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Learning and Perfecting Pronunciation Simply by Listening

What’s the best way to learn pronunciation in a foreign language correctly? We’ve got the answer for you: The key to perfect pronunciation is listening.

Learning to Speak Through Listening

Rules for pronunciation and sound are tools created to aid teachers and trainers. It is, however, much easier and more effective to sharpen your listening skills. 

The most important step in speaking a foreign language correctly and without an accent is to listen to it:

1. Listen and understand
2. Read it (quiet and loud)
3. Talk

Have you ever stayed abroad for an extended period? If so, you know how easy it is to immerse yourself in a foreign language, because you can listen to it all the time. You develop a sense for it, and you get used to the sound and melody. This is because the brain is continually listening and processing. Neural pathways needed to speak the new language are created. Synapses for our native language are already firmly established. However, new sounds, pronunciation, language melody, and rhythm of new language need to be stored to access them later. By simply listening, we, therefore, prepare our brain for speaking in the best possible way.

In our brain, the auditory cortex is between two other cortexes that are responsible for the proper use of languages. They are closely connected. Our brains are wired for auditory language learning.

In the first step, listening is the most important. At the same time, or as a further step in the process, you can translate what you’ve just heard to create a link to your existing knowledge. We recommend the de-coding method. De-coding is a “word for word” translation of the foreign language into the mother tongue. It’s important to work with whole sentences or texts. De-coding doesn’t deliver correct sentences, but that’s precisely why our brain helps to understand the new language. In the vertical, from top to bottom, we learn the meaning of individual words in the context of the sentence. In the horizontal, from left to right, we learn the structure and grammar of the foreign language. The memorization of specific vocabulary or grammar rules is completely unnecessary. Instead, we learn the same way as we did as children: intuitively and effortlessly.

Learning Advice: Always Learn in Full Sentences
Don’t limit yourself to one single word, but learn in whole sentences. By the way, this is also recommended when traditionally studying vocabulary. This process not only supports the networking in the brain but can also prevent some language traps.

Imitation—Learning Like a Child

We are already in touch with our mother tongue before we are born, listening to various vocal patterns. Researchers have confirmed that when listening to their mother tongue, newborns react differently than when listening to foreign languages. We experiment with sounds in the first few months and start to speak after a few months. Whether an early starter or not—we all learn through listening and imitation. It shows that adults can learn successfully through auditory learning too. However, adults do have some advantages: They know at least one language, so they can speak, read and write. As a result, language learning is faster.

Even if we don’t like hearing it: There is no talent for language learning. Motivation and suitable learning methods determine progression. Conventional language teaching in schools is therefore not successful in the short or long term. Traditional education is different from the brain’s natural learning method because learning is an automatic and individual process.

Learning Advice: Mental Introduction as Motivation
Whether actively or passively; it’s always good to begin learning with a receptive phase. To use your listening and reading skills, you should listen to foreign-language podcasts, music, or watch videos. The aim is to learn like a child through imitation.

Learning and Perfecting Pronunciation Simply by Listening

Here are Two Listening Exercises to Prepare You for the Perfect Pronunciation

1. Listening Actively

Active learning means to tackle learning content actively. You are completely focused on learning. Active listening is part of the perfect pronunciation exercise: Listen to the foreign language and read in your mother tongue. We call this exercise the karaoke exercise, as it’s similar to karaoke singing.

For this, you need an audio recording of a foreign language, the language text itself and a word for word translation of the text into your mother tongue (de-coding). You can do your de-coding on your own, or you can use a Brain-Friendly Language Course.

Example Decoding

Begin the listening exercise now. Start the audio recording and read the de-coding of the bottom line. By doing so, you’ll learn the meaning of words, the perfect pronunciation as well as the language’s structure (grammar).

