Is it possible?
Could you learn to understand and speak a language without actually speaking to anyone?
It’s a question worth asking, so let’s explore the possibility here. First, there are some real challenges we have to deal with before we can say “yes”. Most everyone agrees that immersion is the key to learning a new language. The more comprehensible input you get, the better. And when that comes with real feedback from native speakers, that’s ideal. It’s one reason Parley Blue makes sure everyone has a coach that they speak with at least once a week.
But that’s not all we do. And it may not be necessary. Certainly, there are other key principles to our method for learning a language. And besides the coaching calls, each of our students gets a customized lesson every day. So, one way to explore this question is to ask if it’s possible for these daily lessons to provide enough comprehensible input, that is meaningful, interesting and relevant, with enough deliberate practice, in ways that let students to mimic native speakers and truly acquire the language.
First, the lessons need to provide lots of comprehensible input. They do. Each student gets to hear many sentences each day. Full sentences, with a variety of words, verb conjugations, accents, etc. Over time, these can really add up. Over six months, just from lessons, the dedicated student can rack up 1000 sentences. These are sentences that they listen to over and over, and practice speaking as well. They can track how many times they listen to and repeat each sentence, which should be 15-20 times each over the course of that six months. That’s a ton of input.
And it’s not boring, focused on grammar or vocabulary. It’s speaking and listening the way you would in real life, for the most part. It’s actual sentences and phrases you can say. They get progressively more challenging, with more words, different accents, more complex sentences. And over time, you acquire sentences and phrases you can tweak quite easily, swapping out words as you learn new ones. Your brain is built to make sense of language, and with enough input, it will find the patterns, make sense of them, and truly acquire the new language.
But it will take deliberate practice. Passively listening isn’t enough. This is one reason the lessons integrate recording yourself speaking as well. First, it forces you to really listen, knowing you’ll be trying to repeat it. This attentive listening is the key to deliberate practice. You’ll do it again after recording your own version of the sentence, listening to hear the subtle differences in pronunciation, so you can correct yours and sound more like a native. The ease of replaying sentences and recording yourself over and over again is a new approach to language learning enabled by technology.
Motivation and Accountability
Another challenge is motivation and accountability. When you have a scheduled call with a coach, that’s easier. It’s something that sets Parley Blue apart. And without that, it will be harder to really put in the time. It’s like committing to go to the gym daily, and doing it all on your own, versus going with a friend. Your friend expects you to show up, and can check your form. Of course, people workout and transform their bodies all by themselves on a regular basis. So it’s possible to do the same with language learning as well. But it will be harder, and it’s totally up to you.
With all this in mind, In my opinion, speaking with natives in your target language is still critical for the majority of language learners and facilitates language acquisition.
But it is an interesting question because it helps tease out the most important ingredients required to learn a language: lots of comprehensible input, deliberate practice, motivation and accountability.
If you ratcheted up your focus to these other areas of your studies, you’d make great progress.
But would it be enough to carry you to fluency? Maybe.
Will it be hard? Yes.
Would it be worth it? Not a chance.
At the end of the day, we learn foreign languages to be able to speak and connect with people from different cultures and backgrounds. It’s the best part by far so we’d never want to take it out of your studies. But thinking through this should help you understand how powerful and important these other factors are for your success.
But if you do prefer studying on your own Parley Blue also gives you all the tools you need to “go it alone” and make great progress.