Would I be rude enough to tell you that you’re doing it all wrong? Oh, yes!…;-)

I had a comment on the blog the other day from an unfortunately anonymous guest (I always think it’s so much more interesting and friendly when people use their real names) which was something I’ve heard quite a few other people say.  Here it is in full:

Often find that having a mix of learning tools helps the memory, coming away from SSiW audio lessons, the sounds fade from memory but supporting written matter can more readily recalled.

In one guise or another, I’ve heard this a fair bit – people either say that they’re ‘visual learners‘ and need to see the words, or that they can learn faster from a grammar book, or that they just can’t understand the words being spoken because they’re too fast or not clear enough.  In fact, the comment above is one of the milder ones, because he or she is suggesting a mix of tools, rather than throwing the SSiW baby out with the bathwater.

So I should shut up and accept people’s individual preferences, shouldn’t I?!

That’s exactly what I used to do, in the early days of SSiW.

If someone said the lessons didn’t work and that they were going to pack it in, I might humbly suggest that they give it a little more time, or use the pause button a bit more, but I never really pushed any harder than that.  I know that in general education, different ways of learning can be extremely important – I have a cousin who specialises in the differences between how boys and girls learn, for example, and a properly adapted scheme of work can make the world of difference.  Knowing this, I suppose I just accepted that some people wouldn’t like the lessons I’d written, and that was okay.

My attitude started to change as we began to hear more people on the forum talking about how they’d always been ‘visual’ learners, and always enjoyed studying grammar, and found the SSi method very unconvincing – but that they’d stuck at it, and had unquestionably learnt more, faster with us than they’d ever done with a grammar book.

Gradually, I become convinced that there are some important neurological differences to learning to speak a language by producing it and hearing it, and learning the component bits of a language by looking at them on a page.

I strongly suspect that the moment when you have an English phrase in your head, and have to produce the equivalent of that phrase in Welsh or Spanish or whatever, is a process which matches the neurological process of a conversation as closely as is possible for a learner.

I suspect that it triggers real, measurable neurological growth of a kind which is immediately usable in conversation – unlike the neurological growth that happens when you learn grammar or word lists, which then still requires the gear-shift to actual speech.

So these days, when someone says they’re a ‘visual’ learner, I’m much more likely to say that, simply put, I think they’re wrong.

I think they may well be a ‘visual’ learner for every single other aspect of knowledge, but I believe that languages function differently (and perhaps uniquely, with the possible exception of music).  I believe that languages are such a fundamental part of what we are as human beings, and that the process of speaking is so central to our experience of them, that no-one can learn a language faster or better from the written page than from the spoken word.

I believe that language is speech, and that speaking gives us language.

If I’m right, that means that time spent on ‘a mix of learning tools’ is time wasted.  If that time were spent on speaking and listening, I am convinced the learning process would be accelerated.

Even just a few months ago, I would have tempered that by commenting that of course, any extra practice is all grist to the mill – but what I’m seeing in the haphazard trials of accelerated learning we’ve been doing is that repeating learnt material more often than we actually need to is almost certainly unnecessary.

It can be a huge effort not to over-revise.  As I look ahead to visiting Holland with Louis in August, I’m suffering the agonies of the damned in resisting the temptation to start listing to his tourist lessons for Dutch several times a week.

I’m not going to do it, though.  I’m going to run through them briefly before we get to Amsterdam – maybe even on the plane! – because I know that will be enough.

So, if you’re convinced you’re a ‘visual’ learner, or that you need a ‘mix’ of tools to remember newly learnt material, how about suspending your disbelief for a couple of weeks, having a couple of ‘intense’ days with some SSi material, and then revisit it only occasionally, and see if that ends up feeling like a more enjoyable, and easier, and faster-moving experience?…:-)



43 responses to “Would I be rude enough to tell you that you’re doing it all wrong? Oh, yes!…;-)

  1. Your passing mention of music here is interesting. If you challenged people to learn the lyrics to a song by reading the words on a page, or by listening to the song, I’m pretty sure that the listeners would learn it quicker and remember it for longer.

    • It’s a really interesting crossover point – I’m sure you’re right. And further, if someone had to remember a tune by listening to it a few times or by seeing it written down in musical notation, again, hands-down victory for listening (although I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some advanced musical theory folk were convinced that reading helped them). All fascinating stuff!…:-)

  2. I’m one of those who would say that I’m a “visual learner”, but it concerns task learning more than language learning. I easily get the intructions all muttled up and have trouble completing the desired activity. So for a physical task, I am definitely a visual learner

    As for language, I have studied and play around with many languages over the years. I’ve looked into programs such as Roseta Stone and others. Honestly, they are for me too over priced.

    I completely agree with what you said about learning language: it is speech. It is not something that we write first and then say. It’s an on going process in the brain. There are occasions when I will double check a word in a dictionary to make sure I’m hearing the word correctly, or simply because I’m curious about possible related words (I’m also using a “slightly” outdated Geiriadur Mawr: 1989. Many words aren’t there and several aren’t used anymore). But it all combines to make the learning process more interesting. It’s not going to automatically jump from the headphones into my brain and be ready for recall after a minute or two of listening.

    In learning a language, my biggest problem has always been listening comprehension. I’m fairly fluent in French, but still have problems understanding radio, and TV programs. When it comes to speaking on the phone in French, I’m a nervous wreck!! The reason: the majority of the tools I have used relied too heavily on writen material. I could reference back to some page in a book , or note I had writen. In conversation, we don’t have that option most of the time.

    For the above reasons, I would have to say that SSiW is a brilliantly laid out program: hands down! How do I know this? I have had the pleasure of participating in two Skype interviews (all in Welsh) and a few phone calls (all in Welsh) and understood what the other was saying. I didn’t catch every single word they were saying, but understood more than enough to follow the conversation. My success was due to SSiW’s “listen and repeat” or hearing the English phrase and saying it in Welsh. SSiW makes you think.

    Learning a language is more than knowing how to search for words in a dictionary (which can be a dangerous, all be it hilarious, endevour: picking the wrong word). Through the SSiW courses, students learn how to use parts of their brains that may have been laid dormant a bit too long. Plus, with modern technology, we’ve grown accustom to having visual displays which dazzle our eyes, but put our brains on hold. SSiW courses causes us to use a part of the brain which we have set aside to rest a bit too long.

