How to Learn Languages: Listen First!

February 22, 2012

How to Learn Languages

If you’re wondering about how to learn languages successfully and with a good accent, then you need to refrain from trying to speak the new language at the onset and instead spend your time listening to it.

Trained Ears Create Perfect Accents

Dr. Alfred Tomatis founded a therapy program called The Tomatis Method to train ears to hear sounds they didn’t previously hear. Tomatis discovered that the reason people have accents in other languages and have trouble replicating sounds is that they simply don’t hear the sounds of the other language correctly. Their ears have grown accustomed to processing sounds from their mother tongue.

This why you absolutely MUST listen to your target language to get used to how it sounds or else you won’t be able to produce foreign sounds like the rolled “r” in Spanish, Italian and Russian or guttural sounds in Arabic and Hebrew.

Tomatis created a training program with an electronic ear that filtered new sounds to the ear in order to train ear muscles to react and process new sounds. He also encouraged his patients to listen to the music of Amadeus Mozart because the music had a wide range of low and high pitched frequencies.

Even Listening to Mozart Can Help You Train Your Ears to Listen

Researchers studying the “Mozart effect” played Mozart’s Piano Sonata in D major (K.448) for their subjects to see if listening to the music stimulated the brain. Some studies show that people became temporarily more intelligent after listening to the music and could concentrate better. Whether or not you espouse Tomatis’ theories, I suggest listening to classical music regularly to calm their bodies and minds and sharpen their ears. This would be especially beneficial before language lessons and conversation practice.

Though the listening stage in how to learn languages may seem obvious to you, I was never taught listening skills in any language class and I’ve studied 10 languages!

The Research Is In On How to Learn Languages Well

Dr. Paul Sulzberger, did his PhD thesis in linguistics in New Zealand about how people learn Russian. He had one group of students who got to listen to Russian speech before formally learning Russian. The other group had no exposure to Russian at all.

Those who spent time listening to Russian before studying it, had an easier time than those who had no experience listening to the language when it came to recognizing individual words in speech when they were formally learning the language. Therefore, the exposure to listening to the language to pick up the melody and sound patterns before learning words and grammar was advantageous to the students.

Photo By: Dean Shareski

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