Is it possible to learn to speak a language just by listening to it?

I faced this question both as a language learner and language teacher and spent some time both researching and testing this method. In this post I am going to share with you what I have found out.

What type of listening are we talking about?

If your definition of listening is to just spend time watching a movie in a foreign language or listening to music in a language that you have no knowledge of, the answer would be ‘no you cannot learn to speak a language just by listening’. And when we say no it does not mean that you never learn anything, it means that this is an extremely inefficient way of learning a new language.

It is very important to mention that all methods of learning a language while sleeping also fall into the same category. Even if they work to some extent, it takes so much time to learn with these methods that we cannot call them a learning method.

What we mean when we talk about listening is ‘conscious listening’.

What is ‘conscious listening’?

Conscious listening is the act of intentionally focusing on what you hear. It is not limited to language learning but here we focus on the benefits you can get from listening consciously on your language learning process.

Studies have shown that although listening unconsciously can improve your listening skill to some extent but the best way to learn by listening is to dedicate a few minutes to hours just to listening. This is an active learning method so it is better to use simple tools like a pen and notebook and also a dictionary.

Learning to speak just by listening

Although it is completely possible to master your listening skills just by listening to a language, many linguists and researchers are not sure about if it is possible to learn to speak this way. However, some like Dr. Stephen Krashen believes that in theory it is possible.

According to Stephen Krashen listening and reading are underestimated in the language learning process and they have a much more significant impact than what we assume. In this video he also talks about his experiences with people who learned to speak a language just by listening to people.

It is important to mention that Dr. Krashen and people with his point of view do not believe that speaking practice is pointless, but assert that receptive skills (reading and listening) are greatly underestimated.

Is it possible to learn to speak a language just by listening to it?

Why is it important to practice speaking?

Speaking skill is not only about your language knowledge, it also needs some motor skills. So even if you learn a language thoroughly by listening or reading, you will face some challenges when you want to start speaking.

The process of speaking in contrast to listening does not happen in your mind. In order to speak you mind should use your mouth, lips, tongue, voice box and even your nose. All these muscles and body parts need exercise to learn the skills needed to make new sounds.

This process usually happens gradually but it is very common in elementary language learners to have trouble pronouncing a word right.

If you feel like you can speak faster and more fluently in your mind that loudly, you probably lack these motor skills.

What I usually suggest is to spend some time trying to pronounce words one by one and then try using them in a sentence. In order to speak fast, you have to learn how to use your mouth for this new language, just like a musical instrument.

Conclusion

Studies have shown that practicing listening has a significant effect on how good you can speak. However, in order to speak fluently and without a strong accent you need to spend time speaking, not only to get more confident with your speaking style but to train your Phonatory System.

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