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How much listening should I do before I start reading?

January 16, 2023 — Tatsumoto Ren

You either start practicing reading from the beginning or put off reading until some point in the future. If you just want to understand your target language, be able to read books effortlessly, but you don't care about speaking and don't want to talk to natives, then reading early is a good idea. As an adult, learning foreign languages by reading is considerably easier than learning by listening to spoken language. You can improve much more quickly.

The downside to reading early on is that you're going to make a lot of bad phonetic habits. Reading biases how you hear the language. If you haven't acquired a solid intuitive understanding of the phonetics of the language, the way it will sound in your head when reading will be incorrect, foreign. Undoing those habits later is harder than avoiding them in the beginning and requires thousands of hours of listening.

It's more difficult and takes longer to learn through listening alone. You have to rely on nothing but sound in order to understand what's going on. But listening practice is what gives you very strong listening abilities. The quality of your pronunciation is also largely determined by your ability to perceive the sounds and hear small differences.

If you want to have good listening abilities and a good accent, I recommend only audio-visual input (TV shows, movies, anime, dramas) in the beginning. It's hard to completely avoid reading because you still want to make Anki cards and use dictionaries, but at least if you don't read any more than that, you won't make as many bad phonetic habits. So in any case I think the most optimal path is to learn to read from the beginning, but to avoid active reading practice outside reviewing text-based flashcards. You want to be listening all the time, learning to understand the spoken language. Do it for the first year. That should give you a strong foundation in the phonetics of the language. Then you can start adding light reading to your studies. It could be some really easy comic books, manga. Afterwards start reading harder content, like novels.

Even if you don't want to put off reading, there is no reason to neglect listening. Listening is cheap. You can listen while doing something else, in the background.

Tags: faq