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The silent period – a comfortable way to waste time

| 68 comments | Category: learning languages

If your end-goal is to speak then having a silent period to prepare (while you study, listen, or brace yourself for the glorious coming of your ready day foretold by language learning prophets) is nothing more than a comfortable way to waste time.

It’s amazing how much this is promoted by various methods I see floating around. The silent period is a perfectionists wet-dream – you can’t possibly make any mistakes!

Because “everyone knowsthat if you make a single mistake in front of another human being, the whole world will point their fingers at you and guffaw in unison for weeks straight – your reputation will be ruined, and you’ll likely die of embarrassment. Yeah, right(!)

Deal with that bothersome speaking thing later

The silent-period is a shy person’s perfect solution to the embarrassment problem. Postpone the pain – you’ll be better equipped to deal with it later. I’ve got another thing I like to say to shy people.

I even see people online proudly promoting the exact amount of hours they have not spoken a language! I shit you not.

It’s like speaking is this icky gooey cootie-filled gremlin that you must avoid at all costs until you are ready to face it. Um… isn’t speaking the reason you are learning the language in the first place?? If it isn’t then that’s fine, just be honest about it.

I say this not because I learned my mistake many years ago, but because I keep making this mistake and it keeps on costing me. It’s human nature to want to feel ready before getting started on a potentially embarrassing task of speaking a language when you aren’t prepared, but you’ve got to say something or you can’t make progress.

Until you get into the flow, silent periods are just delaying the inevitable hardest first steps. And yes, I won’t lie to you – it does suck and feel frustrating the first few times, but then you get used to it quickly and start to make dramatic progress.

There’s no magic at play here, it’s pure necessity that changes how you focus your efforts.

You must make those first steps; studying, in whatever way or using whatever technology, is avoiding the first steps – not finding better ways to get to the end-goal.

My recent silent period mistakes

Despite how much I talk about this, I still have to apply it properly myself every time I start with a new language. I’m human and prone to making bad judgement calls even when I know from lots of experience it isn’t going to help me.

I’ve had a slow start to speaking Tagalog because (apart from other lazy excuses) I wanted to cover “just enough” material until I was ready, but all that grammar and vocabulary that I’ve been learning hasn’t helped me at all when people enthusiastically start speaking to me in the language.

I can impress locals with pronoun lists and random (irrelevant) words (actually, rest assured, they weren’t that impressed), but I have only started finally conversing this week, and the only thing that made a difference was the fact that I tried. All that grammar and vocab isn’t actually making me speak better, it’s just the fact that I’ve got momentum now that I’ve started!

I realized that I’ve been wasting my time and I’ve got a deadline I’m aiming for, so all this taking-it-easy was getting me nowhere.

I’m still confident I can reach my goal of conversational in time, but wasting several weeks will cost me and mean I’ll have to work extra hard in the remaining month.

When I took on Hungarian, I intentionally decided to “ease myself in” with a few weeks of study preparation. Result? I could argue with people at depth about Hungarian grammar not being that bad, but I couldn’t actually say anything in the language! It was silly – but all that knowledge had backfired and just made me hungry to want to know more before I really got started.

The more you study the more you feel you need to study. You see all that awaits you and it gets intimidating – it’s a vicious circle.

Get out of the vicious circle and take a plunge

The best way out of the circle is to stop thinking so much and to just get into real conversations. Now! Then you have completely different things to think about and you will work in a different way that vastly improves how you speak. Yes, you’ll study too – but your studying will be different this time and have real purpose and immediate application.

Yeah, I know you’re “not ready yet”, and please don’t make me tell you again how many ways you can find natives to speak with in person even if you can’t travel. Not being ready is a state of mind when it comes to speaking a language, it is not an evaluation of your actual abilities to communicate. Someone imaginative can use 100 words to get their point across way more than someone unimaginative with 5,000 words and a sense of feeling unprepared ever could.

The best thing to do by far is to speak from day one and to get into this habit. It’s advice I talk about all the time because when I’ve applied this it has worked tremendously well. Various lazy excuses mean I don’t do this every time, and that genuinely slows me down and I hope I stop “easing myself in” during future language learning projects. It’s time wasted.

My success story of immediately speaking

In case you haven’t read it yet, I highly suggest you have a look at how my first week in Germany went. It was the most successful start I’ve ever had to a language mission, since I ignored all doubts about what I didn’t know and how I wasn’t ready yet, and just spoke the little I did know right away.

After just 3 months I was awarded an excellent mark for the oral part of my C2 exam. There’s no way this could have been possible by application of the silent period.

“Practice makes perfect”.

