Sound Rehab: A 5-Point Program for Kicking Your Visual-Addiction

Sound Rehab Cover Image

It’s time for another post from Fi3M’s most regular guest contributor, Idahosa Ness! In today’s post, he tackles this “I’m a visual learner” claim that many, including myself, have made and gives some great ideas to make the switch and embrace the beautiful audio-based aspect of language learning and helping us break our “addiction” to visual learning :)

He also includes another fantastically edited fun music video, with incredible synchronization between various versions of himself, showing that he definitely does have flow! Check that out, at the end of the post.

Over to you Idahosa!

If you’ve read any of my previous guest posts on this blog, you’ll know that I advocate learning language with your ears instead of your eyes.

But I often get pushback for this view:

“You can’t just assume that everyone is an auditory learner like you. Personally, I’m a visual learner so I can’t learn a language unless I can see it.”

This seems like a reasonable thing to say in light of the fact that we all have different “learning styles,” but the flawed logic becomes apparent once you apply it to a different context, such as learning to paint.

Imagine someone interrupting an artist’s oil-painting demonstration with this nonsense:

“You can’t just assume that everyone is a visual learner like you. Personally, I’m an auditory learner so I can’t learn painting unless I can hear it!.

We know this statement to be comically absurd because, regardless if your preferred sensory strategy is seeing, hearing, smelling, touching or tasting, painting is a visual skill and thus requires a visual learning environment.

Likewise, oral communication is an auditory skill and thus requires an auditory-learning environment.

There is a reason so many of us are afraid of learning through hearing – our education system taught us to rely on learning through seeing. What’s the first thing we do when we want to learn a new skill? We find a book or article on the subject and get to consuming those little black squiggles we call “scripts” with our eyeballs.

After doing this for so many years, we have all developed a dependency for visual-learning. In fact, some of us are full-blown visual-addicts.

Can you read better than you can hear? Can you write better than you can speak? If so, you are visually addicted, and this is your intervention.

Welcome to Sound Rehab…

What the Script-Centric Paradigm to Language-Acquisition Looks Like

In your language studies, are new words and expressions presented to you in writing? If so, then you are learning language within the Script-Centric Paradigm.

Here’s the basic model for acquiring and utilizing language in the script-centric paradigm:

Foundation: The very first thing you do is memorize the target language’s orthographical conventions (i.e. spelling rules) in order to develop a mental model for converting visual script to auditory sound.

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Acquisition: With this foundation, new words/expressions must come to you through your eyes in order for you to memorize them. If they come to you through your ears first, you have to plug them into your script-sound converter so that you inner-eye can see it, otherwise you will NOT remember them.

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Utilization: To recall these words/expressions for speech, you have to visualize their spelling with your inner eye, plug the spelling into your script-sound converter, hear the resulting sound with your inner-ear, then finally re-create that sound with your mouth.

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There is A LOT of potential for error in this model. I write in detail about the pitfalls of learning language through reading in my post “The Virtues of Illiteracy,” but for now I just wanted to mention the most important ones:

  • The Sounds Can Get Altered: Your native reading habits are deeply ingrained after reading billions of words in your lifetime, so there is huge potential for your native language to mess up your “script-sound converter. In fact, more than half of people’s pronunciation errors come from saying foreign words according to native orthographical conventions.
  • Hearing and Speaking Can Become Inflexible: This model assumes things are always written the way they are spoken, but this is most certainly NOT the case. In normal-speed, connected speech, words get chopped, altered and fused into one another all the time. If your concept of the language is limited to its existence on paper, you’ll have a hard time adapting to the realities of oral communication.
  • A Meta-Thinking Habit Can Develop: “Meta-Think” refers to “thinking about the language” while you’re speaking it. For example, going through conjugation tables in your head is a form of meta-think. In this case, you can develop a bad habit of meta-thinking about spelling rules. Meta-thinking siphons away the already limited mental resources you need to formulate and express your ideas in the target language. In other words, more meta-thinking = less fluency.

I use the word “can” because the extent to which these negatives will affect you will depend on the severity of your visual-addiction. Some people can balance the sound and script in their head well enough to avoid most complications, which is why it’s still possible for someone to achieve foreign language fluency in this model.

In my experience as a language-teacher and accent-coacher for over 1,000 people now, however, I’ve come to realize that the vast majority of people CANNOT achieve this balance so easily.

That’s why I suggest an alternative paradigm – the Sound Centric paradigm.

What the Sound-Centric Paradigm for Language-Acquisition Looks Sounds Like

When you think about it, the act of oral communication is pretty straightforward.

  • Speaker has a thought
  • Speaker encodes the thought into a series of mouth movements.
  • The movements disturb the air particles to create sound waves
  • Listener picks up these sounds waves with his ear.
  • Listener decodes these soundwaves back to speaker’s intended meaning.

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What allows for the listener to decode the speakers intended meaning is a shared set of conventions for linking meaning to sound, or in simpler terms – a common language.

Therefore, the model for learning the common language of another group should only have two elements to it – sound and meaning. Here’s what the sound-centric model sounds like:

Foundation: The very first thing you do is train your ear to hear the all the foreign sounds as well as train your mouth to produce them (In The Mimic Method, we call this Flow-Training).

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Acquisition: New words/expressions have to come through your ears for you to memorize them.

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Utilization: To recall words/expressions for speech, you simply have to recall the associated sounds in your inner ear and then re-produce them with your mouth.

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You should notice right away that the sound-centric model is much simpler than the script-centric one (I guess that’s why it’s the preferred language learning model for babies 😉 )

The ease with which you can acquire and utilize sounds, however, depends on the strength of your foundation.

Developing a sound foundation for a foreign language can be challenging for us adults, since we have allowed our auditory skills to atrophy while we fed our visual addictions.

On top of that, the Foreign Language Education industry has done nothing but nurture our visual addiction. They know people won’t buy their products unless they pump them full of eye-ball crack. In big-business, the goal of “produce as many fluent speakers as possible” will always be trumped by the goal of “produce as much revenue as possible.”

As a result, there are very few resources for people to learn language within the sound-centric paradigm.

That’s why I decided to develop The Flow 101 projectto provide people with the resources they need to develop their sound-mastery and learn a foreign language without having to see it.

Are you motivated to get yourself off the sight-wagon and into Sound Rehab? Well here’s your 5 point program.

Point #1: Know Thy Mouth

Literacy trains us to conceptualize speech sounds as letters, which is problematic since our writing systems never completely or consistently represent the reality of speech.

For example, an English speaker would probably visually conceptualize the sounds in the recording below as “sh” as in “shy” and “oo” as in “goo.”