For French, I speak, but I find myself a bit intimidated because it's difficult (I think) to pronounce French well, and it seems like French people are very particular about how their language is pronounced.
As for the silent period, it's not really something that should be put in opposition to "speak from day one". It's just an observation that children, when placed in a new language environment, tend to listen quietly for a long term before beginning to speak. Silent period advocates argue that people shouldn't be forced to speak early if they don't want to, not that they should refrain from speaking. I fall on the silent period side. I think most courses put way to much emphasis on production for beginners.
But here is my short answer.
It is better to start producing or imitating sounds from day one in order to concentrate on listening, but it is still difficult to talk with people in a real situation at this stage. However, it is possible to communicate with them for a short time.
But I'm not so sure if this is really the right method, as my practical skills drag "light-years" behind. Even in languages in which I already have a rather solid base in theory (like e.g. in Spanish), I still make lots of errors, and I often don't manage to recall immediately some most basic words or sentence structures.
It would be interesting to know, if it is possible to estimate how many hours of conversation practice one approximately needs, in order to get reasonably confident in speaking a foreign language.
I also think, melomane, that we always make mistakes and are unable to recall some of the most basic words and structures in a language. Furthermore, reasonably confident is a subjective term, and that feeling of relative confidence is elusive, some days it is there and some days it is not.
And Alexandre, I suspect most people, including those who choose to delay staring speaking, learn a language with the intention of speaking it. Certainly that is my goal. However, I prefer to spend my time initially building up my familiarity with the language. This would be different if I lived surrounded by the language, in which case I would use it early on. As for fixing my mistakes early on, I have not found this to be the case. It was only when I abandoned my effort to memorize the declension tables in German that my German improved. I see the results of people who have studied grammar for years and make the most basic mistakes, and yet have no vocabulary or feel for the language. So speaking from the beginning is no guarantee of anything.
@dilemme, while some people may prefer to pronounce from day one, I find that I have better results if I delay pronouncing until I have become a little more accustomed to the sounds through a lot of listening, so I think this too is personal.
@Bortrun, there is a language school in Thailand which forbids its students from speaking Thai for the first 6 months or year. It claims that the results are superior.
But language learning is such a personal thing, I just don't see how you can enforce such an edict. We should just do what we want to do, it seems to me.
However, I look forward to more perspectives on this issue.
@alexandrec I like that idea. It does not sound too threatening. I am sure I could cope with reading together and asking each other questions. I could write questions out before we begin and have all of them in front of me so I could read them out. I think that recording the conversation would be beneficial because the native speaker could give more interesting answers than I could and I could listen to them over and over again.
The rate of progress through listening, reading and some (effective) pronunciation practice has far greater ROI (during this initial time).
Even after a couple of years, conversation just reinforces existing vocab and helps iron out everyday useful expressions. Even at this stage, it is still the listening and reading that builds your language ability most.
I have noticed that when people learn a language which is very different to their native tongue, spending too much time speaking too early often creates really bad pronunciation habits.
Anyway, my focus depends on the language (and possibilities to use it). If it's a language I'm likely to use, I read aloud from day one. One can never get too much practice. It's not that I shut my ears.
The thing is that even if my vocabulary may not be large, I have at least practiced speaking as opposed to those who just listen for hundreds of hours. No matter the amount of passive input, it's still no guarantee that they (or I) will be able to activate a language easily.
May 28, 2012, 10:07 a.m.
I studied the grammar very carefully when I was learning German. I must say that I have never for one moment felt any regret for having done so.
Of course I agree that a knowledge of grammar is no use without also having a large vocabulary and a feel for idioms, etc. But in my opinion this is very much a question of 'both-and'; it is not a matter of 'either-or'.
May 28, 2012, 12:49 p.m.
However, 70-80 percent of my time is spent listening. I need to have heard the sound in my head to be able to remember how it sounds to be able to reproduce it. So yes before speaking I listen to material a number of times. I will repeat the same phrases with numerous people to make sure I got it.
I know no worse feeling than standing there and not being able to recall a word which I "should" know. A lot of speaking helps overcome that.
So what does this all mean? I am in favor of a silent period in general. Before I got a German tutor, I spent a few months learning to read the sounds of German and acquired a basic knowledge of the language. I also draw a distinction between practicing the sounds of a language and practicing speaking it. I practice sounds often but don't practice speaking often, unless I'm with my tutor.
A silent period helps your speaking because it gets you over the initial anxiety and confusion of hearing the language's foreign sounds. But I can understand not wanting a silent period. When it comes to language learning, the philosophy should be: if it works for you, use it.
I know another bilingual family Spanish-Finnish the 2 girls have never learned to speak the father language Spanish. Living in Finland and listening most of the time for Finnish language,reading Finnish books at school etc. They did not have enogh exposure(input) which enable them to pick up more Spanish words,make them confident at the language and then gradually start to speak. They did not. My 2 nieces have never learned to speak Turkish althout their father have had some unsucceful atempts. Trying to speak with them in Turkish after the girls will listen to him reading few books. The result. They coul not. At that time living in Spain, attending Spanish school. Talking in Portuguese with their mother.
The cases where children learn to speak fluently both parents language are the ones where the child gets enough exposure to the languages, a lot of input. And it does not happen in 6 or 12 months it happens after years. But now I am not saying they did not start using the language before that.
May 29, 2012, 10:41 a.m.
"Does children start to speak their language from day one??"
Children start from scratch. They first have to learn the sounds even. Adults start from another level.
I have heard the best language courses are the ones where you are only allowed to speak that one language. I have understaken three such courses and I have to say I learnt these languages quicker than other languages where the teacher has given the instruction in English.
As to whether its better or not, I don't know. With a language like Thai, listening for a long time without saying anything might not be a bad idea.
"I studied the grammar very carefully when I was learning German. I must say that I have never for one moment felt any regret for having done so.
Of course I agree that a knowledge of grammar is no use without also having a large vocabulary and a feel for idioms, etc. But in my opinion this is very much a question of 'both-and'; it is not a matter of 'either-or'."
I very much agree with you. But some people are allergic to studying grammar, or to reading, or to whatever. If someone does indeed have this grammar-allergy, its probably better to study without it than to not study at all.