Your thoughts about this welcome in the comments below as always ;)

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  • http://tlllanguagecoach.blogspot.com/ Aaron G Myers

    Benny. Where’s the love? The poor man is putting it out there, giving the “silent period” a go, busting his butt to see how it works. He is experimenting for all of us to learn from – and video taped his first full conversation. Anyway. Love the posts. Love the picture. And I love what you are doing to help people get off their butts and believe that they can learn another language. Keep up the great work.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      My apologies to Keith when he reads this, but the comments on the post where he embeds the video he uploaded of his first conversation reflect what I feel.

      I do think what he did was useful, but sadly (for him), it was “useful” to people like me to use as a bad example. I commend him for his commitment to the goal, but the results don’t surprise me. His intelligence and energy would have gotten him so much further by applying other methods (not necessarily mine of course).

      Glad you liked the post otherwise :)

    • Jeff Petersen

      The impression that I got here (and correct me if I’m wrong, Benny) is that the person in question spend 2,000 hours just watching DVDs in a foreign language. Imagine what would happen if he spent those 2,000 hours watching DVDs AND speaking. He’s be well on his way to being the “Mandarin master” he wants to be.

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

        Agreed.

  • WC

    I have to say, if your goal is to speak, not-speaking is the wrong way to get there. The same goes for any other goal.

    I still stick by my study-a-bit-first plan, but my goal has always been to start reading as soon as I could, and use that to continue to improve my ability to read. I LOVE reading, so there’s no motivation required to get me to do it. Spending time specifically not-reading would have been very bad for my goals. (The language I chose was Japanese, so not studying first wasn’t really an option. I think any other language I would start trying to read simple things right off the bat and maybe study a bit while I do it.)

    Recently, I even realized that not trying to speak the language was also hampering my goal of reading, since speaking is where language starts!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      When your goal is reading, then doing that first is the smartest thing you can do ;) But yes, working on all aspects of a language is important. Even though my goal is speaking, I still read a lot and of course listen, so my ability to do all of these naturally improves. But as you say – speaking gives them all context!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Yeah, it sounds harder than it really is to not think via your mother tongue, but lots of trying makes it natural.
    It’s sad how many people CAN speak but don’t!!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Yep – you gotta get off your ass and do something. Too many books and other solutions are nothing more than distractions from the best way to reach your goal, which is almost always much simpler than we would need an entire book to explain.

  • http://www.spanish-only.com Ramses (Spanish-Only.com)

    “What you don’t put in, can’t come out”, I’ll stick to that philosophy, thank you.

    Anyway, you do have a point. Many people become comfortable (read: lazy) and never get to speak. But that also happens to people who start speaking right away: they speak with their limited vocabulary and grammar, and forget to take in. Look at expats (I know you know them), and you’ll see the medal has two sides.

    Just a quick question about German: didn’t you already have a decent level of German when you got to Germany last year?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      According to your philosophy, if you don’t put in speaking, then speaking won’t come out ;) haha

      I got a C in my end of school exams in German. In case you aren’t familiar with language learning standards in Ireland, let me assure you that they are pretty crap (or at least were in the 90s). What I had was a vague understanding of the basics in grammar, such as the der/die/das tables from nothing more than disinterested presence and I passed the exam by studying exam patterns rather than actually learning the language.

      I visited Germany a few years ago (long before the blog) and couldn’t do basic things like order food or a train ticket and never made conversation with Germans in my travels, despite constantly meeting them. I also couldn’t understand anything said to me. So no, I did NOT have anything resembling a “decent” level.

      • Anonymous

        It’s interesting what you say about exams. That’s happening to at the moment. School isn’t teaching me anything but how to adequately please an examiner. Probably 99% of the stuff I have learned in the past 2 years is self taught.

      • Anonymous

        It’s interesting what you say about exams. That’s happening to at the moment. School isn’t teaching me anything but how to adequately please an examiner. Probably 99% of the stuff I have learned in the past 2 years is self taught.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, 2000 hours! That’s nearly six hours a day for a year doing nothing but being silent!

    Whenever I don’t get a chance to speak, I still find a way to practice. I do get funny looks on the bus when I’m badly reading Russian out loud, or when I’m on a walk and describing everything I see in Italian, or when I’ll randomly stop and read a sign and translate it! I don’t mind though as it gets me over the embarassment phase and makes for good practice. You can also talk to non-speakers in the target language. I don’t think anyone would mind a friendly Grazie mille/ muchas gracias/ merci beacoup/ danke vielmals or спасибо.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I think he actually spread it over 2 years…

      Looking for any opportunity to practice really is crucial – although I insist that there are plenty of in-person with-native opportunities for anyone in major cities.

