grammar/primary school book equivalent we read in our native language.

Comprehensible input requires knowing a number of words at least partially. Getting to 5000 recognizable words let’s us read interesting material sooner which is where we actually LEARN those 5000 words.

In a roman charater language you can burn through those 5000 words the first 30 days, and have them comfortable at 3 months.

This means we can read books for younger people at the first 1000 words or so, and by 5000 we can read most anything with dictionary support (at least in roman character languages.)

The sooner we can read material we enjoy and know more or less 80% of the words the sooner we can turn reading into a self-sustaining, truly pleasurable way to learn.

Much the same applies to listening, which requires words as ammunition to work through the trick of hearing continuous speech and of course many of us bridge this skill by watching movies and TV with subtitle in the TARGET language for a time or intermittently.

We eed pronunciation even to input our reading but we also need it to understand what others are saying (it’ related to mirror neurons which is a whole other post.)

We need vocabular to read and to understand spoken speech – especially at an interesting level.

As soon as we can pronounce understandly – comfortable for natives even if not perfectly – we can speed up our language development by speaking the target language as much as possible.

We all know – anyone who has ever tried to speak a foreign language – that nothing finds major holes in our vocabulary faster than trying to say something you just want to communcate to another person.

One new idea I am experimenting with is to learn the English (L1) frequency list in my target language.

After all, the things I’ll want to say are the 95% the same words and simple phrases that English speakers already say most often…

[Feel free to disagree, correct, expand, offer alternatives, as I am constantly working on optimizing this path and so do not (yet) expect that it is as effective as it could be…]

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There are books available on most common words in Spanish, French, German etc on Amazon. They are called ‘frequency dictionary books.’ They are created based on the frequency of words used in movies.
They also have example sentences both in your target language as well as in English.


That’s the idea I am also experimenting with learning German. Trying to learn the most common words as soon as possible.

With constant listening I have done over the last 2 months, to my great surprise, I have spoken a couple of sentences in real life scenario subconsciously. I just listened to the whole sentence and memorized it. I remember it because they are repeated many times in different episodes of a television series. I spoke them even knowing about the grammar rules. I encountered more success in speaking if I listened a lot rather than trying to speak without getting any listening done prior. That’s why I am thinking about doing more listening intensively. Hence, setting a target goal of 1000 hours of listening.

I am aware of the ALG method but I am not applying it because of it. I started this goal because on the European Language Framework for an English native speaker it is recommended to listen to 1000 hours in order to reach the C1 level in Listening. At C1 (I achieved this level in English), I can understand a lot of complex topics. Language becomes like the flow on a subconscious level. As far as speaking there is room for improvement however at this level you have the ability to express your thoughts and ask questions. I also achieved C1 in speaking (in English) however I never practiced English with native speakers or did not take any organized lessons. It is just that having done both reading and listening activities extensively, talking to yourself on selected random topics you can develop fluency. You can speak or respond well only if you can understand what the other speaker is saying to you. Listening is the bedrock of speaking, in my humble opinion.

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Here would be my approach:
1st learn at least 1000 words
2nd listening for 250-500 hours
3rd shadowing for 100-250 hours
4th start speaking with a tutor, who corrects your pronunciation


Thanks for your inputs. I will follow this approach. 1 hour of shadowing every day will take me 3-6 months to get the required hours done. That is also my feeling right now it is not worth to have organized lessons with a tutor on italki. First, it is better to upgrade my level. I have all the required resources available at my disposal let me implement this approach into practice and check the overall results/progress.

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Aren’t you in Germany? You don’t need to pay someone to speak German with you if the entire population is German!

They do not have free time. Germans are workaholics. Everyone is working. Yeah , if university opens in person, then, I have more of an opportunity to interact with German students. The thing is, Germans hang out with each other. They will open up to you only if you speak their language.

As a German, I have to admit this is mostly true.

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People say this about the Dutch too, but it’s mostly a stereotype. It just feels like being locked out because of the language barrier. I remember my first year in Belgium (Vlaanderen) and feeling miserable that everyone around me was impenetrable. It’s an illusion though. I spent the whole summer initiating conversations with anyone and everyone for any reason. Once people realise you know what they are saying everything changes.

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I am upping my game as I am learning more and more conversational phrases so that I can initiate a conversation. Tomorrow let me go to a nearby backery where I usually get my cappuccino and brotchen. Let me ask the lady “Was ist los”? and see what she has to say :wink: Also, to check if it is just an illusion or not.

I’ve had an idea for a while which I want to implement in order to start speaking practice (and more specifically vocab/grammar retrieval, not so much pronunciation). The idea is to create a “sandbox” of several hundred words which includes all parts of speech and important verb tenses and to be able to use them to build grammatically correct sentences. They will mostly be based around everyday activities which I’ll then be able to repeat to myself and describe which actions I’d currently be doing.

Has anyone ever tried something like this before?