Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

Foreign Language Learning – Benefits of Practicing Aloud

Mother reading to childIf you want to learn to speak a foreign language, is it really important to practice aloud? My experience has been that although the benefits of practicing listening, reading, writing, and speaking overlap, each foreign language skill also needs its own practice.

Last year my husband and I spent a month in Barcelona. We had rented an apartment and found this to be a brilliant opportunity to practice our nascent Spanish in daily situations - such as shopping, banking, getting around the city, or socializing with locals in our neighborhood café.

Practicing Reading aloud

But Spanish wasn't the only language we "practiced aloud." One weekend, our nephew, his wife, and their 4 year old daughter Céline came to visit us. They live in Switzerland and are French-speaking, so for three days we conversed only in French. The first night, I was the lucky one to read a bed-time story to Céline. She wanted to hear Raiponce (Rapunzel, in French) and had brought her own book.

When I started, it was immediately apparent that Céline was not tired at all and I found myself reading to her aloud for close to an hour. In between bouts of reading, Céline peppered me with questions why Raiponce did this, or Raiponce did that. French is my 4th language and I'm fairly fluent, but let me tell you, discussing the story line of a complicated fairy tale with a chatty 4 year old can be challenging.

The next day, I felt the effects of my brief but intense immersion experience. My French brain was working in high gear: I found that words came more easily to me and the sometimes awkward French sounds flowed more smoothly.

Producing Foreign Language sounds

Practicing a new language aloud starts with sounding out individual words and phrases, but also includes repeating - aloud - longer sentences. These might not always sound perfect, but the effort to recreate the music and intonation of a sentence is excellent practice in itself. Producing the sounds of a foreign language is in part a mechanical process that involves position of the tongue, movement of the muscles in the mouth, and guiding your breath. Your mouth is definitely multitasking.

There are many audio courses, YouTube clips, etc. that teach pronunciations and the particular sounds of many languages. We find that imitating practice by recording your own voice and comparing it to the native speaker works best for us, and we have included this feature in all our courses. In addition, we often find that we can remember a sound better when we see the written word. That's why we have also a “Say it” section: You hear a word or phrase, are asked to repeat it, then see it written for a moment before you hear the next one.

Reading and listening are great ways to rapidly improve your understanding of a foreign language, but don't forget, practicing and speaking aloud will get you ready for conversations: they may be with kids about a fairly tale, or with peers about anything at all!