      • Anonymous

        I don’t live near a city but I still have the internet to use. Three hours still is quite long considering that is just keeping quiet.

      • Anonymous

        I don’t live near a city but I still have the internet to use. Three hours still is quite long considering that is just keeping quiet.

      • Sheldon

        Actually, it only seems like people don’t have the time to assess proper grammar usage, but, really, we just do it really quickly. We do it without thinking

  • Dominick

    Part of Kieth’s experiment was to see if a long silent period would garner a native-like pronunciation, i.e. being extremely familiar with what the native sounds of a language are before attempting to produce them. Since I don’t speak Chinese I have no idea what the results in that aspect were.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      I also can’t judge his Chinese pronunciation, but to me the idea holds no water. You can’t just start speaking like a native without practising and getting feedback – no matter how well you *think* you can produce those sounds.

      I really must insist that learners get help from human beings! I find all of these whacky approaches to be a ridiculous way to avoid what simply works: practice with people.

      I was pretty successful in speaking Portuguese convincingly enough for natives to think I was from Rio (although I can only do it when very focused, so it still isn’t natural), but this was because I had a native constantly correct me (my singing teacher). What she told me about sentence rhythm, music and MY mistakes would be next to impossible for me to deduce myself from passive exposure.

  • Anonymous

    Language learning is like riding a bike. If you never actually get on the bike, how can you ever say you learnt how to ride. We need to give up the philosophy that we need to do all of these other things to make ourselves ready to speak and communicate in the language and actually get off of our butts and communicate in the language.

    Like with riding bikes, you only get better after you have fallen a few times. Yes, you won’t be perfect when you speak he first time but you will learn and with time, you will achieve your goals. The silent period is pure B.S.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Love the bike analogy! :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Yep – plateaus are usually ones we create ourselves. Just get speaking lots and request proper feedback and the progress will flow :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Yep – plateaus are usually ones we create ourselves. Just get speaking lots and request proper feedback and the progress will flow :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Yep – plateaus are usually ones we create ourselves. Just get speaking lots and request proper feedback and the progress will flow :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    You bring up a good point – when you spend years in classes that don’t actually encourage you to speak, you start to form that mindset that you aren’t “allowed” to speak in your target language. Forgetting how inefficient they are, classes can actually do damage when the teacher does it this way.

    Great to see you do so well with your Spanish! I can write well and my grammar is fine – you just have to put the time into these parts of it too ;) They are so much easier and more fun once you have the context of speaking well!!

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    I’m with you on the uselessness of studying, especially studying grammar and vocab lists and such, but a particular method I’ve been intrigued by recently is one used by Pete over at Language Fixation and a lot of people on HTLAL where they get to the point where they’ve got reading and listening comprehension via reading tons and tons of books (Pete goes for 1 million words) and listening to them on audiobook at the same time, and then they start speaking, they claim they can attain spoken fluency this way in very short order. I just thought it’d be fair to point out that for a lot of people I’ve heard advocating this method, the silent period thing is generally used to get reading/listening comprehension down as opposed to studying grammar. Not sure if it’s the best method, but it seems to work alright for them.

    I still think you should speak as soon as possible…but I also think other methods where you don’t can still produce pretty good results (I believe Pete claimed to get to conversational fluency in about 6 months or so in German this way).

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Please note that I don’t want to claim that “studying is useless”. I am studying a lot these days myself for Tagalog, but this is a smaller part of a whole that involves actual use rather than the major part. My bashes on studying are in the context of approaches based on ONLY studying.

      I see reading/listening for the purposes of improving your language skills (rather than for pleasure since you already understand) as another form of studying. It’s not going through grammar rules, or academic processes, but it’s still not using a language with people or to read as a native would. Same desk, same lamp, different book.

      I don’t remember exactly what Pete did to progress in German (I actually met him the first time just as he had arrived in Berlin and I was leaving), but the only way you can get conversational fluency is by CONVERSATIONS. It’s ludicrous to expect anything else. It’s in the title for a reason!

      Perhaps Pete had a *combination* of lots of listening as well as actual practice as he was living in Germany that brought him to reach conversational fluency as he would likely have now.

      His German is likely better than mine at this stage (we met again for New Year’s and he wanted to speak German with me, but I was actually more interested in conversing in Esperanto due to the event), but when we met originally (i.e. before he would have had lots of practice opportunities all around him constantly) I can tell you that he was not conversationally fluent in any way, despite being familiar with the language. So I seriously doubt he claims what you are suggesting.