    For anyone who feels that they’re not getting the full benefit because they’re not learning to read and write the language first, I would say that there’s no need to worry. There are times I have to read out loud to “hear myself” speak the words. The letters/words seem strange at first, but the sounds are oh so familiar. The same goes with writing. I have one friend in particular in Wales who has been brilliant to help me with my composition (I tend to speak and write like a Welsh farmer from the north. Not to say that’s a bad thing at all. Most of my family here do the same….only in English. My family is from very rural areas here)

    The bottom line: practice practice practice. It might be annoying for some. It might be frustrating. But in the end, the SSiW method is one of the best there is out there. Those who stick with it will find out just how wonderful it is.

    • Thank you very much indeed for that interesting and thoughtful response, Eris…:-)

      I’m particularly interested in what you say about practice – which is certainly something I would have agreed with immediately a few months ago – I’m now starting to wonder if we over-cook it with practice (in terms of language production, anyway – I can’t imagine you’d ever stop benefiting from extra time spent listening to speech).

      ‘It’s not going to automatically jump from the headphones into my brain and be ready for recall after a minute or two of listening.’

      No, that’s true – but if it jumps as far as a conscious understanding, and is ready for recall in the immediate future, and is then revisited at gradually increasing intervals, it will end up in your long term memory…:-)

      I increasingly suspect that language learners as a whole tend to over-revise, instead of letting those intervals gradually increase in what is probably the most efficient way. But anything that makes learning a language involve less work is powerfully attractive to me, so who knows how much wishful thinking is in here…;-)

  3. Okay, so it was probably inevitable that I’d pop up and try to defend my ‘visual learner’ claim. 🙂

    First off, I just want to say that I agree 100% with your statement a couple of posts ago about how ‘learning a language’ and ‘learning about a language’ are two very different things. I’m not here to dispute that. 🙂 I may personally happen to find grammar interesting, but I still think that studying it should only be seen as ‘additional reading’ for the interested, and that recommending it as a means of increasing language proficiency is misleading and counterproductive.

    That said, I remain convinced that I *am* a visual language learner (and that that makes me unusual!). Perhaps what I mean here is something a bit different? Language is speech, sure, but for me, it’s also a *very* writingy thing. Far more so than it is for most people, judging by the some of the conversations I’ve had about this. Some examples of what I mean:

    – When I hear words, I tend to subconsciously visualise their spelling in my head. Not for all the little words in every sentence, of course, but the significant ones. As a result, I occasionally confuse one homophone for another, and fail to understand something someone says. Then when they explain what they mean and the penny drops, I’ll say something like “oh, I see – I wasn’t spelling it like that”. And then they look at me really strangely. 😉

    – For the same reason, I can often be really bad at spotting puns!

    – I’m hopeless at remembering people’s names when they tell me them. But if I visualise them written down (asking for spellings if unsure), it helps *massively*.

    – Similarly, when I was doing SSiW, I found it helped me a lot to know how the words looked, and if I ever did a lesson while out and about without the word list, I would repeatedly forget new words until I’d looked them up, at which point they would stick.

    – I have a hard(er) time processing things when they’re read out. In meetings at work, I prefer to bring in my laptop and read along with whatever is being read out, as it’s much easier for me to understand that way.

    – I always watch TV with subtitles on at home, and when I’m tired, I prefer to turn the sound off, because it’s more relaxing to read in silence than to listen.

    So that’s what I mean when I say I’m a visual learner. I’m not denying that listening and speaking are crucial, and I’m *certainly* not trying to claim that one can learn a language by visual methods alone. And SSiW definitely worked for me. But I am still sure that, for me at least, things would’ve been slower and more frustrating without learning the written language in tandem with the spoken one.

    I guess the tl;dr of it is, “it takes all sorts”. But don’t worry, I do realise that my “sort” is a minority one, and I won’t make the mistake of trying to evangelise about it to others. 😉

    • Good to put a face to the sock-puppet…;-)

      All very interesting. And of course experience is experience. Speaking as a fellow visualiser, though (bet you didn’t see that one coming!), I wonder to what extent this is a matter of ingrained habit rather than need.

      We’ll have to do some destruction testing on you with some new languages…;-)

      One thing that might be happening for you could be that the introduction of the words isn’t clear enough – I think we need short accompanying sound files with each lesson which really break down the new words, and give soundalikes when they are regularly mis-heard – ‘that’s FAWR as in F for Victoria etc’.

      Something like that might still lead you to visualise the words, as a long-term habit, while freeing up your practice/learning time to focus even more on the speaking/listening. And then we’ll measure how far you get in a month, and compare it, and give you injections and stuff.

  4. I find this really interesting too. Up until a fairly short time ago I was also absolutely convinced I was a visual learner. I’ve always enjoyed language learning and in school I could glance down a page of French vocabulary and instantly remember the spelling of every word, including all the accents. I tried an Italian class once that was based on the ‘learn to speak before you see it written’ premise, but that was before the internet or even mp3 players! We were supposed to listen and repeat sentences in class, go home and have no Italian exposure for an entire week, then go back and somehow magically remember it! No, I couldn’t do it until I saw it written down, so the whole idea of ‘put your pens and paper away’ with SaySomethinginWelsh had me a tad doubtful. And I didn’t really put the theory to the test as I’d already done some Welsh and learned to read it before I found SSiW so I did find myself visualising the words I knew already when I heard them. However, when an unfamiliar word was introduced I didn’t look it up.

    And I realised it was working when I was trying to text a friend and wanted to tell her to I was going upstairs. “Dw i’n mynd” I wrote, then I stopped. I wanted to put “sha lan” because that was what I knew to say, but I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to write it. It was an illuminating moment.