2. Listening Passively

Can I learn a language during waiting times in everyday life or while I cook? Yes! You can passively listen while driving, cooking, travelling or simply while sitting comfortably on the sofa. As with traditional methods, the focus is not to concentrate on effort, but rather to enjoy a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere, while passive listening guarantees success. Play the exercises (which you also use for the active listening) in the background. Set the volume very low so that you can hear the text, but no longer understand it very well. We also call passive listening background listening.

Passively listen while doing routine work. During passive listening, the words and sounds slowly move from short-term memory into long-term memory, and you develop a good sense of the new language. You don’t need additional learning time to listen passively, you can do it on the side, and it’s super simple; like a mini-vacation. The more you passively listen, the faster you will manage to speak.

Now you are optimally prepared for speaking. From one day to the next, you’ll want to talk in the new language.

How long should you passively listen? We recommend 6 to 9 days (and nights if you want). If you want to be on the safe side, we recommend a self-review: Test yourself out with a gap text or re-decoding exercise (de-code from back to the foreign language). If the words are easy to come up with, then you are ready to speak.

Learning Advice: Repeat Everything at Least 3 Times!
If the brain listens to a foreign language often enough or for a long time, it starts to process and save it. Repetition is of the utmost importance because when the brain is confronted with something repeatedly, it will memorize it. On the other hand, it’s also crucial for memorization that content embeds in as many different places in the brain as possible. So listen to as many various texts as possible; you should repeat words and phrases in different contexts.

Exercise: Speaking in Chorus

The best way to practice is to speak in chorus. Doing so, you will listen to the foreign language and repeat what you’ve heard. It is easy with a text you already know and understand. For example, through the exercise active listening. Let the recording play and talk out loud “in chorus.” As an alternative, you can echo the original speaker. The echo is somewhat unusual at first, but after a few minutes, you’ll get used to it.

When speaking in chorus or echoing, your brain automatically compares the pronunciation of the native speakers with yours and can almost completely compensate the differences automatically. The more often you practice, the better your pronunciation will be.

Set the volume of the original text as loud as your voice. After some repetitions, turn it down; until you stop hearing it.

When are you ready to speak? Ideally, you just simply start. And you will because listening is excellent preparation for your brain. But please remember: Mistakes are understandable. At some point, though, you’ll stop making them.

Learning Advice: Learn in Sessions
Our short-term memory is limited. As a rule, it can only take up 5 to 9 information blocks at once. Therefore it is more efficient to learn in short sessions. We recommend 10-minute sessions. In this time, the brain can be well focused. You can also benefit from the “Spacing Effect,” which means that our brain processes information without noticing, even though we have focused on something else for longer. If you concentrate actively on learning for 10 minutes, your brain passively continues to work for another 10 minutes. By contrast, after learning for 60 minutes, your brain will also continue to process for 10 minutes. So shorter breaks are instrumental to learn efficiently and successfully.

Learn to Speak by Watching Movies

For language learning, it is important to address as many senses as possible. In addition to audio, vision is a beneficial factor, and where films can come into play. Many people learn by watching YouTube and other video-sharing platforms. Brain-Friendly has now published the Movie © Language Courses. It’s a TV series developed explicitly for language learning. What’s unique about it is the integrated de-coding line. The two-line text is at the bottom of the screen. The top line is the foreign language from the series; the bottom line is a word for word translation into your native language. In the film, the word pair lights up, similar to karaoke. Learning a language has never been easier and may become your new favourite hobby!

Learning and Perfecting Pronunciation Simply by Listening

The de-coding is also available for printing and downloading: Foreign language + word for word translation.

You can also print or download training documents:

  • De-coding exercise: Foreign language + blanks for “word for word” translation
  • Re-decoding exercise: Word for word translation in mother tongue + blanks for conversion into the foreign language. This exercise is useful to review your learning progress!

Listening is the most important part and guarantees successful language learning and speaking. Language processing begins with listening exercises, It’s that simple! Try it out!

Content Manager and blogger Katharina Rucker has devoted herself to the Birkenbihl Approach for language learning since 2011. Since 2014, she has been working as a freelancer in the field of online marketing: www.rucker-marketing.at

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