Sunday, 11 April 2010

Doubting to speak Thai?

Will speaking too early damage my Thai?

There is some discussion over when you should first start to speak a foreign language. I am siding with the "when you feel ready" camp at the moment, I certainly don't feel that people should be forced to speak in classes etc. The flip side of course is that until you do speak and indeed use the language for communication then you haven't actually achieved speaking a language, you are standing on the edge of the precipice shuffling your feet and checking the knot on the bungee rope for the umpteenth time but you have not jumped. Just my opinion but I would even go so far as to say that written communication doesn't count, language starts with sound in my world. I would agree with Benny who strongly feels that a fear of speaking holds back a lot of language learners but I think this fear is just one of two great fears (more on the other one later). And I do feel that the solution is not necessarily to make people force themselves to speak.

I didn't attempt to speak to anyone for a little over three months when learning Chinese (and that was too early), and would probably do the same for Thai except that I wanted to experiment (more on my first Thai words at some point). Actually I find that I don't actually practice out aloud much at all, I like to get the sounds in my head first, even to the extent that when I tried some Pimsleur in Chinese I would just say the responses in my head I didn't feel like opening my mouth at all.

You can read more about some misconception and the ALG approach at the AUA Thai blog in a post entitled Forbidden to Speak! – (and comments about Steve and Benny). Interestingly I think that there is a suggestion that you are not even supposed to think about the language (impossible in my case or though I could certainly analyse it less than I have had to, to write these blog posts). In practicing to speak out aloud a little, I noticed one very significant fact though. Prior to attempting to practice the pronunciation of the few words that I knew in my head the words that I considered I knew were the sounds of the Thai speakers I heard. Focusing on speaking the words were replaced with my interpretation. Not good at all, this is only my experience but could this be what causes many to fall short of native sounding language if they speak too early?

If it is the case that the problem is simply one of replacing good sounds with imperfect then all I need to do is switch them back again, perhaps not a trivial task but more listening seems to fix it, and if this is the problem awareness is my best defense.

Note: 06/06/2010

When I start a new language I now know when to speak.

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