    So now I’m testing it properly with SaySomethinginDutch and I’m experiencing a very curious feeling. Not only do I not have a clue how any of it is written, I’m finding that if I accidentally see a Dutch word I want to shut my eyes! I’m developing a strong aversion to seeing it written, and I feel as if my hearing and ability to distinguish tiny differences in sound are becoming more acute. It’s almost like a physical change in my brain. Aran talks about using parts of our brain that have been dormant, and I think that might be what is happening. I have allowed a sense to become rusty through depending more heavily on the visual method of learning. Now I am denying myself that input, my ability to hear and perceive new sounds appears to be sharpened, and I’m really enjoying the feeling.

    • Fascinating – thank you so much for sharing. Your experiences are very similar to ones I’ve had myself, although I was probably never as confident a visual language learner.

      Particularly interesting that you talk about being made to listen to sentences and then repeat them – I can’t afford the necessary scanning equipment to prove it, but I’m convinced that the process of hearing/remembering/repeating-from-short-term memory uses a different set of neurons to the neurons you need to build to speak – while the process of have-target-phrase/produce-target-phrase-in-new-language uses as close as possible to exactly the same neurons you call upon in conversation.

      So although listen/repeat has often been very popular, I think it’s pretty much doomed to failure, certainly in comparison to think/produce.

  5. When I first started the program, I wanted to see the words and did seek out supplements for the SSiW program because I felt that I was not hearing a few of the words correctly and I was unsure of the pronunciation especially when words are mutated. By seeing how the words were spelled and used in sentences I felt more confident in my pronunciation and enjoyed writing the sentences in Welsh for reinforcement. However, I definitely love the approach of SSiW and even though I am progressing slowly because of not setting aside time daily for the lessons I am confident that your method will have me speaking Welsh proficiently.

    • Hi Cindy, and thanks for commenting! 🙂 There are definitely some issues surrounding accurate and comprehensible initial input – while slight mishearings (leading to misproduction) won’t usually impede communication, they don’t help with confidence. At the moment, a quick check of the spelling is the only way to fix that with us, but we are hoping to do some supplementary audio stuff that will make it possible to be entirely sure what you’re saying without needing to look at the written word.

      Incidentally, if you find it hard to put time aside on a daily basis, you might be a good match for having a go at doing an intense day, where you set aside one day and do as many lessons (without the pause button!) as possible…:-)

  6. I like to see the words written down as another commenter said so that I can see the ‘shape’ of the words and pick up the little extra sounds I can’t hear in the audio recordings… so if not doing the writing thing is very important then it would be nice to have those audio cute files you mentioned… but then I also want to be able to read Welsh, and I like looking things up, so it satisfies all other parts of my brain even though I know it doesn’t help me remember the word – because I’m trying to recall the shape on a bit of paper at an exact moment in time, I guess, rather than something intrinsic…

    In other thoughts, you’ve just handed me the outline of that phd I’ve always wanted to do, on a silver plate 🙂

    • I would seriously love to see someone get to grips with some of these issues at PhD level…:)

      It is, of course, a complicated field – because as well as dealing with neurological functions, we’re also dealing with people, who are dreadfully messy…;) If not looking at writing made someone feel so genuinely disgruntled that they gave up on the process, it clearly wouldn’t be successful – and there’s a gigantic grey area with people who take some comfort out of a quick squint at some written words – and feeling happy is clearly beneficial to learning.

      Putting speaking/listening first doesn’t mean you don’t get to read, of course – just that you deal with that at a later stage than would traditionally be the case, when (I would argue) it will in any case be much easier and happen much more quickly…:)

  7. When you think about it, visual learning in the context of language acquisition is rather un-natural. Humans have always learnt and used languages (it is partly what defines humans, after all), but writing and reading is a quite recent addition to human behaviour (5,000 years roughly out of 100,000+?). Infants learn languages through hearing (or seeing, in the case of deaf infants), repeating and reinforcement from their environment. It is possible to be illiterate, and not uncommon in many parts of the world, but being without any language ability is altogether different: that is associated with intellectual disability, usually.

    Could it be that main-stream language learning has been corrupted by class-based education systems, and that as a result there are now lots of people going around thinking they need visual clues in order to learn languages at all?

    I think that speaking and listening skills are at the core of language acquisition, but I believe that it is also possible to master a language through writing and reading. But the latter is an entirely different skill set to the former, and in my experience, these two skill sets have been, and are still being, confused in more traditional language teaching. That is one of the reasons I am very interested in SaySomethingInLatin, and in finding out how my learning experience here will differ from what I went through in high school.

    • Yes – and if you think in terms of reading and writing as something experienced by the majority of human beings, you’re pulling it all the way to just the last couple of hundred years – so in evolutionary terms, it hardly exists at all…:)

      Could it be that main-stream language learning has been corrupted by class-based education systems, and that as a result there are now lots of people going around thinking they need visual clues in order to learn languages at all?

      I think that is a very clear summary of one point of view in this discussion – and I think it is very close to the truth.

      Interesting what you say about mastering a language through writing and reading (and odd speaking to you in English!) – I agree that it’s possible, but I would love to see someone who had a ‘fluent’ grasp of a language through writing and reading being put in a position where they needed to talk to someone – I’m convinced that their own speaking would be painfully slow, and that their ability to understand the spoken word would be minimal.

      I strongly suspect that a confident speaker/listener would acquire reading/writing skills (which they already have in their first language) much, much faster than a confident reader/writer would acquire speaking/listening skills… but we definitely need a few people to start doing PhDs on this…;)

  8. My experience has also been that I can remember stuff I’ve seen. And yes, it works well when I need to learn by heart for example word lists. But, while I can put those words to paper I really can’t use them while speaking. It takes a lot of concentration to use a word I’ve learned by reading in speech.
    Learning Spanish has been interesting experience since I started it with SSi. But since I’ve done all available lessons (wink, wink) I’ve been looking into other resources. And they all use writing. I found a useable Android app that shows the word at the same time it’s spoken.
    It’s been interesting to observe that if I see a word written, my hearing is based on that visual perception. E.g. the word ‘gracias’. When I saw it written down, I heard the letter c as s-sound, but the speaker was from Spain and said it with th-sound. I had to close my eyes to actually heat the th-sound.
    So the visual perception is overruling the hearing. This actually explains why subtitles makes it harder to hear the speech in tv-series/movies.

