Learn Spanish by Listening

By: Douglas Bower

The way in which adult Africans, and I believe many of the adults I've met in the resort areas of Mexico, have developed a high degree of spoken fluency is the same way in which we learned our native tongue as children-Passive Listening. If ever there was a "natural way" to learn a second language, this is it. If ever there was a way that one should use as the primary step to second language acquisition, this is it.

Passive listening would be the direct opposite of how we are taught to approach the learning of math, history, or science. It is not the cramming, drilling, cold memorizing of facts, or mindless repetition of vocabulary words. It is, rather, the silent assimilation and consequent registering of sights, noises, smells, and action pictures within the new language. It is something that goes on even when a conscious effort is not being made to pay attention to things within the language. I know of one language school in the States that uses the Learnables products with children and suggests playing the tapes while the kids play and sleep.

During the period of silence in which children say little in the new language and play a lot, passive listening is happening. There is no classroom in which a teacher is instructing the child in the language. The need to fit into play with the foreign children whose language must sound like gibberish at first is so great that lots of passive listening is happening.

As adults, we have to engage in purposeful activity, one that is designed for massive exposure in the new language (acquisition first, learning second), as well as passive activity. I not only use home study courses that offer me "comprehensible input" in the language, but I watch lots and lots of television in Spanish. This can be done in the States as well as in Mexico where I live. The Simpson's is an ideal program for this. It used to be available on Univision television as well as other Spanish cable networks.

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