modus.irrealis wrote:I don't know about studies but this seems to be an extremely widespread position among second language teachers. And we are hardwired to learn spoken language, not written language.
While I think there's no question that speaking and hearing will enhance your language learning over just reading alone, I have to wonder about the idea that speaking must necessarily be primal. Would learning a language just by hearing and speaking be easier than learning it just by reading and writing? Some would immediately say yes, but I think these people are imagining going to a foreign land and being immersed in the spoken language versus continuing to use your native language in speech and merely reading and writing the new language a little each day. I think if you assume the same level of immersion, then one approach wouldn't necessarily be superior to the other, but both would of course leave you with weaknesses in different areas. I personally would feel very handicapped by never being able to see a written expression of the language, and I think I would probably learn more slowly that way. Words on a page are much more concrete to me than sounds.
It seems logical to assume that the act of speaking and hearing should be the most natural and therefore easiest way to learn, since we have been speaking as a species much longer than we have been reading and writing, but I tend towards the view that we are rather just predisposed to symbolic thinking in general, which just happens to normally express itself in speech, but doesn't have to. After all, people deaf from birth learn sign language quite as readily, which though isn't exactly a "written" language, has more in common with writing than speech, since its words must be visually recognized and manually created, just as in reading and writing.
I learned a great deal of German primarily through reading and writing before I spend any considerable time speaking it, and I had a very curious experience when I started to finally listen to a lot of spoken German after only reading it for so long. I found that as I listened I involuntarily visualized each word I was hearing. I would see whole sentences scroll across my visual field, and I couldn't stop it without breaking my concentration so much that I didn't understand what I was hearing anymore. It was like I was so used to treating German just as a visual language that when I tried to use it as a spoken language, my brain was forced to restructure what I was hearing into written form for me to properly understand it. Eventually my aural comprehension improved and this phenomenon started to fade away. But I think it's very interesting that it happened at all, and I think it shows that the brain really doesn't always give preference to speech, but can treat written or visual language as a "primary" mode if the language is introduced that way.