    • More Spanish lessons to be released next week (although it’ll be a while before they really go significantly past the content in the current tourist lessons)…:)

      That’s a very interesting point – and reminds me of that video that was doing the rounds a while ago where what you saw the person saying altered what you heard, even though the sound track remained the same. Fascinating.

  9. I think you mean the mcgurk effect? It’s such an interesting thing. This whole topic is fascinating! Like Amy, I would love to do a PHD on this, second language acquisition is poorly understood, in my humble opinion.

    I think I’m a visual learner, but to me that always meant that I use visual cues to help me concentrate, because that’s where my learning struggles. My mind wanders way too easily 😉 So I use note taking and highlighting as a way to stay focused. Maybe that means I’m just ADD and not a visual learner? No idea!

    With SSiW, I found it helpful to visualise the thing I was saying. So every time I’d get a new vocab, I’d picture the thing in my mind, and the result of that was that now, when I see something, the little google engine in my head tends to supply words for it in the languages I know (Welsh included!), without me having to go “oh, that’s a door. Door in Welsh is drews!”. Instead, it’s just “oh look, drews!”.

    With tenses and things like that, I try to imagine myself saying the sentences to an actual person, sort of pretending to be in a situation where I might do that. It sounds a little silly, but it’s helped give me a better ‘feel’ for various structures. Towards the end of course 1, I found myself sometimes ‘disagreeing’ with Aran on how to say something in Welsh 🙂

    I would hear something like “I returned home” and instead of parroting the expected wnes i ddychwelyd adref, I’d come up with dwi wedi mynd adref.

    While it isn’t exactly the same thing, if I wanted to say “I went BACK home”, I’d know to use dychwelodd, but in that instance and without context, dwi wedi mynd worked for me.

    Also, on the subject of reading, I can now read most Welsh, and I never had to learn. I made a mental note of the letter changes (f = sounds like a V, U = sounds like an “eeeeeh” and so on), of which there aren’t that many really, and I’m fairly comfortable with my Welsh reading. It’s not uber fast, but I think that’s more to do with my vocab being very small. The letters being mostly the same as English definitely helps! But I don’t feel that I’d benefit from having notes in Welsh, really.

    The discussion about repetition vs being made to think reminded me of this intelligence test thing I did once (was a favour for a friend in training). There are different ways in which we process visual cues and auditory cues, for sure, but there’s also a difference in how we process a course like SSiW vs how we would process a “repeat after me” type of course. (Coincidently, I did one of these in German, and all I remember is how to say ‘Balcony’ and the diminutive of ‘Girl’).

    Anyway, back to this test – I think it was the Wechsler but not sure.

    The tester reads aloud these number lists, the length of which increases each time, and you’re meant to repeat them. Starts off very easy “3,7”, etc, and ends up impossible!

    Then you get the same procedure, but with letters of the alphabet.

    Then you get numbers again, but you need to repeat them backwards.

    Lastly, you get lists of letters and numbers, and you have to repeat them in descending order, letters followed by bynumbers.

    I found the simple number repetition really easy. It was when I was asked to repeat them backwards that I felt like my brain had just left the building! A very curious experience, I just couldn’t do more than a couple of each!

    I’m not an expert by any means, but I think that the simple repetition was just me remembering the sounds I’d heard. I’ve always been very good at that sort of thing. I don’t think I even processed them as numbers, past maybe the first 3-4, which is why when I had to repeat them backwards, I couldn’t do it well at all.

    Okay, I just realised what a giant wall of text I’ve constructed here. Well done if you’ve made it this far, haha.

    • Thank you very much indeed for that, Maya – it’s always a delight and a privilege to get such a detailed response to the ideas I’m playing around with on here…:-)

      I try to imagine myself saying the sentences to an actual person

      I’m sure that, too, will be triggering something very close to the same neural process as actual conversation – similar to the envisioning exercises that sports people do.

      So, we need to try and find a way to fund at least two PhDs *and* an MRI machine…;-)

      P.S. Very interesting what you say about acquiring reading so quickly – I really want to do more testing with that, but what you report is what I would expect to be the norm.

  10. I always learned best by writing things down, so SSIW has been a very different experience for me from the start. Language learning is a very instinctive thing. As a child you learn to talk first and then reading, writing and spelling come later and I believe as an adult it is just a matter of getting back into this mode, going back to basics and essentially “learning to learn.” I’d say to anyone that feels they are struggling with remembering what they’ve learned, to really let go of the need to remember. After all, how many times have you had a conversation in English (or any other language) and then you can’t remember the word you wanted to say!

    Having done two big sessions of lessons now, I can say that the feeling of being immersed in a language can help tremendously, even though you don’t realise at the time. I initially spent 1.5 days finishing off SSIW course 1 and I found that this new learning style was really beneficial. I found I could progress much quicker because everything stayed fresh in my mind and it was a boost for both my Welsh skills and my self esteem.

    When I started course 2, I tried a slightly different approach. I woke up in the morning and did a block of 5 lessons by lunchtime with no break. I felt terrible! It felt like nothing had gone in, I couldn’t remember a single word and my brain had turned to mush! The day after I did no practice at all, I listened to some radio cymru and watched Cyw with my daughter and then suddenly, out popped a new sentence that I had learned the previous day! And then I was making more sentences with the new vocabulary that I thought I couldn’t remeber a word of! And it was then that it dawned on me that learning is not just a process, but a state of mind, and in order to benefit fully you have to change the way you think about learning and let it become a natural and organic process. Don’t worry about how you learn best for remembering things straight away, or being able to read or write the words, just relax knowing that they’re safely stored …somewhere… In your brain! 🙂

    • Thank you so much for that really interesting comment, Rushelle – I think you’re really taking huge leaps forward, and you’ve obviously got the psychological confidence to adapt to new approaches, which will make an enormous difference for you.

      What you describe feeling when you did the five sessions in the morning is very similar to what I felt when I did the 10 Dutch sessions in a day – the only difference is that I had more experience with the process (although not with such intense learning) and therefore a bit more belief that it would work out – although going into my Skype chat with Louis, I was genuinely worried that I wasn’t going to be able to remember much at all.

      You would probably have found that if you’d been put in a conversation situation where you’d needed to use the material from those five lessons, it would have been there ready and waiting for you even straight after doing them, when you felt at your worst!

