Learning another language is not a priority for some people, so they never are truly successful. Maybe they understand a little, and, perhaps, they can read some short paragraphs in a newspaper or magazine. The most important aspect of any language , however, is ORAL FLUENCY; so, if someone can’t speak a language well, then they don’t really know it.

How does oral fluency develop?

In short steps which begin with LISTENING.  Listen. Listen. Listen. Rich input from things that are meaningful, such as “Come to eat. Dinner’s on the table.”  Reading or telling stories to children – fairy tales, fables, family stories – are other ways to provide rich input, and lead to language acquisition over time. Once someone can read graded readers in a 2nd language independently, and select whatever he/she wants to read, the expansion of oral language takes off!

Interestingly, it’s not writing, or grammar drills, or skills practice activities that help someone learn a language.  It’s basically listening to rich input, personal interactions, and reading that support humans’ language acquisition.

It’s a subconscious factor, not a conscious one, explaining how millions of people, worldwide, learn languages. It explains how some indigenous tribal people in remote Amazon River areas in Brazil can speak up to 20 different dialects. They listen to, then communicate with other tribal people during trade interactions. It also explains how very young children, 3 – 5 years old, for example, grow up being fluent in several languages, not confused when father speaks to them in English, mother in Spanish, and grandmother in Portuguese.

This is the way all babies in the world learn language – by listening, understanding most of what’s said – especially if the adults use gestures or demonstrate objects. Once children try to answer, or sound out words, or add new vocabulary, as they comprehend more of the words or concepts being spoken by others around them, language is being acquired.  As Dr. Stephen Krashen tells us, “Recognition precedes production.” Once children (or learners of any age)  can recognize words and know their meanings, then the oral production begins.

 Repeat. Then, little by little, respond.  LISTEN. REPEAT. RESPOND. All the while you’re listening, you need to begin to THINK in the new language. It’s important, too. Don’t ask others to translate for you. If English is the language you’re learning, use only an English-English dictionary. This will help you learn to think in English, instead of depending on your native tongue. It’s a cycle of progress, leading gradually to oral fluency. LISTEN. REPEAT. RESPOND. THINK. LISTEN. REPEAT. RESPOND. THINK.

As you are developing oral fluency, reading and writing are not ignored.

They are practiced, based on the development of oral fluency. Reading aloud to children is highly beneficial in the process of language development. Fairy tales, myths and fables are especially useful in language acquisition. Once a child begins to read in her/his first language, begin the reading process in the second/third languages. Use graded readers to begin. Our next post will be about reading, providing additional research results concerning reading.

Acquiring a language is a lifetime project. Even one’s native language is learned over time, with vocabulary being built over years of varied experiences. It’s the same with a second or third language. To be fluent implies that you have confidence in your communicative ability using the new language. This ability is evidenced by comprehension of rich oral input, with clear understanding when others speak, as well as your own oral output. Rich input leads to rich output.

Listen. Repeat. Respond. Think. 

Those are the basic keys to success in the beginning stage of acquiring a language.