      A combination of different approaches is the key. Despite how much I promote speaking, I could never claim to *only* do that to reach my target. Pete and others would have a higher preference for input, but when they combine it with actual practice, that changes things a lot.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Haha, that situation sounds like the “leave me alone, can’t you see I’m learning your language?” paradox :P Great that you came out on top though :)

    Of course I do encourage people to study – I’m doing it most of today for example. But that studying has a completely different context to “some day, I’ll need this”. I’m studying to use my Tagalog *at lunch time*.

    There are so many analogies that work with this – I used to learn to play the piano and it’s the same thing even for people learning. Until you play yourself there’s no way you can improve.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Yes, I imagined this would be parallel for ASL! “Silent period” is hardly an appropriate title, but the same principle of not being active in communicating works :) Glad to see you progressing and using meetup.com to do language exchanges!!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Yes, I imagined this would be parallel for ASL! “Silent period” is hardly an appropriate title, but the same principle of not being active in communicating works :) Glad to see you progressing and using meetup.com to do language exchanges!!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Erasmus is an excellent immersion experience. I wasn’t officially on the program, but living and socialising with Erasmus changed my language learning life for the better.

  • Keleis

    Took the time to look at Keith’s stuff and am wondering why you are being so negative against a single guy?
    Keith is a guy trying something out, not offering short-cuts, he even says in a previous post that it could just as well be a 1000hours or ???. The guy did what he said he would, put up a video with no edits etc. The first time he spoke a damn language. How many of us have the guts to do that, especially after making mistakes? Despite the fact that I don’t think what he did is a good way to learn I am interested to see what happens to his language afterwards, he seems more than willing to speak.

    Fine it may be a bad way to learn a language but couldn’t you have just restricted yourself to critique the silent period in general and detailing some of the specifics of other mainstream methods, rather than picking an extreme edge case to point at and mock.

    Seems like many people here are “bigging themselves up” by putting other people down, fine that’s a cheap way to build a community define your “outsiders”, keep affirming that you are “not like them” and patting yourselves on the back.

    Most of the followers here don’t seem to contribute more than “Ohhhh Me too!” type comments. Interested to see whether this comment gets published and what your readers think of my points about negativity. My first comment here after reading some post was partly to see whether you moderate comments or not, now I have risked wasting a few moments of my life I guess with the distinct possibility that no-one will see this ;).

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Keith’s a very passionate and clever guy and I have no interest in bashing him. I agree that he’s very brave for uploading that video of his first time ever attempting to speak – as it’s not something I’d likely do despite all my many video uploads in other languages.

      This post was about silent periods and he serves as an example of someone who is known for promoting that so I linked to him. The Internet runs on links, so he will have benefited from a few readers like yourself curious to follow his story, who disagree with my interpretation.

      Please read the comments more carefully – you’ve got quite a superficial summary there. Even those who agree with me say way more than “me too” and include their stories which are an essential part of the post as a whole.

      I only delete comments that don’t adhere to the small list of rules that I’ve clearly displayed, which you are close to breaking with your arrogant sweeping statements. The fact that you are new here shows that you still have a lot to learn about my site and how discussions take place here. I am no stranger to getting torn to pieces online by people, and I can assure you Keith has not gotten that here.

      Keep your ignorant assumptions about how I build a community to yourself in future and I won’t ever need to moderate your comments.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    “You’ll realise how many words you actually need…”
    These lists are people’s opinions, like many other aspects of language learning. In my opinion you can communicate yourself well *without* learning a word like “careful”.
    These lists are also biased and based on the wrong context. “Language” would be in my top 20 lists of words I’d need since I usually explain to people that I’m learning their language. So would “engineer” since that’s what I studied. Another person’s list would have different words. A one-size-fits-all list can actually be pretty irrelevant to many people. Those lists are compiled based on newspaper analysis or on conversations I don’t typically have.

    Anyway I think you are missing the point entirely. I don’t aim to have a “natural conversation” on day one. I aim to get my point across, and yes, I can do that with 100 words, context, imagination and body language. By doing that and getting frequent practice, that 100 will multiply quickly.

    Please ignore word lists – they are isolated and unnatural helping aids. No matter how frequently they may occur in sentences, you rarely see them in isolation, so learning them in isolation can end up confusing you more than helping you. A “phrase list” that you select what you are likely to say would do you much better use and you’ll get good inspiration from typical travel phrase books.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    A spoof of what?

  • RichieP

    Fair enough if you’re panning word lists and grammar textbooks, or even watching DVDs. It’s hard to see how they’d assist a beginner speaker I agree… but what about a more effective “bootstrapping” period?

    Something like Michel Thomas foundation course, that drills grammar in a very applied way, and gets you producing sentences from the get-go (albeit with very limited vocab). Or Assimil where you’re “assimilating” the language right from the get-go?

