Research-backed insights for language learning

Deliberate Practice: Parley Blue’s Uncomfortably Satisfying Secret Sauce

When I first started re-learning Portuguese with Parley Blue, it was an interesting mix of uncomfortable and satisfying.

The discomfort came from constantly being stretched beyond my current abilities. In calls with my coach, I struggled to understand and formulate responses. It has been 20 years since I was a fluent Portuguese speaker, and it was 20 years of not practicing, not speaking, not hearing the language. So I knew there were ways to say what I wanted to say, but I also could not for the life of me remember what they were.

On the other hand, it was also very satisfying. As I did the sentence exercises in each lesson, I naturally picked up the vocabulary again, and it felt great to start speaking the language again, even if I was just repeating what I had heard.

Now, I don’t remember what it was like for me to learn English as a one year old, but I imagine it was very similar. Frustratingly hard, and deeply satisfying when my parents understood me.

In fact, these competing feelings fit really well with the concept of deliberate practice.

Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice is the key to developing true skill across a wide range of areas. It doesn’t just mean putting in the time, it means doing so with a deliberate, conscious approach. It means breaking down the skill into individual pieces, identifying your weaknesses, developing specific strategies to improve those areas, and then integrating your learning into the larger skill set.

And Parley Blue makes it possible. I can’t say it makes it easy, because deliberate practice is not easy.

But possible.

Too many other language learning apps or programs actually make it hard or impossible to engage in deliberate practice. Mere memorization of words is not deliberate practice. Gimmicky rewards for working through silly exercises actually de-motivates, compared to the intrinsic joy that come from truly understanding natives speak, and being able to make yourself understood by a native speaker.

Deliberate Language Learning

When it comes to learning a language, deliberate practice means listening to natives speak. Listening a lot. And it means speaking a lot. It means listening to yourself speak, and identifying the areas where you just aren’t pronouncing things right.

Parley Blue has this built into its lesson structure, where you:

  • Listen to native sentences over and over. Consciously. Focusing on the individual sounds, the words, the way they fit together.
  • Repeat those sentences, perfecting your pronunciation and solidifying your understanding of the vocabulary, noticing how the words are affected by the context of the surrounding sentence.
  • Listen to recordings of yourself, focusing in on your own weaknesses, and targeting them specifically.

As you work through these lessons, you also get regular feedback from a coach, who can point out areas that need improvement. Areas that you might not even be aware of yet. This elevates your deliberate practice to become even more targeted.

Besides all that, you get the best real world experience listening and speaking by having weekly, or daily, conversations with your coach about the topics you care about most. Where the lessons give specific skills practice, the coaching conversations are more like scrimmage, where you are forced to bring the different skills together, in real time, to communicate.

For me, I found these conversations to be the real test of my speaking and listening ability. It’s far less comfortable than just repeating vocabulary words, or memorizing verb conjugations or grammar rules.

At the same time, it’s more satisfying. Nailing a pronunciation for the first time, and hearing it in your recording, is awesome. Positive feedback from your coach is awesome. Having words come to you fast enough to speak them out loud is so rewarding.

And the best positive feedback, the best feeling, is connecting with another because they understand you completely.

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