Reading more is always a good thing, but such is not necessarily the case when it comes to speech practice.

At Lingua East, the practice materials for speech training are in written form. That is because it is easier to mimic something you hear than to produce it without a model. If the practice materials were presented in audio form, the person doing the speech practice would hear a model. This isn’t mimicry training, it’s speech training.

The production of spontaneous speech relies on the deeply ingrained motor patterns associated with language. Spontaneous speech is the speech that we normally produce: conversational speech, everyday speech, speech that is not rehearsed, repeated, or read. In the mind, this comes from a deep place: a place of original thought.

Spontaneous speech is produced in a neural circuit that is distinct from the combination of neurons in the brain that we use to repeat something we’ve just heard, or to read words we see. When we repeat or read out loud, it’s almost as if our mouths are providing a mirror image of the words that went in our ears or eyes, respectively. Thus, when we repeat what we’ve heard or seen somewhere else, we are not necessarily processing the ideas at a deeper level, we’re just mimicking someone else’s message.

The goal in speech training is to connect the motor patterns we use for clear pronunciation and expression of language with the neural circuitry that produces speech from that deep place in the mind where our thoughts come from. Therefore, although written materials and audio recordings may be used for speech practice, quality practice is not simple reading or repeating.

Quality practice involves a pause for your brain to absorb what you see written on the paper, enough time for you to ensure the correct word or sentence is in your working memory, then producing the word or sentence without looking at its written form. Doing this over and over and over again, you may find you memorize the words or sentences on your practice list, and perhaps you even picture them in your head when you’re practicing.

Being able to read a language and being able to speak a language are two different things. Reading requires the ability to process visual information about the language for comprehension, and speaking requires the ability to communicate your ideas in the language spontaneously, from that deep part of your mind where thinking happens.

When practicing your speech in a second language using written materials, be sure you are not just reading the words and sentences. Read a practice sentence to yourself, and think about it. Then, without looking at the paper or screen, produce the sentence using your best effort to get the speech sounds right. Practicing this way consistently, over time, you will find that your spontaneous speech changes, and you have an easier time producing clear sounds, words, and sentences.

When it comes to reading in a second language, read books. Don’t read your practice words, produce them. Don’t skim your practice sentences, say them. When it comes time to practice your speech sounds in conversation, you’ll have an easier time.

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