      With your greater experience now, it would be really interesting for you to set yourself the challenge of trying to push on and do five in the morning, and five more in the afternoon some time – worst case scenario is that you’d need to do them again at some point…;-)

  11. Music has been mentioned as having some similarities to language learning so you might be interested in these thoughts about my own experience. My Dad taught me to read music and play the piano. He INSISTED that I read the music and never improvise-i.e. play by ear. He had his reasons. Some of his pianists in the dance bands that he led were simply terrible, and I understand that, but it left me-for a very long life-unable to trust my ear. Always dependant on the written music, I can’t play at all without the dots in front of me. I’m not unhappy, but how much more fun and how much more creative it would have been to just listen and play. Soooo when I first heard Iestyn explain your listening and not reading or writing philosophy, I was right there with him and you, Aran, and am doing very well by past standards. My next step is to try the accelerated approach. When the English visitors leave in ten days time, I am going to make my move to full membership of this wonderful community of language learners, followed by a visit to Wales in October. Thanks for everything that you do to make all our lives richer.

    • Thank you so much for that, June – really interesting. As it happens, I’m very keen indeed to do some tests with materials to teach music – but I think it’s going to need video (to show exactly how to produce the sounds on whatever instrument it is) so it’s probably not something we’re going to be in a position to do for another year or so.

      Good luck with the accelerated approach! I’m sure you’ll find it entertainingly different – our video of Phil and Alison eating out in Spanish after an afternoon of learning is almost ready to publish, and they did excellently. And thank you very much indeed for your extremely kind words, which are a huge inspiration…:-)

      • Next step from June. Day set aside for accelerated Welsh. Lessons 17-18 took longer than planned-the pause button was absolute necessity. Planned to stretch every 30 minutes but forgot so getting very stiff. Violin practice and lunch as a break before lesson 19. A third of the way through, brain dead. NOTHING registered. Now working on 19-20-21. Not so much fast, just more concentrated in the sense that although life goes on, the Welsh is a priority in a way that it wasn’t before. Different attitude is the best way to describe it. I still have time before my visit to Wales in October

      • I sympathise hugely with the need to stretch!

        Sounds as though you’ve made some important breakthroughs there in terms of attitude…:-)

        It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall for your ‘brain dead’ wall with lesson 19 – it sounds as though it might be pretty similar to how I felt with a fair bit of the Dutch I did in one day – so unless you were actually incapable of saying any sentences at all, it’s not impossible that carrying on anyway would have worked better than you would have expected.

        I think with accelerated learning with these materials it’s important to test NOT using the pause button. I know it’s scary, and it feels as though you’re missing stuff, but acceleration is really about making loads of mistakes and carrying on anyway – might be a worthwhile test for you at some point…:-)

  12. Here’s how we attacked it:
    I’ll be the first to admit that it irritates me to know end that I can’t actually read many of the words I am saying in Cymraeg. It bothers me I can’t indulge in the papers, and even if I knew the words, I wouldn’t recognise them.


    Instead, we play the lessons over and over in about a 3 lesson increment. I forge ahead, flailing and grasping, and then go back about 3 lessons and play those for the children about 2 or 3 times, where we are all are crowing away with the lesson. The toddlers love it. I speak almost entirely to my 18 month old in cymraeg, and it is growing with my 3 year old. My wife is beginning to pick it up. We are much further than we were 9 months ago.

    I can actually tell my children constructive, useful things and they are understanding them. And while my wife sniggers that I share the same sense of humour as Aran (no surprise, really -“That’s how it is, isn’t it?”) I am finding that now the responses are become ingrained and thoughtless, almost automatic… I can say a phrase and intuitively know what is means and how it sounds without thinking about it much. That was what was suggested at the beginning of the course, and it’s true. The other thing is my natural accent sounds more like Catrin and less like Aran. We have the first toddler of our family in 300 years asking for food in Cymraeg.

    The point is that this method WORKS. Just the way it stands. There is nothing to change, as I am incredibly happy only on lesson 17 of the first course, and we haven’t really got into the meat yet. But this is without a doubt the best course and the best method. At least it is for us.

    We couldn’t be more grateful for your hard work, time, and effort, because it’s given us our heritage back.

    • Thank you so much for sharing that, John – it’s incredibly moving and inspiring, and sounds as though you are doing absolutely brilliantly, particularly in making it all enough fun for the kids to play along.

      It takes huge resolution to reclaim a language on a family basis, and I can’t begin to say how much I admire you all. It is breath-taking to think that we’ve been able to help you in such a remarkable endeavour, and I will look forward enormously to hearing how it all progresses for you and the kids. If you have any hiccups at all, please don’t hesitate to ask for help – and I hope the set of supplementary ‘family’ lessons I’m going to try and produce before the end of the year will be useful for you…:-)

  13. I think you are definitely on to something with the SSi style of teaching, even if it may well be that over time, you gradually tweak it in various ways, based on your experience.

    Had you done some research to back up your ideas, or has it been more of a gut feeling.?Anyway…

    I’d say I too have become a convert from being (or at least thinking I’m) a visual learner: or at least, I’m treating it as an experiment, and not only am I not cheating by not looking at the lesson notes beforehand, I’ve decided not to look at them at all. Even if I’m having problems. I’ll probably read some stuff on the forum, so I won’t be as “pure” as all that, but as far as possible, I’m going to do all of this course (and C2 and C3) aurally and orally.

    Now, one problem I’ve been thinking about (and I’m inclined to overthink this sort of thing), is what to do about new vocabulary that I pick up along the way – not from the course, but from Radio Cymru, S4C, visits to Wales, Meetup Group, etc. I’d been thinking that I could at least write those down. In my other language studies, I’ve been using simple word lists, or the fancier “Gold List System” invented by David James. (I don’t use Anki or similar). But I’ve been rethinking that as well (and I haven’t started writing new words yet), and no, I definitely want to keep this all aural/oral for as long as I possibly can. So what I could simply do is to record the words (pronounced as well as I can) on my MP3 player and/or the computer, together with some explanation of the meaning, or any grammar points I happen to know about it, or whatever. I feel I need to do something, rather than simply depend on my memory, and because these words aren’t on the course, I’m not going to have repetitions of them laid out for me. I could (and probably should) of course build sentences of my own with them, though I’m not sure I’m disciplined enough to do as much repetition as I’d need. Still, I’ll give it a try and see how it goes.

