In praise of passive learning again.
Passive learning is the opportunity to just listen to or read something of interest, without having to interact with anyone, do drills or exercizes, or answer comprehension questions, or say anything when prompted.
It is a tremendous way of learning because;
- you can do it anytime, even, in the case of listening, while doing other chores
- it is relatively stress-free, and usually enjoyable
- you do not have to go to a class or make an appointment with a teacher
- you can choose what to listen to and read
- if you read or listen to a variety of sources on related subjects, you can reinforce your understanding almost effortlessly
- you can tune in and tune out and you will still learn, especially if you blend different sources of similar information
- it is inexpensive
- it is easily controlled by the learner
- technology has made it easier than ever
- you reinforce the power of listening by reading and vice versa
Benny the hyper Irishman has what he terms a “bombshell” of a rant on passive listening. He tell us that
“A whole industry of language learning products is based on something that I have to frankly say that I think is absolute rubbish.
Some people swear by it, and yet it rarely ever produces any useful results.
The shocking truth is that passive listening is never going to get you to fluency in a language. What’s even worse is that it won’t even help your ability to understand.”
As he often does, he constructs a straw man situation, that ” a whole industry of language learning” has thousands of people listening to unintelligible language content, and then delivers the shocking truth that this won’t work. He claims that he failed in the oral portion of his recent Geman exam because he had the German radio on in the background while he studied grammar or something. Well what did he expect?
I just scanned his article but found very little earth shattering there. Just putting a language on in the background is not going to help all that much. But realistically few learners rely on that to learn.
However, passively listening to content that you then can read as a transcript as we do at LingQ, and then listening to that content over and over, is a tremendously powerful way to learn, even if you tune out now and again.
The problem with Benny’s article is not so much what he says, but rather the impression he tries to create, that passive listening is brain dead listening, and that we have to find a native speaker to speak to before we can learn. That is simply not true.
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