Sun 20 Aug 2006
Steve Kaufmann speaks 9 languages fluently, English, French, Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish, Swedish, German, Cantonese and Italian.
Steve interviews Max, a Swede learning Mandarin (14:10mins). As I cannot understand Mandarin, I had a native speaker translate for me. It deals with Max’s study of Mandarin and Cantonese, his thoughts on Pimsleur, and how repetitive listening to the same material improved Max’s fluency. I am highly impressed with Max’s Mandarin in 1 year of serious study, and not living in China:
Why not just watch the news or TV series?
In an article written by Steve, he is asked about the benefits of repetitive listening to English content as compared to just listening to CNN or TV sitcoms. Children do not listen repetitively to the same content when learning their mother tongue.
In my view the answer depends on the level and the goals of the learner. For a beginner or low intermediate and even many intermediate learners, CNN and sitcoms are too difficult to understand.
It is true that as the learner progresses the frequency of repetition will decrease. We talk about an “intensive” period during which the first 2,000 words of the language are acquired. In this period a “strange” language gradually becomes more familiar and even predictable. The learner can acquire a sense of the language more easily by listening to content that he or she understands, and by getting a second and third and fourth chance to hear it.
The high frequency words and expressions are listened to over and over. Listening to familiar content means that the learner is able to focus on these words and phrases and acquire them. Repetitive listening is also excellent for working on pronunciation and rhythm, since the meaning is already understood. This “intensive” period may last 3-6 months.
Children listen to a limited range of content even though it is not repetitive listening to recorded content. The subject matter and vocabulary is limited. The child also takes many years to reach the level of vocabulary and the ability required to express complex ideas. The adult learner can reach that level in less than a year.
In another article by Steve, I often hear people say that they like watching movies and TV programs to learn English. I have always maintained that repetitive reading and listening is more useful for language improvement. The reason is simple. In watching movies you have lots of clues as to what is going on. The dialogue is not so concentrated unless you are watching a very intellectual movie.
When reading, or listening to an audio book, you are completely dependent on the language. The intensity of the learning experience is much greater. It is easier to repeat your reading and listening and it is easier to do, whenever and wherever you want.
Think of people speaking their own language. Who will express themselves better, whether in writing or speaking, people who watch a lot of TV and movies, or people who read a lot? I rest my case.