University of Wisconsin–Madison

How talking more can make you better at listening — to foreign languages

The typical foreign language class spends much of its time listening to fluent speakers — a teacher or a recording — and doing other comprehension-focused exercises, like matching printed words and phrases to pictures, but new research from the University of Wisconsin–Madison shows that the students should spend more time talking.

Foreign language classrooms are very input-oriented, according to Elise Hopman, a UW–Madison psychology graduate student, stressing comprehension of words and phrases fed to the learners because teachers want to stress proper grammar and keep students from reinforcing their own mistakes.

“The idea is that I can only learn from correct input,” Hopman says. “I can’t learn from my own output, because I’m a learner and my output will be faulty.”

The alternative is to combine speaking exercises — in which students produce the words, phrases and sentences themselves, not repeating after a teacher or recording — with immediate feedback, so students always learn the correct form.

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