High Intensity Language Training – Speed of Production


So, the last two posts (1, 2) boil down to:

a) Make mistakes, and celebrate making mistakes – they’re NOT a sign that you’re not learning, and

b) Don’t repeat – keep pushing on with new material (and if you need to, test yourself after a break to prove that the process is working).

At one level, that’s all you need to become an H.I.L.T. language learner – and if you get those two points working, you’re going to find yourself acquiring new languages significantly faster than you thought was possible.

Naturally enough, though, there’s other stuff that you can fine-tune.

Today, I’d like to talk about speed of production.

Getting the Words Out as Fast as Possible

You know how it goes – you hear the prompt in English, and then you have that moment of angst and suffering as you try to get it all under control before you start speaking.

Maybe you reach immediately for the pause button – and it’s not the end of the world if you do.  If you take two hours to get through 30 minutes of material (which I’ve seen plenty of times when I’ve been doing one-on-one coaching), that’s absolutely fine.  At that rate, if you just do two hours a week, you’ll be having interesting conversations in less than a year – not too shabby, in anybody’s money.


If you’re the kind of person who’s willing to try new stuff, there’s real potential right here.

I say that because:

– there are some people who can get through most sessions without using the pause button more than once or twice in the entire session.

Yes – they get through 30 minutes of material in about 30 minutes – so if they do a couple of hours a week, they’ll finish Levels 1 and 2 in just over 12 weeks – a truly remarkable rate of acquisition.

Is fast production a skill you can learn?

Ah, now.  There’s the $6,000,000 question!  I’m afraid I don’t have a definitive answer for you yet, although it’s an area in which I’m particularly interested, and in which I’m hoping to do a lot of research this year.  But I do have some initial thoughts and suggestions…

It seems to me that the biggest single issue in fast production is confidence.

It’s not the only issue – we know that there are links, for example, between dyslexia and short-term memory, and that weaker short-term memory makes language acquisition tougher – but we also know that the H.I.L.T. approach works even for people with severe dyslexia.

But I’ve seen, consistently, that people who are happy making mistakes are faster to jump in and start talking as soon as the prompt finishes – and in one-on-one work, it has consistently seemed to me that the ‘jumping in’ is the most important part of fast production.

Some things you can try

So, in your next session, why not have a go at some (or all!) of these ideas, and see if you can feel them making a difference at all?

  1. Make a sound – any sound! – as soon as the prompt finishes.  I’ve often seen an initial sound become a kind of ‘permission to speak’ that gets the first few words coming out of the learner’s mouth before they’ve had time to think about the phrase as a whole – which is a very good thing!
  2. Stop worrying about remembering long sentences.  Lots of people get hung up on this, and spend time trying to get the English phrase remembered perfectly before they start trying to find the words in the target language – but that slows you down enormously.  These sessions aren’t about improving your memory for English – so if you can’t remember the end of a phrase, just go ahead and say anything that comes to mind.  In fact, this is a great exercise – it lets you practice your ability to build your own natural phrases, and you then get to hear and compare what it was meant to be – it’s like two for the price of one.
  3. Tell yourself to start speaking straight away – which is much easier if you refuse to worry about remembering long sentences!  Jump in, say as much as you can, make some other stuff up if you forget the end, and then listen carefully to hear what the ideal was – celebrating if you thought of something different to say.
  4. Laugh and say ‘Shush now!’ if you run out of time and a voice starts telling you what you should have said – it doesn’t matter at ALL if you talk over her or him so that you can finish what you were saying.  [Having said that, if you’ve got properly stuck, just go with it and listen to what the ‘answer’ was].
  5. Start talking (maybe a little bit more quietly than usual?!) before the prompt has finished.  This sounds counter-intuitive (or even a little impolite!) but can be a brilliant way to get a headstart.  If you’ve got a phrase like ‘I wanted to say something in Welsh before we go out tonight’, for example, you might mutter ‘O’n i isio deud’ or ‘Queria decir’ as soon as you’ve heard ‘I wanted to say’, and then ‘rhywbeth yn y Gymraeg’ or ‘algo en español’ after ‘something in Welsh’, leaving you more time (and more of your pre-frontal cortex!) to focus on the (perhaps less familiar) ‘before we go out tonight’.  Give it a try – if it makes your head spin, ditch it, but if it starts to feel like a slightly dishonest short-cut, you could be onto a real winner.
  6. Jump in at the deep end – do five sessions without access to the pause button.  This might seem a bit challenging (and if it really puts you off, don’t feel under any pressure to do it) – but when people are forced into this situation (maybe they listen in the car, or while they’re walking, any situation which makes the pause button too much of a pain in the neck) they seem in most cases to adapt very quickly.  It might be that a few slightly more painful sessions will let you develop the very useful skill of going through the sessions faster, and not worrying when you don’t get stuff out in time.  [Added thanks to very interesting and detailed feedback on the forum.]

