The Etymology of “Speakening”

The word “Speakening” is a trademarked name I created by combining the words “speaking” and “listening.” This neologism refers to a technique of listening to a foreign language that gives you the ability to clearly hear fluent, rapid speech. The biggest problem that language learners face is understanding their new language when spoken by native speakers. After studying so hard and working so long, most language learners become utterly discouraged when they encounter a native speaker whose rapid speech is incomprehensible to them. It is at this point that even the most dedicated students are inclined to give up, erroneously concluding that they simply don’t have the talent to learn a new language.

As a life-long language learner, I of course had to grapple with this same problem. Fortunately, I was always too stubborn to quit. I assumed that if anyone could become fluent in a second language, then everyone could. This was my assumption when I read about a man who could simultaneously repeat out loud whatever he heard someone else saying within 1/4 of a second. I concluded that if he could do this aloud, then anyone could do it silently. I also guessed that this skill was related to successful language acquisition. It just might be the key for transforming the “gibberish” of native speakers of other languages into clear, understandable speech.

So I took my new technique to the television where I tuned in to RAI Italian programming. Until this time, I had been able to make out a word hear and there, but had not yet become a “fluent” listener of Italian. As I consciously repeated silently what I was hearing, a miracle occurred. For the first time, Italian was as clear to me as English. Even if I didn’t know the meaning of the word I was repeating, I could spell it correctly and look it up later.

This was an important breakthrough for me, and my students. It was the last step to total fluency in a new language and it works for every language. It requires effort in the beginning, to be sure. But it eventually becomes natural, and the effort is automatic. That is, the speakening technique eventually becomes unnecessary when the new language always sounds as clear as one’s mother tongue.

One other important point: You must be ready for the language you are about to hear, or even your native language may fool you. A friend of mine from Hungary told me an important story of an incident when he could not understand perfect Hungarian because he was not prepared to hear it from a Chinese concierge. After three or four repetitions from the concierge, my friend finally realized that the concierge was speaking Hungarian, and the problem of understanding him instantly disappeared.

While it is not easy for everyone to employ the speakening technique at first, it should never be abandoned. It is the key to understanding fluent native speakers. So practice silently repeating what you hear in your native language first. When you can do that, try it on your new language. It does require effort, and it will fatigue you at first, but nothing worth knowing ever comes easy.

by John DePonte


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