Speak From Day One

This is a part of my Language Learning series.

What is speaking from day one?

This method of language learning was popularized by Benny Lewis, “The Irish Polyglot”, who was one of the earliest language learning bloggers. He has a pretty massive following and this approach to language learning is focused on overcoming the most common fear that people have when it comes to learning a new language: speaking.

Specifically, speaking to native speakers when you are early in the language learning process. His “Speak from Day 1” series of blog posts, videos, courses, and books, all focus on strategies and hacks to help you start speaking the language as soon as possible.

It presumes that, if you overcome this fear early on in your language learning journey, you will advance faster than if you are always held back by your inhibitions.

Full Disclaimer: I once worked for Benny over the course of several months as a writer and researcher. Although I don’t use his approach as much in my own language learning projects (the reasons for which I will discuss in more detail below), I do want to say that he is a genuinely nice person and was a pleasure to work with.

There have been many others who have also followed this approach and support a “speak as early as you can” method for learning languages. And his “Fluent in 3 Months” language learning missions have been quite popular with those hoping to duplicate his experiences learning various languages.

The appeal of this method

I think this method appeals to people because it speaks directly to their main fears of making mistakes in a new language. And, as far as method to overcoming fears, his approach is quite effective. We all have a tendency to overthink and assume what people’s reactions will be to our efforts to speak a language. This can often derail our efforts to use the language.

This method is also appealing because it reinforces the idea of using the language vs. just studying the language. And, many who like to be proactive about their projects like the idea of taking immediate steps to utilize what they are learning.

The challenge of this approach

This method has some pros and cons.

Pros: You start using the language right away and it gets you used to communicating and overcoming your fear of “failure”.

Cons: It can create some hard-to-remove bad habits in the language, and can be a very anxiety-inducing experience for many people.

But the truth is, whether or not this method is appropriate for you depends on your goals.

Use cases for this method

If you are about to travel somewhere and need to use the language right away, then this method may be a good option. This method can provide a quick fix if you are aiming for immediate conversational abilities.

However, if you are seeking full fluency in a language and there is no immediacy to your goal, then trying to speak from the very beginning might impair your long term plans for some short term gains.

It also depends a bit on what type of person you are.

I feel like this method is best suited for extroverts who want to get out there and meet people in the target language. Someone who’s whole goal is to make friends and communicate, regardless of the initial quality of your language use. If you picture yourself hanging out at a cafe with your friends, ordering a coffee, and chatting it up with some locals, then this might be what you’re looking for.

But if you can be comfortable with not being sociable, then there are probably better methods for you. Introverts may experience a high degree of anxiety by trying this method. If you envision yourself having deep conversations on interesting topics with just one or two people, or completely understanding your favorite movie or book in the language, then this is probably not for you.

Evaluating this approach

In my main “Language Learning” post I said that I have two main things that I am using to evaluate the effectiveness of these various methods:

  1. Is this a natural way for human beings to learn a language? In other words, is this how we learned our first language(s)?
  2. Have I found this method to be effective in my own studies? What is my own experience with this method?

First, most of us don’t start the journey in our mother tongue by speaking from the moment we come out of the womb. We observe, listen, absorb, acquire, and then use the language.

The “natural” way is to acquire the language first, and use the language second. Trying to either use the language before you’ve acquired it, or using it while you are acquiring it, can be a bit “unnatural”.

Second, I’ve found this method to be more effective later on in a language learning project. After I have built up more of an understanding of the basics in a language, then speaking the language in the context of how I’ve observed it’s use is a much more natural and fluid experience.

So, less of a “speak from day one” and more of a “speak from context”.

Speaking contextually

And there is that word again: “context”.

Speaking is not an island unto itself. You speak based on the context of what is happening in the moment or being discussed in the conversation.

When you acquire a language naturally, then the act of speaking also can develop naturally. It can be exciting to jump in and start using the language, but for me I have noticed that the use of the language comes naturally as I embed myself deeper into the language itself.

Just like a child learning to speak, I find that actively observing how the language is used provides the right context for me to naturally know how to use it. By modeling native speakers rather than working to force my own version of the language into my brain, I find that the end result is more to my liking.

Also, my pronunciation is often better if I hold off until the sounds of the language have had a chance to get embedded in my brain.

Of course, I feel it is necessary to repeat my earlier point: this method is appropriate if your goals are not to reach a high level of fluency. If you want to communicate quickly and aren’t worried about discussing deep topics, then this can be very helpful to get you up and running right away.

But if you want to really immerse yourself into a culture, society, and deeper parts of a language, then there are probably other methods that are better suited to this goal.

Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay