Listen your way to fluency and improve your speaking skills along the way

Forget what you have heard about age playing a factor in your ability to improve your accent. In fact, researchers have identified a strong correlation between language learners’ willingness to construct new linguistic/cultural identities and their ability to acquire native-like pronunciation. The main barrier to this appears to be an apprehension towards appearing as an untrue version of oneself. As a result, learners often ‘force’ the phonemes of their mother-tongue upon the target language. In order to acquire native-like pronunciation, you need to be ready to break free of the phonetical constraints of your native language and be receptive to the tone, pace, rhythm and cultural norms of the Russian language.

In order to improve your listening comprehension, you need to dedicate time to the often neglected skill of listening. Quite frequently, language learners overlook this skill simply because it is much easier and quicker to read their way to a decent level of fluency. By memorising frequency lists, you establish a solid basis for acquiring conversational fluency quickly with the right technique and avoid the need to listen carefully in order to interpret the content accurately, especially if the context is clear.

However, in relying upon the ability to recognise vocabulary based on pronunciation derived from subvocalised (or ‘internal’) speech when reading, you disrupt the natural process by which individuals acquire their first language; through a great deal of listening and learning to speak only once able to distinguish the phonemes expressed orally. Knowledge of the written form of a sufficient number of words and collocations gives you the ability to ascribe meaning to a sentence quickly, without paying much attention to the correct pronunciation.

Instead of extensive reading, you can try extensive listening of audio resources . Listen carefully to the words being uttered by the speaker and try to emulate them as closely as possible – without reading the text. If you are a true beginner, you’ll notice that you’re unable to determine where one word ends and another begins. The aim here is to develop your capacity to distinguish phonemes in the language and beyond learning minimal pairs, there is no shortcut to improving your ability to understand the spoken language beyond hours of exposure to hearing people speaking it. Engaging in listening practice on a regular basis will help you to improve your pronunciation , mastering the rhythm, tone and intonation used by native speakers in the various registers of a language (in our case, Russian).

Each time you encounter a new word of which you can clearly hear the beginning and ending, type it in the manner you think it is spelt in Cyrillic. You can use this website in order to convert words written in Latin script, to Cyrillic (the alphabetic script used for Russian). In time, both your speed and recognition of vocabulary will increase and you won’t be slowed down by the need to translate regularly. Most importantly, this method of acquiring vocabulary relies upon your auditory perception, rather than your knowledge on vast amounts of vocabulary and ability to interpret meaning quickly because of the context. This is how you develop your speaking skills and remain faithful to the prosody of the Russian language, rather than the prosody of your native language.

Of course, this is but one technique amongst many and there is no need to stick to it exclusively. Feel free to combine it with other methods such as reading. Hopefully it provides you with some food for thought on your Russian language learning journey.

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