Did you know that all 7.5 billion of the people who live on our planet earth learned to speak their first language through listening.
By the age of 5 nearly all of us have listened and learned our way to our first native language or in linguistics, the study of languages, our L1, if you want to know what L1 means, just listen to the podcast.
We call this way of learning language acquisition, and the brilliant news is, every single person has this ability built in. We are all are born with the specialised listening tools you need to learn a language.
So learning another language should be easy, right? Today’s podcast talks a little about the science behind the Adept English Listen and learn approach to language learning uses.
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
⭐ Nelson Mandela
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Hi there and welcome to this podcast from Adept English. We are here to help you learn English and if you use our ‘Listen & Learn’ method of learning English, then you’re more likely to arrive at what’s known as ‘language acquisition’ – that means being fluent in a language, being able to think in that language. It means the language flowing automatically, without effort.
The trouble with most language teaching in schools, is that it doesn’t take you beyond learning language as an intellectual exercise, as though you were learning mathematics. The word ‘intellectual’ means ‘using your intellect, using your intelligence’. So that means using active thinking, translation, conscious control of your sentences.
Admittedly, this is the way that you must learn a language to start with –
you need to have enough understanding of the basic mechanics of a language, the basic ways it works. But once you have this, you need to learn language in a different way. You need to learn through listening, just as you would if you were a child, or just as you would if you were a foreign language student, living in the country whose language you were trying to learn.
If you’d like more information, if you’d like to understand how and why listening is so critical, so key to fluency, and how to maximise your use of listening for language learning, then sign up for our Seven Rules of Adept English course today. It’s a free course – and it’ll change the way you approach your language learning – and it’ll explain why your English improves when you use Adept English!
If you turn to neuroscience – that’s the study of the brain, studies talk about first language as L1 – that means your native language, your native tongue – and L2 as your second language. And the neuroscientific evidence suggests that a second language, L2 is acquired through the same neural networks, through the same ‘wiring’ in your brain which is responsible for you learning your own language.
Where the second language is more ‘native-like’ in its level, the same parts of the brain are being used as when you speak your first language. But where the second language is less proficient, less fluent, different parts of the brain, those associated with ‘control’ are being used instead, so it involves more conscious effort. And neuroscience has shown evidence of this through imaging – so if you’re fluent, it’s the same brain networks used for your L2, as for your L1 – but that’s not true when you’re less fluent.
A photograph of a man in a modern MRI scanner at hospital, proof fluency comes from the same part of your L1 brain use.
That makes sense! That’s why it’s such hard work, when you’re not fluent. If you’re interested in reading more about this, there’s a reference for this research at the end of the transcript.
Another idea that’s common is that you can really only learn a second language proficiently if you’re very young. Now as I’ve mentioned previously, if you want a perfect accent, that probably is only achievable if you start learning the language young. But there’s evidence that with enough practice, people of any age can learn a language to proficiency and that in fact older learners often have more strategies, better learning habits than small children do.
Again, another reference at the end of the transcript to research that suggests older language learners can do just as well as younger learners – the differences in their proficiency are more about having enough time and motivation than about the ability of the older brain to learn a new language. If you’re exposed enough, your brain will learn it.
Now I’m often asked by people how do you move from understanding English well, to being able to speak English well? The answer is that listening and understanding takes you a very long way. If you’re able to understand the language well, your processing of English has already become automatic – or large parts of it have.
There may be the odd word you have to look up, but if you’re able to listen to and understand a podcast like this one, while you’re busy doing other things, then much of the language processing in your brain is already automatic!
But understanding English doesn’t mean that you can speak it. Like every small language learner, every child learning their native language their L1, your level of understanding will be greater than your speaking ability. And that’s perfectly normal! What you need to do though is ‘build a bridge’ in your brain between the understanding part and the speaking part.
So how do we do this? What’s the best way to build this bridge? Well, as you might expect - practice! P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E, ‘practice’ is the noun and ‘to practise’ is P-R-A-C-T-I-S-E is the verb and this means when you repeat something over and over again, so that you become good at it, skilled at it.
Sometimes people start speaking by having conversations with themselves in English. And that’s a great start, but how else can you practise? The ideal situation is that you live for a time in the country where the language you’re learning is spoken – like a foreign language student. And in that case, you’ll probably be forced, you’ll have to speak the language, you’ll have no choice. And that’s what’s called ‘immersion technique’.
‘To immerse’, I-M-M-E-R-S-E means to completely cover yourself, like when you’ve jumped into a pool of water and it’s over your head. ‘Full immersion’ in a new language means that’s all you hear and that’s all you speak for a time. But if you’re in a foreign country and you make friends with people who speak your own language, you’ll not learn as quickly. And of course, it’s possible to move to a different country and only socialise with people who speak your language – that way, you don’t learn the new language at all!
So you don’t necessarily learn to speak if you’re living in an English speaking country. But what is open to everyone is the possibility of going online to do it. Even if you’ve got friends or relatives to practise English with, you may feel embarrassed. You need to feel a bit more comfortable to make mistakes and sometimes that’s easier with a new, person who’s also learning.
So if you find an online language partner – and there are plenty of websites where you can do this – it’ll be someone learning English, possibly at a similar level to you – or someone who’s an English speaker, in return for you practising with them in your language. And this takes a lot of the embarrassment away – you’re both there to learn. You’re both going to make mistakes. And if you’ve ever had an online language partner, then you’ll know the sensation.
It’s absolutely exhausting when you start. Your brain gets really tired. 30 minutes of face-to-face, focused conversation is exhausting! You can feel your brain making the links, making the new connections. And you can also feel yourself improving with the practice. Even if you just do an hour a week, with your online language partner, your English speaking will improve really quickly. And you can get valuable feedback on your pronunciation.
Choose as your language partner someone whom you’re interested in, whom you like and who’ll correct some of the mistakes you make most frequently, but who’ll also give you lots of encouragement. And it’s really rewarding to see that the person can understand you!
But the important thing to remember also, is that all those hours you spent listening, all that time you’ve been making an investment. An ‘investment’, I-N-V-E-S-T-M-E-N-T is when you put time, energy or money into something and it pays you back later. So all that time spent listening is an investment, is time well spent. It makes the step to speaking so much easier.
It’s as though there’s one last little connection, a last little bit of electrical wiring that needs to join your understanding brain to your speaking brain – and then it all lights up! The light bulb comes on! And in fact, when you speak English with your online language partner, you are literally making new connections in your brain, new neural networks as you talk. That’s why it’s so exhausting - it’s probably even burning calories!
And this isn’t just at the end of your language learning – do it as you go! If you have enough ability in English to understand most of this podcast, you’re ready now for a language partner, you’re ready to start speaking! And you’ll be pleased that you found your online language partner – it will fast-forward your learning!
So all of that gives you a definition of ‘language acquisition’ – and some good suggestions about how to arrive at ‘language acquisition’. Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.