A Catalyst to Facilitate and Speed Up Language Acquisition
By Paul Madaule*

Listening Fitness™


Listening is a function distinct from hearing. While hearing is the indiscriminate perception of all the sounds that reach the ears, listening is the ability to pick up those sounds we want and leave out those we don’t want. This is why listening plays a key role in language acquisition. And the good news is that listening can be trained.

Listening Fitness is a method that offers a practical, easy to use and effective way to train and develop listening. Operating at a basic sensory perceptual level, Listening Fitness improves the student’s auditory discrimination of the subtleties, inflections and rhythm of the new language. This then provides the student with a greater clarity in sound perception to be able to associate meaning with sound. The result greatly facilitates comprehension of the new language. Applied together with language courses, Listening Fitness is a powerful tool for learning foreign languages as it accelerates the way we naturally acquire language.

How Children Learn Their Language

Children begin learning their mother tongue through play. They play with language as if it were a ball; “catching” the sounds with their ears and then “throwing” them back with their voice, trying to imitate the way they heard the sounds over and over again until they have mastered them.

What was first a catching and throwing game becomes a communication experience. Children quickly become aware of the impact of their utterances. For example, children learn that when they say “Dad”, a man comes with a big smile. Similarly, saying the word “juice” brings something tasty to drink. Children recognize that, by producing sounds, they are able to get what they need and it is through this process that they begin to associate meaning with sound. In other words, language is first approached as a sound game and only later does sound acquire meaning. In the process, children train their auditory system (receptive listening) and their voice (expressive listening) to acquire language.

We know that young children exposed to two or more languages become spontaneously and effortlessly bilingual or multilingual, a skill that quickly declines at a later age. Behind this is the fact that while children are attuning their listening and voice control to the specific sounds of their mother tongue(s), they are also automatically eliminating or selecting out those sounds which do not belong to the language. In other words, by training themselves to pick up, or listen to those sounds which make up their mother tongue, children also learn how to leave out the sounds that they don’t need. Through this process, other languages become “foreign” to them.

Two Phases in Language Acquisition


To acquire a new language later in life necessitates a “re-opening” of our listening ear to the sound spectrum of the new language. To do this, we have only to return to the way we trained our ear and voice as a child. With Listening Fitness, this re-opening consists of two phases, the receptive and the expressive phase.

The receptive phase simulates the previously mentioned auditory “catching of the ball”. The student listens to recordings of the new language, including pre-recorded stories, poems and songs as well as classical music. These sounds are modified by the LiFT (Listening Fitness Trainer) before they reach the ears of the student through headphones. The LiFT is an audio device which can be best described as a simulator of high quality listening, which provides a “listening workout” that we like to call “earobics”. As stated earlier, this process facilitates and accelerates comprehension.

The expressive phase is the “throwing of the ball” part of the training. Now that the students are ready to process the sounds of the new language, it is time to work on their own voice. In this phase, the voice is fed back to the ears after being modified and enriched by the LiFT. The use of language tapes to be repeated by the student, interaction with the teacher, and reading out loud are all part of the expressive phase.

This phase of learning strongly facilitates the flow and spontaneity of speech in the new language.

An average Listening Fitness program for language acquisition requires about 40-50 hours, one third of which is allocated to a receptive phase and two thirds for the expressive phase. Listening Fitness is ideally suited for inclusion into a language immersion course.

*Paul Madaule is the founder and director of The Listening Centre in Toronto. Together with the team at The Listening Centre, he developed Listening Fitness. Listening Fitness draws from the work of Dr. Alfred Tomatis.