    Hwyl fawr,

    • Thank you very much for your comments, Mike – much appreciated…:-)

      The first draft of SSiWelsh I wrote (five years ago now!) was based on a combination of awareness of general research coupled with very wide (and mostly unsuccessful!) experience as a learner via different methods.

      Since then, the refining I’ve done of the framework has been based on the huge amount of detailed responses we’ve had on the forum – it’s been particularly useful seeing where people have difficulties, and that has helped me identify far more precisely what does and doesn’t work. We’ve also been able to run a small number of very unscientific tests on different variations of the approach which have been very instructive, and I’ve learnt a lot more about neuroscience than I knew five years ago, all of which has fed into the latest version of the framework that I’m working on at the moment…:-)

      I like your ambitious experiment of sticking to aural/oral the whole way through. I suspect that with new vocabulary, if you record a sentence per new word and just build them into mp3s (which you can do with Audacity), cutting them off each time they get to about half an hour, you’ll probably have a listening resource that would help the new vocab stick without you needing to get into any more complicated patterns of interval structure.

      I’ll look forward very much to hearing how it all goes for you…:-)

  14. It’s been a pleasure to learn Welsh with SSiW. Your positive encouragement throughout the course is greatly appreciated. The explanations you give are invaluable and help me to be able to form sentences ‘out of the box’ so speak.

    I live in a lovely Welsh community in mid Wales. It’s fabulous here. The people are warm and friendly, which makes a pleasant welcome change from London.

    I’m on Lesson 18 of Course 2. People always commend me on my Welsh. I think all your commendation is absolutely great. It has given me the confidence to speak to people in Welsh and not to be offended if they respond negatively sometimes. Overall people are intrigued but very accepting that a person of colour with a cockney accent can speak Welsh.

    Thank you so much for giving me this gift of speaking Welsh. I absolutely love it and can’t get enough of your course. 10 of us went on an intense 3 month Welsh course in 2012. Only two of us have stuck to it. I think your encouragement, explanations and genius has helped me immensely.

    Just to add, I knew your course would work. Couldn’t believe it was free. After 40 years of being surrounded by French (my Mother’s first language) and 5 years wasted at school, I did the Readers’ Digest French course, similar to yours, and was speaking French within weeks.

    The method gets the adrenaline going, making the synapses wake up land do some work. I find myself preparing what to say in Welsh and I can actually form sentences to use in different situations. Thanks a billion. Keep up the good work. Diolch yn fawr

    • Thank you so much for such a lovely comment and extremely generous (but welcome!) praise – with that kind of positive, enthusiastic attitude, it’s no surprise at all to me that you’ve put the materials (which can’t do anything without your hard work) to such excellent effect…:-) You sound as though you’d be a fabulous guest for Hwb – would you be interested in that?

  15. I realise this is an old post, but I was wondering how auditory processing and neurological disorders affect your take on this?

    Like a previous commenter, I’m not a “visual learner”, I’m just plain visual, with abysmal processing speed and short term memory for anything auditory, whatever language it’s in. Sometimes I especially struggle just to work out what language someone is speaking to me in, if I’m in a multilingual situation. Sometimes all speech sounds like gobbledygook and I have to ask people to repeat themselves s…l…o…w…l…y.

    • It’s a great question, Ana, and I haven’t worked with enough people with neurological disorders to feel very dogmatic about it – but my personal belief by now is pretty much the same as in this post.

      Clearly, someone who finds using their first language difficult in a specific, neurological way is going to have the same problems with a second language – if someone has very bad hearing, they’re not going to hear their new language any better than their first language.

      However, if their aim is to have conversations in their new language, I think they’ll be better served by focusing on speaking and listening as much as possible. It will feel easier to stick to reading and writing, but the results will be slower and more painful than facing up to the hard work from the very beginning. Of course, if the neurological challenges are so severe the learner isn’t aiming to take part in conversations, then it would be a very different matter.

      Obviously, I don’t know you – but what you say about struggling to work out what language someone is using in a multilingual situation sounds very normal! If you can take part in a conversation in English, and that’s your goal when learning another language, then although it will feel less comfortable, I think you’ll get significantly better results if you focus on speaking and listening…:-)

      • I confess your response has only confused me more. (My goal in learning languages is always to read books!).

        Anyway, if you’ll permit me to waffle a bit while I work out what I’m trying to say. I’ve found when learning languages that speaking follows from reading and vice versa in a sort of feedback loop. Which very much parallels how I learnt English – obviously my initial words came by listening, but by age 3 I was fluently reading new books and learning from those. By 6 I was secretly reading adult books (mostly my Mum’s copy of The F Plan, or my Dad’s Economist, neither of which were the most thrilling read ever). Conversely I only narrowly escaped being sent to speech therapy sessions. Reading allows me to internalize the rhythm of a language in a way that listening just doesn’t seem to, and can be done much, much faster than I can listen. It’s not until one has internalized a language that one can spontaneously produce without double translating everything one says. I think that’s what I find challenging about the idea of throwing away reading (not that bothered by writing, because I *don’t* enjoy learning grammar). I find the SSiW lessons hugely useful for drilling pronunciation and delivery, and reinforcing stuff, but (and I DID try it, because that’s what the rules said, but never made it past lesson 1 after multiple attempts) very limiting without any use of written material, because they centre around double translation. You hear the English, decode it, re-encode in Welsh. That’s exactly what I struggled with at school and had to learn to discard. For me the most rewarding “a ha” moment with a new language is where I can hear someone speak, and the words come past my eyes, even if they’re words I don’t know. That’s when I know I’ve “cracked” it. The second best is my first dream in it!

        You talked about “match[ing] the neurological process of a conversation as closely as is possible for a learner”, but if as a learner I start a conversation by composing what I want to say in English, then a) this conversation is going to go really slowly, and b) I’m not truely learning the language. I’m just translating.

        Does that make any sense?