    I’m finding I learned an unbelievable amount of structure and sentence production from MT German Foundation course… then again, I havent yet put it to the test in the country. It may well be the case that 10hrs of Michel Thomas wont get you there faster than 10hrs of actively trying to speak it I guess, but it certainly “feels” pretty effective… I can talk all day about “it”, although a few more nouns wouldn’t go amiss ;)

    It’d be really cool if in future you decide to learn a new language and you tested these courses at some point as primers to speaking… I think alot of people would be interested to know how you get on – I’m guessing most of us can accept that dry textbook work is fairly useless for a pre-speaking bootstrap, but what about the courses designed to GET you speaking ASAP?

    Anyway, wicked blog mate and keep it up!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Is THAT why it’s called Assimil?? All makes sense now :D
      What you say is typical “I’m finding that I’m learning a lot… but I haven’t put it to the test”. My life involves constantly putting things to the test – trust me, speaking from the start is what works best and no course can beat that.
      I’ve tested Pimsleur and various online courses and reviewed them on the blog – I’ll likely try out MT later this year though!

      • http://twitter.com/dangph dangph

        Michel Thomas was a language hacker extraordinaire. He was all about finding easy, intuitive handles into languages. For instance, a traditional grammar book would say that to form the future tense in French, you take the infinitive and then add one of six endings that they would then proceed to list. The trouble is, there is no way to remember that list, and even if you could, you would never be able to pull them out in time to make use of them. MT in contrast said that you just have to learn three ending sounds: “ray”, “rah”, “ron” (my approximate renderings of these sounds). Much much simpler.

        I agree with RichieP that MT would be very useful for bootstrapping.

        Be aware, though, that after MT died, they continued to make courses under his brand that may or may not have much to do with the man himself. I don’t know if they are any good or not.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    A good jazz improviser will do lots of improvising while actually playing. They can be influenced by others, but it’s about actual implementation or a combination of that and listening – never just listening.

    I don’t get input from people, I get feedback. Input is a one-way-street. Feedback is relevant to what I’m actually saying and helps me improve dramatically quicker.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    “Most people become demotivated by continual failures when speaking, and it makes them want to speak less” – where are you getting this from? In an overly simplified input-output system then all you do is make mistakes and that would indeed be demotivating, but in the real world you’ll have actual human beings encouraging you.

    No input system includes that – in my experience people who speak regularly are constantly motivated to keep on trying, unless they weren’t trying enough in the first place (like giving up after the first mistake with bogus excuses). People feeling demotivated is a problem in their attitude to the problem, not a problem in the method. This is why I touch on mentality so much on this blog – reframing your attitude to making mistakes will motivate you to improve, not avoiding making those mistakes entirely! That’s a poor “solution” to the problem.

    Apart from the listening comprehension (which as I explained was actually due to TOO MUCH INPUT without feedback), I got to a C2 in German in ALL aspects by actual use of the language. Reaching a high level of comprehension is easy – as you said about your German, that’s what you had on arrival. Being passive always is.

    In my opinion the use of time is very inefficient when you wait so long and postpone the conversational aspect of learning. The best thing by far is to work on all aspects SIMULTANEOUSLY. Compartmentalising and expecting another part to magically improve faster might sound nice on paper, but avoiding the target can never speed you up.

    I have no doubts you’ll reach your goals in Dutch, (especially when you finally start to speak the bloody language!) but the reason I can reach B2-C2 level in ALL aspects of a language in 3 months are not because of natural talent, but because of working on all of those aspects for the entire time, right from the start.

  • Demian

    I don’t think we have a real disagreement Doviende. My analogy about scales and theory WAS directed at the endless grammar/drill crowd. And a lot of those people wouldn’t know what you mean by input. I, too, learned a good deal about how to play jazz by listening to the masters — Oscar Peterson, Tatum, Monk, etc. — so I don’t dispute that. And, I TOO use audiobooks, podcasts, and wide reading as input in my language studies.
    I’m only posting here to support Benny’s contention that sooner or later — whether as a language learner or jazz musician — you have to speak/improv/etc. Otherwise, all those people who listen to jazz radio stations everyday would be awesome musicians. Now this is an obvious thing in the world of music. But I think the point is that this is NOT an obvious thing in the world of language learning, especially because of the prevalant academic model, which tends to promote everything but getting out there and actually speaking.
    Not taking issue with you point, which was well taken. Just clarifying mine.
    Demian

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      “otherwise all those people who listen to jazz radio stations everyday would be awesome musicians” – I’m going to quote you on this next time someone uses this listen-until-your-ears-bleed argument with me in future ;)

  • http://twitter.com/ykarabatov Yuri Karabatov

    Benny,

    I’m now (re)searching “far and wide” for various obscure language learning techniques and see what works and what doesn’t.