Don’t get hung up on any of this

As I said up at the top, if you take two hours to get through 30 minutes of material, that’s fine – you can still progress remarkably quickly.  That would make you capable of doing 4 or 5 sessions in an intense day – three weekends in a row of that, and you’ll be having your first proper conversations.

So if you try to increase the speed of your production, and it feels impossible, there’s no need for you to focus on this particular short-cut.

But it is worth giving all these suggestions a decent test, because if one of them does happen to work for you, and helps you gradually increase your speed of production, the impact on your overall rate of acquisition could be genuinely dramatic.

I’d be even more grateful than usual to hear how this goes for you, if you try some of them out – I think it’s one of the most important areas for us to be looking at in the next year or so, and if we can find some consistent ways to increase speed of production, we’ll be making them part of all the coaching we do, and part of our advice to new learners.

In other words, if you guinea-pig and share on this, you might well end up making a huge difference to other learners…:-)


HILT – forced production

Your First High Intensity Day

12 responses to “High Intensity Language Training – Speed of Production

  1. Spot on regarding 2 and 4. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve closed a drws instead of a ffenstr in one of those long sentences. Iestyn and Cat never wag their finger at me, which is encouraging, especially when I speak over one of them as I’m finishing my sentence, knowing the other one will be repeating the sentence back.

    • And you know what, it often turns out to be much more useful to have closed a drws – particularly in the weather we’ve been having recently, and you lot too, from what I hear…:-)

  2. Ouch – yeah, kids can be the greatest, can’t they? I always enjoy the ones who just laugh, and if you ask why, say ‘Because you sound funny’. Oh, well, good point well made – now, this is how a bull-whip works…

    There’s a lot to be said for sleeping between sessions – a fair bit is known about the difference sleep makes to memory – although pushing on in a single intensive day also works. It’d be interesting to know how things went if you tried a pattern of doing a new session on the commute each day – scary, but it can be pretty empowering…

    And yes ten thousand times yes to the jump in and do it. Speaking bad Spanish is what happens on the way to speaking good Spanish – saying nothing is what happens on the way to, er, saying nothing.

    We’ll have to make sure we line up a Cymraeg/Sbaeneg session the next time you’re over…:-)

  3. Certainly agree re the pause button – I never used it when I started the SSi lessons because I was learning while walking to work so it was just too complicated, and never saw the need for it after

    • That’s very interesting – judging from similar comments on the forum, there may be a strong element of habituation – and people who go through a little extra pain at the beginning because they happen to be using the lessons in a situation which doesn’t allow for pausing then end up with a very valuable extra skill…

      Having said that, I’ve definitely worked with people who find it very difficult indeed to process immediately, and because working memory and short-term memory can vary, the go-through-the-pain approach might not work for everyone.

  4. Yes to all your tips, Aran – I haven’t always followed them, but when I have done similar things it has made a real difference. Another thing I have done sometimes is sing my responses – I don’t know why, but it can about double my speed of production (though I haven’t tried it on a crowded bus yet…). Tip no. 2 is going to be very helpful – now you’ve said it’s obvious, but I have let myself worry far too much about remembering the English perfectly up to now. Thanks!

    • I love the idea of singing a response – music is one thing I’d love to find a way to make a more central part of what we do – not the (largely discredited) playing-Mozart-in-the-background kind of stuff, but things like building structures towards specific songs… I’d pay good money to see you singing the responses on a bus if you ever feel ready for that…;-)

  5. Absolutely right- the Welsh are musical and the language fits music brilliantly. It originated in spoken poems and sings.Get a CD of Bryn Terfel and sing along with him in Welsh – the language which he says is the best in the world for singing to! I think I know the words to Welsh songs now better than any ‘ymadroddion defnyddiol’!.

  6. Do you shorten the repeat pause in later lessons, 22 on for example, or is it my imagination?
    I am fluent in Spanish without formal tuition but singing hymns in congregation helped me a lot, even before I understood what I was singing. I also sing in Guarani although I only have a smattering of that language!
    The CD of nursery rhymes ‘Canaeuon twf Songs’ is great fun.

    • The pause is defined by a little algorithm based on the length of the response, so it should be fairly standard across all the lessons (although it’s not impossible that we might have had to squeeze a little here and there to stop the lesson times becoming too bloated!).

      Songs certainly help internalise a language – we’ll definitely have to keep thinking about that side of things…:-)

  7. 4 and 5 have helped me enormously with learning welsh. I was already doing them before I read this. Especially 5. Big help! I learn in my car and my commute is roughly the length of a challenge. I have been going back to redo challenges 2 or 2 times though so I only get through 1-2 challenges a week. I’m going to try this HILT method starting now! Thanks

    • Great to hear that – and good luck with it! It would be very interesting to hear how you get on with it… 🙂

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