Do I NEED to speak from day one?
This is topic widely discussed and disagreed upon in the language learning community. One of biggest advocates of speaking immediately is Benny Lewis, author of the Fluent in 3 Months blog and creator of the Speak From Day 1 video course.
In the FAQ for that product, he writes: (some emphasis added)
Rather than read through the guide and watch all the videos to find out my one major 'secret', I can tell you right now: you need to speak the language immediately.
No years of studying grammar, no expensive and complicated software, no "magic pill" to master a language while you sleep, you just need to speak it. Speak it regularly, speak it confidently, and speak it immediately. The more you speak, the quicker you will improve.
Now, I'm a BIG fan of Benny. He recently gave me the amazing opportunity to write a guest post on his blog.
But in this particular point, I disagree. I don't think you NEED to speak from day one.
Read more to find out why!
Benny's logic is sound
Most language learners spend their time focusing on things that don't give the brain what it needs! Things like: grammar, tests, artificial vocabulary lists, etc. Benny is right to tell people to stop focusing on those things and to start communicating in the language.
But I don't believe that speaking is the only type of communication that works!
Many roads lead to the same destination
I've talked to people who have successfully learned languages in all sorts of ways: watching TV and movies, listening to music, reading books, playing videos, etc. The options are limitless! But the key is that it's real communication.
You aren't just listening to some MP3 of the language and hearing the sounds. You are actively participating! If it's comedy, you're laughing at the jokes. If it's a story, you're picturing the action.
Personally, I learned Polish largely from reading and listening to books (specifically the Harry Potter books) in Polish. For the first year and half, I spoke Polish very little - practically not at all. Yet, my Polish ability was constantly improving!
When I first started reading Harry Potter, I needed to look up every other word in the dictionary. By the end of that same year, I was able to comfortably listen to later Harry Potter audio books without even opening the paper version. All without speaking.
Just from extensive listening (over 100 hours - each Harry Potter book was 10-20 hours), I already had the language in my brain. I could form Polish sentences to express my thoughts even though I had very little practice doing so in real situations.
The only thing that stood in my way was...
Fear of speaking
In certain situations, like talking with other learners, I was comfortable and could speak very well. But in other situations where I was uncomfortable, I immediately became very dumb. :-)
Getting over your fear of speaking is a very important step to "fluency" (I'm not crazy about that word). This is something I still struggle with in certain situations, for example, when talking on the phone.
Speaking from day one forces you to also address that fear from day one!
But the process of getting the language in your brain and getting over your fear of speaking don't NEED to be done simultaneously. They are separate issues that affect the same whole.
If you choose to learn via some other type of communication (like listening), you simply have to address that fear separately.
Advantages of other forms of communication
Speaking the language as a source of communication is great. But there are several advantages to using other forms of communication (usually called passive communication) like books, movies, video games, etc:
- You can do it any time - I have to schedule a Skype call (dealing with timezone differences) in order to speak Polish. But I can listen to my MP3 player any time!
- You can do it anywhere - My favorite places to learn are in bed and while walking.
- Repetition is easy - You can easily listen to the same thing over and over again if you like.
- Stress is low - Stress seriously disrupts the learning process. While you're still getting over your fear of speaking, conversations will be very stressful, making it difficult to learn.
But the most important factor of all is: YOU!
Some people are extremely social and their main form of communication (even in their native language) is conversation. These people will probably learn best by focusing on speaking.
I'm personally a voracious reader. In my daily life, I read far more (even in my native language) than I speak. And I'm very happy this way! :-) For me, reading and listening are best.
Don't limit yourself to a particular method because it's the best for someone else!
You need to find the method that works best for you and for your goals. Which is the topic of my ebook, by the way ;-)
What do you think? Do you NEED to speak from day one? Or are there other paths to successful language learning? What do you prefer? Please leave a comment below!