Listening for reading

02 August 2011 by Randall Buth

Question:
I want to read the Hebrew Bible//Greek New Testament. Why is there so much listening in the BLC courses if the purpose of learning Hebrew//Greek is only for reading?

Answer:

Lots of listening and speaking will make you a significantly better reader of a new language.

There are several reasons for using extensive listening and speaking in learning a language, even when the goal of learning the language is only to read the literature. The reasons together lead to the conclusion that listening produces something significantly better for the learner than reading alone. If one’s goal is a high level reading skill, then an ‘infrastructure of spoken fluency’ needs to be built.

1. Although a minor reason, listening is a faster way to begin. Learning is not held back by a foreign alphabet but can proceed at full speed from the very beginning. In modern languages, listening also helps someone acquire a better accent.

2. Listening is also the natural way to begin. A child listens and learns a language before they learn to read. By itself, this reason is not compelling, but it turns out that this more natural way also produces benefits in final skill levels.

3. Listening builds a skill of speed for faster comprehension. The speed of speech is often much faster than a learner would chose for processing a new language. Listening leads a student to rise to that level of natural speed in the new language.

4. Listening and speaking is one of the main vehicles for developing ‘fluency’, automaticity in the language, that is, the ability to rapidly ‘think in the language’. This comes through rapid, meaningful use of the new language as well as more repetitions in the new language. An adult has a natural tendency to want to retreat into an old familiar language, and this can be overcome through listening and speaking, where the natural speeds of communication override any possibility of retreat. The result of such learning is being able to think in and with the new language. ‘Reading only’ does not produce the same fluency skills.

5. Fluent listening and speaking skills allow for higher level reading skills to be activated. A reader only has a limited amount of energy for processing the message being read. If a significant part of conscious energy is diverted to the ‘formal nuts and bolts’ of the language rather than the meaning, then one’s full conscious energies cannot be directed to the threads and connections of the meaning and larger message. As one illustration, the meaning of a word is not just itself, or what it refers to, but includes its relationship to the other potential words in a language that were not chosen at any one point. A reader who is fluent in a language and can think in the language will process these meanings and relationships as the message unfolds.

6. Psycholinguistic studies have shown that a significant percent of unconscious processing energy is devoted to processing the sound system of a language, even in languages with picture writing systems like Chinese. Without an underlying spoken infrastructure, the processing of the ‘new’ language is left incomplete and maybe ‘crashed’ in a processing loop.

7. Finally, it must be remembered that the graphic system of a language, the writing system, is only a partial representation of a language. Languages are always more than a writing system and a spoken communication medium is always fuller than the symbol system that is used to partially record the spoken language. Readers who speak the language that they are reading are intuitively aware of this. Developing fluency skills allows the reader of an ancient text to become more aware of the overall communication process.

8. Listening does not have the problem of ‘dyslexia’. Dyslexia is a problem caused when simultaneous visual input is reversed. Audio input is serial and cannot be reversed in the same way.

9. Listening and reading should not be confused with audio and visual learning. Visual learning takes place whenever a language is used in a real life context or when pictures accompany the language description. When a person gets to visually ‘see the meaning’, then visual learning takes place. This is true whether the language input is spoken or written.

10. Caretaker speech, that is, special, slowed down speech is sometimes used with learning through listening. This occurs between mother and child, and ideally, it is often used between teacher and student. This goes hand in hand with point nine, immediately above.

Categories: ancient language acquisition, biblical language fluency, Greek immersion, Greek pedagogy, Hebrew alive, Koine Greek, Living Koine

2 Responses to “Listening for reading”

  1. Anthony 17 August 2010 at 7:44 am (PERMALINK)

    Love the ten points. Enhanced clarity on the “why”!
    Thanks

    Author
  2. Heather 16 August 2011 at 11:12 pm (PERMALINK)

    I have been studying Biblical Hebrew for two years at a Syngagogue nearby my home. I can read and write, but can hardly carry a conversation in Biblical Hebrew. Should I spend the money on getting this program, or should I just keep studying and practicing what I have already been taught? I would like to learn modern Hebrew, but again, I’m contemplating getting this Biblical Hebrew program first, but am not sure how necessary it is for me? Any advice?

    Author