      • Hi Ana – if you tell me which parts of my response confused you, I’ll try to clarify them…:-)

        You were clearly a very early and confident reader – and maybe your focus on reading was part of what raised the possibility of speech therapy. I’m not surprised that you’d find it challenging to put aside reading for a while. That doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t work for you, though. The brain’s plasticity is incredible…:-)

        I don’t think you’re right about what you call ‘double translation’. We don’t know exactly how language production works at a neurological level, but I personally suspect that we have neurological circuits for a concept, and for a word in our first language, and a word in our target language. We do know that the more any neurological circuit is used, the stronger/faster it becomes (through a process of synaptic growth). I suspect that when you first acquire a word in a target language, mapping it to a word in your first language is not significantly slower than mapping it directly to a concept (perhaps because the link between concept and first-language-word is so strong we can find it hard to sense that there is a gap at all) – and that as you produce more and more structures in your target language, you strengthen the neural connections between the words in your target language, and need to return to your first language less and less often in the production of a phrase. I’ve been asked if I’d chair a discussion group on exactly this issue down in Cardiff next month, which I’m looking forward to very much, so I’d be very happy to carry on talking about it…:-)

        So what happens effectively is that the initial sense of needing to think in English and then ‘translate’ into Welsh soon becomes a process of producing longer and longer structures in Welsh – meanwhile, exposure to accelerated listening exercises also pushes you in the direction of operating without conscious translation – and we usually see people gradually realise that they’re not doing much word-to-word translation.

        One final point – if you did Lesson 01 multiple times, you actually haven’t tested the High Intensity system yet – you might find what I say here about repeating sessions of some interest – it’s actually the process of attempting (and at first making mistakes) and repeating (on a spaced interval basis) that builds the neural structures we’re aiming for, so it’s very important to move on through the lessons without repeating (ideally, without repeating at all, but certainly without multiple repetitions).

  16. Apologies for commenting on such an old post, but this the only relevant thing I’ve found when searching for info on ssiw and auditory processing disorders.

    I understand your feelings on language teaching, and certainly audio is of the utmost importance when learning a language, especially if one’s main goal is to be able to converse in the target language. I also feel that SSiW is by far the best free option for learning Welsh available, and I’ve been trying various ones for nearly ten years. However, I find the sole emphasis on audio and this post’s underlying assertion that you know how a person learns best better than they do to be exceptionally irritating for the simple fact that your method, while an excellent one, is NOT suitable as it exists for all learners, particularly those of us with learning and language disabilities. I don’t mean just those who are hard of hearing as you seem to think the above commentor meant, but anyone with a neurological disorder related to auditory language processing as well.

    I’ve tried SSiW a number of times over the last five or so years, both by going through the lessons with no repitition (I only made it through five lessons by this method before it became impossible to continue due to how little I was actually picking up, and learned next to nothing) and by repeating lessons (slightly better results, but still far from good). I know from other language learning that repitition and seeing and hearing a word at the same time are both key in order for me to learn anything at all. This is the same as I learn for other subjects, but is of extra importance when learning languages. I am simply not able to process speech well enough to learn from it without seeing the transcript as well (this works in reverse too, especially since I’m also dyslexic).

    So what I’m wondering is: I am clearly not the first to mention disordered auditory processing to you, yet there have been no improvements to the SSiW method to enable people with disabilities like mine to use it, and I still see the “you can’t learn if you see the language!” party line touted every time this course is brought up, both by learners and on official materials. What gives? Are you really so convinced that you are right (despite saying several times that your method is based on what you “suspect” to be the case) that you wish to not have anyone with a disability related to the processing of spoken language learn from you, even though implementing accommodation could be as incredibly simple as transcribing lessons?

    • As opening conversational gambits go, I’m not entirely convinced that ‘You’re irritating, you’re wrong, now talk to me and change your methodology’ is the best I’ve ever heard.

      But for the benefit of any less aggressive readers who are also interested in this:

      With one exception, the discussion here is (quite clearly, I think) not about auditory disorders – it’s about people who believe the (widely challenged) theory of learning styles, and in particular believe that they themselves are ‘visual learners’.

      There is one previous comment about auditory disorders, to which I responded (again quite clearly) that ‘I haven’t worked with enough people with neurological disorders to feel very dogmatic about it’ (which I think makes it fairly clear that I wasn’t presuming that Ana was simply hard of hearing). I then posited the reasonable suggestion that L2 acquisition would be affected by auditory disorders in a broadly similar way to L1 acquisition, which remains my belief.

      You state that we claim that ‘you can’t learn if you see the language’. This is incorrect – we have never made and will never make that claim. I say frequently that in my experience, focusing on speaking and listening produces a better accent (particularly in the initial stages of learning) and also leads to faster acquisition.

      By the time you have over 100 hours of audio, transcribing lessons is by no means a trivial task. As it happens, though, we offer content lists for the vast majority of our lessons. Nonetheless, we continue (and will continue) to encourage people to set aside their expectations about ‘visual learning’ as much as possible – because the research shows very clearly that there are situations in which individuals are consistently poor judges of how well a learning strategy is working for them (see particularly research on interleaving, for example).

      I see three groups of interested parties with regards to this issue.

      – People who believe they are ‘visual learners’, who would benefit from giving our approach enough of a test to discover that it works for them.

      – People who have an auditory disorder of some kind which affects their learning, who believe they are ‘visual learners’, but who would discover that our approach would in fact work for them if they gave it enough of a test.

      – People who have an auditory disorder of some kind, which prevents them from learning with this method.

      The vast majority of people with whom we discuss these issues fall into the first camp, which is why we remain focused on promoting what we see working best.

      We have no way at the moment of knowing whether someone with an auditory disorder falls into the second or the third group – self-assessment simply isn’t very reliable here in many cases. I’ve worked directly with people who have assured me that the method did not work for them, and discovered that they were in fact learning successfully.

      Clearly, this won’t be the case for everyone, but it does mean that we have no clear paths to a ‘solution’ for this issue, and will almost certainly be much more effective if we focus on continuing our developments of the existing methodology, rather than trying to be all things to all people.