    And you know what, there’s real evidence that speaking puts language the deepest into one’s head. Hesitant and slow speech is the result of conscious thinking, whereas speaking ingrains muscle movements and concepts behind them into the brain, so there’s no use to actually think and translate thoughts to speak in another language, which evidently results in fluent confident speech.

    Thanks for your brave example, and rock on :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Great, go speak it then! :) You won’t have any trouble finding Chinese speakers ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    The “any method” post is the only one you are thinking of. I don’t have other posts that would “go against” what I’m saying here. The purpose of that post was to show why some methods that I disagree with may end up working.

    The silent period will “work” if you believe in it enough, but it works incredibly slowly (over years rather than weeks or months and that’s only if you apply it in a particular way), so yes I do think time should be spent not shutting up. There’s no conflict here.

    I will always “bash” methods that tell people to shut up – a major goal of my blog is to reduce use of that wasteful antisocial method as much as possible if it helps people to speak their target language quickly. The “any method” post is part of that strategy in suggesting a reason why it may indeed work (placebo effect).

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Another falsity of the silent-periodists – that better “quality” is produced. I have met your kind and they don’t impress me AT ALL with their quality beyond reciting learned off vocabulary or poems. In the real world they fail almost every time. I was successful being indistinguishable from natives from Rio by doing the exact opposite of what you propose.

    The quality of interactions with humans for people applying the communicative approach puts those who apply silent periods to shame. The extra speed is obviously a great bonus too!

    You bring up a good point – the silent period really is down to fear.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Hahahaha – that’s the stupidest analogy I’ve ever heard about the communicative approach :P Please see my reply to your comment below.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    The pressure of conversations *right now* gets you out of this via-English issue quickly. If you are trying “hard” to use this advice, but still not applying it fully then you will be slowed down! Silent-period-people are used to language exposure in situations where they can press pause or stop and think about what is written in a book, so they learn that thinking via their mother tongue is the norm. More real world conversation will squeeze that nasty habit out of you ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks so much for this excellent comment!

    I agree with your sentiments about the input-only fanboys. I’ll be linking to your comment any time someone brings up that bloody study again ;)

    It’s best for someone in linguistics to talk them down, it seems they have no interest in the millions of people without PhDs who prove the effectiveness of the communicative approach (or cite their only counter-argument of some immigrants they know superficially who never even applied the communicative approach, and stuck to their mother tongue too consistently as their proof of how the approach fails. Ludicrous).

    • Schnibulla

      Hi,
      what I do, is learning English “in silent-period ” by reading this blog. Thank’s to all, especially Benny !

    • Aubergine

      Benny- just something else I thought you might be interested in by way of countering the fanboys and that is Michael Long’s Interaction Hypothesis.

      Long agrees with Krashen that input is important and that “comprehensible” (i+1) level input best facilitates learning. However Long further develops the theory by saying essentially that in real conversation we often are exposed to input that is beyond our level (i+3, for example) and that by using conversational tactics (what you’d call Language Hacking, I guess) you are able to negotiate the level back down to a comprehensible level (i+1).

      The strength of conversation is not that it relies on SPEAKING (I assume that you’d agree that speaking in front of a mirror/ wall doesn’t actually accomplish much), but that it relies on INTERACTION. Watching 2000 hours of Chinese drama you’re exposed to a wide range of input- most of which is out of your depth- but by speaking you’re able to ensure that the level of input you’re receiving is the level you need. 2000 hours of TV might only amount to 50 hours of comprehensible input, and just 100-200 hours of conversation is quite likely to give you at LEAST that much.

      Once you are at a level of fluency or near fluency input can help start to solidify your grasp over the target language, but I think input works best once you’re already able to understand the majority of it. In the early stages input can help with familiarising oneself with the sounds of the target language, as well as helping provide an active self-monitor (it makes it easier to hear when you’re mis-pronouncing if you know what the language sounds like), but large amounts of input are probably best reserved for the later stages when one really wants to reach native-like levels of comprehension.

      Reading, I think, is particularly valuable as you’re able to pick up a lot of new vocab quickly by reading books (as long as you’re at the stage where reading is faster than conversation!)

      Anyway, I just thought I’d add that as some further information for you. Krashen laid some solid groundwork, but Michael Long really took it the next step. Comprehensible input IS important- but one of the best ways of getting it is conversation!

