Two evenings ago I had dinner with a Brazilian couple and we spoke Portuguese. Last night I had dinner with a Chinese person and we spoke Mandarin. I just finished a Skype conversation in Czech with a person in Prague, who is a member of a political party there. In all cases I was able to hear directly from native speakers about issues in their countries. What I take away from these discussions is not so much what I had to say, but what I heard them say in their languages. I derive immense pleasure and satisfaction from the fact that I’m able to understand what people say in a variety of languages.
I listen to podcasts and audiobooks to learn languages. This not only helps me to learn these languages, but introduces me to a wonderful world where words conjure up images in my mind about countries and cultures far away, in space or time. I usually have access to texts or transcripts to help me understand what I’m listening to. The written language is just a record or representation of the spoken language. In a way, reading is also a form of listening since I usually find myself sub vocalizing when I read in a foreign language.
Many people, when they study languages, are motivated to speak as soon as possible. In my case, I prefer to listen before I speak. A large part of my motivation in learning the language is to learn more about the history and culture connected with that language. I know that if I pursue my interest in listening and reading I will eventually be able to speak. In the meantime, however, the enjoyment of listening is its own reward.