      • Ah yes. I want you to change simply because I am merely irritated. It has nothing to do with this being part of an ongoing pattern in both academic and other language learning circles that willfully exclude those with disabilities. I’m just prettily aggressive, picking fights for no reason.

        The fact is this post and all other material I’ve seen from your course in the last several years I’ve been interacting with it promote the assumption that this is the one way to learn languages, no exceptions needed. The fact that the above comment is the ONLY reference I have seen to auditory disorders and your methods is part of the problem. Do not make the mistake of believing that because you haven’t encountered us much means we are an insignificant group not worth accommodating. Disability accommodation is quite different from trying to be “all things to all people”, though that argument is hardly unique to you. It’s also part of a pattern, one that must end, even in minor arenas such as this. Even if you do not wish to offer transcriptions or allow others to make them, you could at least acknowledge in your materials that there are some people, albeit a minority with specific conditions, that this method will not work for and that it’s okay if you are one of those, but give it a try just in case. I can see though that you’d rather make blog posts about how happily willing you are to be “rude” to those who for whatever reason can’t learn this way, and dismiss any criticism as unprovoked aggression.

      • ‘I want you to change simply because I am merely irritated’ – as you know perfectly well, I didn’t say that. I also didn’t say that you were ‘picking fights for no reason’. You might have a lot of reasons (above and beyond those you stated) for your irritation and aggression. Nonetheless, irritation and aggression don’t usually lead to worthwhile discussion. If you comment politely and reasonably, I’ll cheerfully continue to discuss these issues with you. If you don’t, I’m afraid I find online discourtesy extremely boring, and I’m not willing to make much effort to engage with it (in fact, this will be my last attempt on this particular occasion).

        Your statement that we ‘promote the assumption that this is the one way to learn languages, no exceptions needed’ is simply not true. We think that focusing on speaking and listening is in general faster and more efficient, but in thousands of discussions over the last six years, we have talked about an extremely wide range of acquisition techniques. We are, of course, doing our best to build the most effective approach possible, and will continue to do that – but focusing on our own strengths isn’t the same as claiming that no other approach could work, which would be absurd.

        As you know perfectly well, I have NOT said that people with auditory disabilities are ‘an insignificant group not worth accommodating’.

        What I have said is that we have no clear paths to a solution on this issue. You believe that it might be as simple as creating full transcripts, but you have shared no evidence for that approach as an effective solution. We have thousands of hours of experience of dealing with language acquisition, but minimal experience of dealing with language acquisition in the face of learning difficulties, and even less in the specific area of auditory disability – in other words, if it even *is* possible to make adaptations to our approach which would make it effective for people who can’t use it at the moment (which neither you nor we know for certain), we currently have no idea how best to go about that.

        No, I don’t dismiss criticism. On the contrary, I welcome it – when it is politely phrased. Some of the most valuable contributions to our growth as a course provider have come from intelligent and careful criticism – it’s pretty much like gold dust for us.

        It does need to be polite, though.

  17. I know I’m very late to the party, but I hope what I’m about to share is valuable. When I was in University, I took a non-traditional Japanese language course. It was 90% listening and repeating Monday through Thursday (and carving up the phrases and interchanging them like you do with SSIW) and 10% grammar (on Fridays). We were forbidden from looking at the words (mostly because the words we were looking at were Japanese transcribed in roman letters which was not helpful for reading Japanese). To this day, my reading skills are poor. But I went to Japan a year later and when my Level 3 friend and I would need directions, he’d make me ask. He could read and do grammar all day long, but he couldn’t say, “Where is the bus stop?”

    Since then, I’ve acquired four more languages and even taught a couple in classroom setting. What I have noticed is that people get scared and “run home to Momma”. We all have about 12 years of training in the student thing. When we don’t get something, we hit the books. When I was in Japan and my fellow American students felt that they weren’t understanding Japanese well enough, they went home and studied their grammar and vocabulary. But this was a HUGE mistake. What they needed to do was SPEAK TO JAPANESE PEOPLE. Me, I was never the type of person to refuse an invitation to a party, so instead of going home to study, I went out with my Japanese peeps. And who is the one who has two thumbs and used to get mistake for a native on the phone? Not the book learners I can tell you!

    So it’s my personal opinion — gained from going through it myself and meeting students who’ve experienced the same — that when the going gets tough, we tend to retreat to what’s “normal” or “logical” to our book-learned brains. We go back to the books. Unfortunately, this is like trying to ride a bike and deciding you need the training wheels put back on. You simply don’t learn anything — you’re just “safe”.

    Nowadays when I get that feeling of paranoia and desire to run for the books, I get excited. This means i’m being challenged! This means I’m about to break through the next level of language acquisition. So instead of diving into my library, I run full steam at the next hurdle. So far, it’s only helped me learn more languages faster.

    Thanks for reading.

    • Yes, I think you’re absolutely on the money here. I’m getting increasingly interested in the balance between emotional and neurological needs in language learning, and this sums up a lot of what I see happening…:-)

  18. I started listening to the lessons because my son wanted me, too. Okay, I said, figuring it would be our bonding experience. I’m not sure if he has continued, but I have and I am enjoying myself thoroughly. Being far from Wales in the wilds of suburban Denver, Colorado, I figured I probably wouldn’t run into anyone who spoke Welsh and so anything I said would be very impressive. So far, I’ve found I have 3 Welsh friends. One grew up in Wales and I realized I speak more Welsh than he does.

    About listening and speaking versus seeing it written down, I am convinced this is the only way to really learn a language. If one only wanted to read and write Welsh, by all means, see it and write it. I didn’t look at the written files with the vocabulary until I had finished lesson 6, all the lessons 6. It was kind of like meeting someone in person after only talking to them on the phone. Is this what they look like? I found I needed to form a whole new relationship with the written words. I wouldn’t have wanted to do that at the same time I was learning how to speak it. Well, we don’t expect our wee ones to learn their mother tongue by seeing the words printed out!

    Thank you!

    • Thank you, Mo, for your very kind words – and what an interesting story! And brilliant that you’ve ended up finding people to speak some Welsh with… 🙂 You might be able to find more on the forum, at https://forum.saysomethingin.com – we’ve got quite a few learners over on your side of the Atlantic…;-)

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