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

        Thanks a million for this addition! It makes great sense. I like the numbers analogy and can confirm with experience that the value I get out of my conversations are because I have more control over them and thus much more invested interest, as well as of course the ability to manipulate the level the conversation will be at.

        People who aim to understand “natural” language from the start forget that that’s not the kind of language they’ll actually need in their first weeks speaking. Word lists for example list the word “language” at 800+ in priority, whereas that would be in my top 20 words considering how I’m learning and working in languages.

        Without individual context (which TVs can never supply) you will always be slown down.

  • http://twitter.com/tofc Edwin on Languages

    I have been around the language learner blogosphere for more than 4 years, and I have never heard of the “input-only” crowd. I know there are “input-focus” learners, advocates of “silence period”, “comprehensible input” groups, but I have never heard of somebody claiming that he will reach fluency just by working on input ONLY.

    Keith goes to the extreme to find out the effect of a prolonged silence period. It is common to go for the extremes in any kind of experience, in order to identify the effects, if any. This guy did not spent the past 2 years only doing this experience. He has achieved a lot of other stuff. This experiment just ran in background. Remember, the experience is not yet over. Keith has just moved into his output phase.

    To argue against the non-existing “input-only” crowd is like beating the straw man.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      You say tomato I say tomato. “input-focus” is who we are talking about here. As I explained, actual input-only is impossible apart from things like the TV method, which don’t consider the learner AT ALL. Even in academic situations (which everyone, including me, is quick to criticise) you get feedback on your mistakes in the form of answers to exercises.

      I’m sorry but 2 years and 2,000 hours is a REALLY long time to invest in something and not have a higher level. If he makes progress from now on, then that just complies with what I’ve been saying all along – that two-way conversations (once again, saying “output-only” is as bad as saying “input-only” and something that community sweeps me into a lot) are what will make it happen. I have no doubts that his 2,000 hours will contribute, but as much as 20 hours or less of the communicative approach would have done.

      He’s brave to have gone to the lengths that he did, but once he starts participating in active conversations, it’s no longer an “input-focus” approach and this makes any conclusions about such a learning strategy as less valuable.

      And yes, I have had that crowd (call them what you will) claim that fluency is possible without ever needing another human being interacting with you. There is an almost religious following of input by so many people who have a warped view of “output” as just classrooms and teachers getting you to speak.

      You may have been around the blogosphere for more than 4 years, but my site has thousands of comments worth of these people promoting anti-social learning methods. By reading their words you will understand my frustration. Read other comments here from linguists who explain better than I can about the technical problems with input-focussed strategies.

      I am not very interested in this discussion. I prefer to prove time and again that the communicative approach works, and get over a dozen e-mails a day from people thanking me for getting them to start because now they are confidently speaking. Arguing endlessly is perhaps interesting to some, but so far I don’t see a shred of evidence in the silent-period crowd producing anything better than communicative-learners would. Keith has just proven this further in my view.

      I hope he does finally start speaking regularly – if he does he will surely reach fluency in much less than 2,000 hours of work.

      • http://twitter.com/tofc Edwin on Languages

        Let’s not mix up potato with tomato then.

        There are people in the “input-focus” group who do not believe in “silence period”. There are people in the “input-focus” group who do not believe in “comprehensible input”.

        There are certainly people in the “silence period” group who do not believe in “only watching TV for 2000 hours”.

        I agree with you. Let’s not continue with this endless discussion. But for those who want to, please identify which group in particular you are talking about.

      • http://twitter.com/tofc Edwin on Languages

        Let’s not mix up potato with tomato then.

        There are people in the “input-focus” group who do not believe in “silence period”. There are people in the “input-focus” group who do not believe in “comprehensible input”.

        There are certainly people in the “silence period” group who do not believe in “only watching TV for 2000 hours”.

        I agree with you. Let’s not continue with this endless discussion. But for those who want to, please identify which group in particular you are talking about.

  • http://twitter.com/tofc Edwin on Languages

    Thank you, Aubergine, for the clarification.

    I belong to the “advocate of silent period” group but not the “prolonged incomprehensible input” group. As for the arguments for “silent period”, they are all over the place, especially in this blog. So I won’t repeat them.

    I commented on this post, just want to clarify there are indeed different types of thinking on “input-focus”. Keith’s experiment has little to say against the “silent period” hypothesis, as his method has low input-intensity and mostly incomprehensible input (at least from the beginning).

