January 17, 2014[1]

I will begin a language learning experiment today, with myself as the subject and with an attempt at some scientific rigor.

My hypothesis is that one can learn to understand a new language that one is absolutely unfamiliar with and that is utterly unrelated to any language one already knows by watching and listening to native speakers converse in videos, such as movies and television shows, and listening to music.

A further hypothesis is that this is actually an efficient and effective way to obtain oral comprehension as compared to traditional methods. This experiment alone will not be able to conclusively confirm or refute this second hypothesis, but will certainly contribute to understanding of it.

A final related hypothesis is that one could obtain a fair degree of oral comprehension in approximately 400 days of 2 hours of listening each day. A fair degree of oral comprehension is defined as being able to watch any regular movie or television show in standard Mandarin just once and then being able to accurately describe the general plot or topics that were discussed (in English). However, the less time that is dedicated per day, the greater the total number of hours needed, since more content is forgotten and has to be relearned. Therefore, I hypothesize that if one dedicates an average of 30 minutes per day, the total time needed to obtain a high degree of oral comprehension will rise from approximately 800 to approximately 1,200 hours, meaning that 2,400 days, or just over 6.5 years, will be needed.

My hypotheses are based on the assumption that the human brain has evolved to naturally decipher language, and that allowing this process to occur spontaneously by simply listening to native speakers is actually more effective than more “abstract” methods that involve academic study, grammar rules, vocabulary lists, memorization, mechanical exercises, and so forth. Along the same lines, the hypotheses assume that the process by which young children naturally decipher spoken language can also be adopted effectively by adults. (I believe that even though children probably have an advantage in terms of neuroplasticity, that advantage is not as great as is commonly thought. Adults fail to learn languages as quickly or effectively as children only partly because of an inherent neurological disadvantage, and mostly because of inadequate, unnatural approaches to language learning and to barriers such as self-consciousness, mental translation, an anxiety to understand rules, and so forth.)

I should clarify that I do not hypothesize that the simple method of exclusively watching and listening to native speakers in videos is the ideal one. On the contrary, I believe that the most effective and efficient method is to combine listening to native speakers with actual conversation with native speakers (and being corrected regularly), in addition to reading and writing—which may be included from the very beginning or after one has attained a moderate degree of oral fluency. I will, however, adopt the aforementioned exclusive method in order to test my hypothesis with some scientific rigor.

Nonetheless, as stated above, I do believe this simple method will be more efficient and effective for obtaining oral comprehension than most methods, and will allow for the effective subsequent acquisition of spoken and then written fluency (by other methods).


[1] I made a small edit on March 7, 2015, to reflect the fact that I have increasingly used music as part of my experiment. This document shows the original version and the change that was made. March 7 edit

10 thoughts on “Hypothesis

  1. Luca says:

    Victor, have you heard about a learning program called “Effortless English – New Method Learning English” by HJ Hoge?
    So basically his theory about acquiring a second language is kind similar to your hypothesis that adults can learn like children. Have first a great amount of understandable listening, do not even try to speak, just listen listen and listen. Listen very deeply and repeat again and over again.
    Sounds familiar?


    • I haven’t heard of it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to speak early on, but I do agree that massive amounts of fun listening and some repetition are very useful at any level, but in particular for beginners.

      I recently heard about another author who advocates a listening-only approach, but I can’t remember his name right now. I will try to find it and get back to you.

      To me, the most important thing is contact with native speakers, in person, through books, videos, and so on. I’m not sure if there is an ideal time to begin speaking and writing, but outside of my experiment, in regular teaching, I prefer to combine all 4 language skills early on. In this experiment I’m focusing just on listening to isolate variables and prove (or disprove) that even a beginner in contact with a radically different language can benefit from watching native speakers through videos.

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