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Would you kindly read my post properly before going off on a rant please? Feel free to take some silent time to do so ;)
    I’m not arguing against reading – please don’t be so ludicrous. I’m arguing against learning approaches that exclude active conversation, not against any non-conversational learning activity.
    I don’t talk about “useless words” here, but since you brought it up, there are plenty that I will never need. Google obscure words in English and you’ll see plenty that will never help me. You can not believe me if you want, and you can try clicking your heels together three times too if you think that will help…

    • Katie

      I think I’ve missed something crucial. I don’t know who this “silent period” crowd is exactly; do they have a meetup group? :)

      Okay, I see what you’re saying, but I’m not letting go of this: there’s just no way that growing your vocabulary and learning how a language works is a waste of time, even if you’re not talking to anyone at all. It’s a matter of doing it well, which his highly subjective.

      So yes, agreed, if you just study languages in your den all day, and never venture out, your conversational skills are going to suck. At first. That doesn’t mean that with some solid immersion that you won’t get up to speed at a blistering fast pace. It doesn’t mean that you will, either (‘cuz it all depends on how you do it), but assuming you’re using that “alone time” well, it’s only going to help you.

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

        Anything is better than nothing. But not speaking isn’t going to help you speak in any way. If the goal is to be a walking dictionary, then by all means spend all your time cramming words. This is not my goal.

        Any solid immersion will lead to fast progress, whether you have prepared or not. The years of investment for slightly faster progress when the time comes is time wasted in my opinion. Yes, of course you’ll progress. But it’s too slow in terms of the goal of speaking. Antisocial learning methods are better suited to antisocial goals. The silent period is an excellent way to pass exams, understand movies etc.

        However, immersion combined with simultaneous efficient study is the best route if the goal is to speak well. Not one or the other. I don’t want people to stop studying – I want them to do it while also using their language right now.

        Yes, you will progress with pure study, but it’s too slow in my opinion to be considered in any way efficient.

  • http://twitter.com/xharmony harmony

    I agree with this. When you are approaching the target language from perspective of your native language, trying to translate everything and rearrange sentence structure on the fly, then everything seems 100 times more complicated than it really is! So it’s easy to assume you’re not “good enough” to speak the language. People think they need to be on the level of a professional translator. I think that if we stop trying to translate in our heads first, we’d be surprised how much we really can say on the spot. I found this with my reading as well. When I stop trying to think about what things in mean in English, my comprehension goes up and my reading goes faster. So it makes sense the same would be true for speaking.

  • http://twitter.com/xharmony harmony

    I agree with this. When you are approaching the target language from perspective of your native language, trying to translate everything and rearrange sentence structure on the fly, then everything seems 100 times more complicated than it really is! So it’s easy to assume you’re not “good enough” to speak the language. People think they need to be on the level of a professional translator. I think that if we stop trying to translate in our heads first, we’d be surprised how much we really can say on the spot. I found this with my reading as well. When I stop trying to think about what things in mean in English, my comprehension goes up and my reading goes faster. So it makes sense the same would be true for speaking.

  • http://twitter.com/xharmony harmony

    I agree with this. When you are approaching the target language from perspective of your native language, trying to translate everything and rearrange sentence structure on the fly, then everything seems 100 times more complicated than it really is! So it’s easy to assume you’re not “good enough” to speak the language. People think they need to be on the level of a professional translator. I think that if we stop trying to translate in our heads first, we’d be surprised how much we really can say on the spot. I found this with my reading as well. When I stop trying to think about what things in mean in English, my comprehension goes up and my reading goes faster. So it makes sense the same would be true for speaking.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Absolutely! :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    How can there be “interaction” if you aren’t interacting? Zipping your mouth is not interaction, unless you wave your arms or start writing on a personal blackboard.

    Rather than say I’m misrepresenting the silent period, why not give me an example of the non-TV approach that implies efficacy? I can’t imagine how it would be possible to improve over the communicative approach. I don’t appreciate academic approaches that involve a teacher not encouraging students to speak.

    Whether the silence involves a TV or not is irrelevant. The problem is the silence.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    How can there be “interaction” if you aren’t interacting? Zipping your mouth is not interaction, unless you wave your arms or start writing on a personal blackboard.

    Rather than say I’m misrepresenting the silent period, why not give me an example of the non-TV approach that implies efficacy? I can’t imagine how it would be possible to improve over the communicative approach. I don’t appreciate academic approaches that involve a teacher not encouraging students to speak.

    Whether the silence involves a TV or not is irrelevant. The problem is the silence.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    “for whatever reason you can’t or don’t want to” – that reason is fear, clouded in a web of excuses.

    Anything is better than nothing, but I’m not interested in promoting dreadfully slow approaches to reaching conversational fluency, and that’s what studying (rather than speaking) a little bit every day is. It’s better than nothing the same way crawling backwards on my ass is better than nothing if I want to travel a few hundred miles.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Best of luck with that!