Uncommon sense about language learning

Let's face it. Something's not quite right in the world of language study programs. They promised you 'fluency', and yet here you are, hundreds of hours of effort (and maybe a few hundred bills) later, dissatisfied with your language skills, and still looking for the magic bullet.

Is Jiveworld it? Maybe. But before you spend your money and time with us, you owe yourself a few minutes to find out what you're getting. If you're serious about mastering a second language — well, so are we.

The road to true fluency

To plot a route, first we need to know the destination. So what exactly is "fluency"?

This is how we define it:

You are fluent when you can improve faster by using a language than by studying it.

It's that simple. Let's consider what it means.

First, fluency isn't complete mastery. Nor is it effortlessness. You have much greater command of your native language now than when you were five years old, but no doubt you were fluent then. Children sometimes struggle to express themselves — "Use your words, Timmy!" — and they certainly don't understand everything they hear. But they can improve simply by interacting with their family and friends, and watching TV.

Second, any program that gets you to fluency, by our definition, is the last one you'll need. Because at that point you will be hanging with the locals; learning without studying.

Working backwards to Jiveworld

Helen Keller in 1907. Photo: wikimedia.org

The sound of the voice... brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of man.

— Helen Keller

What kind of study gets you to true fluency? Think of what you need in order to immerse yourself at "street level" in your target language.

It's common to ask whether someone speaks a language. But this belies what is truly important: the ability to listen to and understand others. As Helen Keller suggests, it's about meaningful connection.

And yet, listening comprehension is the last thing that most second-language learners acquire. They may be comfortable speaking, reading, and writing — and still not be able to carry a simple phone conversation. They can ask a question, but can't always understand the answer. We call this the sound barrier.

Why? For one thing, listening is simply harder than speaking. When you speak, you control the words and the pace, and if you know the words then producing the sounds isn't hard. Turning sounds into meaning is harder. We had talking computers in the 1960s. It took another 50 years before they could decipher speech — Hey Siri!

The other problem is that in beginner and intermediate courses, your ears are trained on "slow-speak": an artificial, deliberate manner of speaking used in most study programs that's just not the same as "native-speak". As we say, you can't learn tennis by practicing ping-pong.

Real-world speech is messy, organic, diverse, and uses a much richer lexicon.

Understanding real-world speech is what Jiveworld is all about.

Breaking the sound barrier

The best methods [for second language acquisition] are those that supply 'comprehensible input' in low anxiety situations...

— Stephen D. Krashen, Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition

A deep body of research since the 1980s pioneered by Stephen Krashen, Tracy Terrell and others focus on (subconscious) language acquisition versus (conscious) language learning, and the role of listening and reading over speaking and repetitive drills — comprehensible input before production. Krashen states this directly: "Speaking is the result of acquisition, not its cause."

Your emotional environment is also a determining factor. Social situations where you lack fluency can be stressful, and this slows acquisition. A friendly classroom setting or a self-study program will remove these barriers.

Jiveworld delivers exactly what Dr. Krashen prescribes — comprehensible input in a low-anxiety environment.

The Jiveworld Method

Every feature in our fluency training program can be traced to one of these motivating ideas:

  1. Learn using spoken media that was created for native speakers, not dumbed-down for learners
  2. Make your ears, not your eyes, do the work
  3. Build a broad passive vocabulary (the words you recognize) in real-world contexts. A strong active vocabulary (the words you use) will emerge naturally from it.
  4. Work with, not against, your natural attention span. Understand how the brain best learns new skills, and organize the learning method around it.

We don't focus on speaking, reading, or writing. We don't focus on grammar, or repeating patterns. Rather, we focus on getting your ear comfortable hearing a broad range of accents and dialects spoken at natural (i.e. full) speed. You will rapidly build a rich lexicon of words and expressions used in authentic everyday situations.

Jiveworld removes your training wheels so you can be fully there and fully aware in the company of native speakers, speaking natively.

Accelerated learning at the edge of understanding

The key to the Jiveworld Method is how we help you workout your ears, without you losing concentration or momentum.

Other programs rely heavily on transcriptions and translations to get you through challenging material. Jiveworld has these too, but we think of them as safety nets — for emergency use only — not as the core learning mechanism. If you rely on them then the listening exercise turns into a reading exercise, and this isn't going to help you achieve the fluency you need.

But "no help" is no help either: listening to native speech unaided is just too challenging. You may catch words here and there, but still struggle to grasp the overall meaning. Once you fall off your semantic surfboard, it's hard to climb back on.

Fortunately we have a number of other ways to keep you in that optimal performance zone — what we call the "edge of understanding" — where you can make rapid and sustained improvements.

Selective redaction

Our player shows you a redacted script while you listen, where each spoken word is represented as a horizontal bar. However, you can choose to have some types of words revealed:

  • Vocab — words and phrases that are less common (or familiar words used in an unfamiliar way)
  • Tricky Bits — phrases that are spoken unusually fast or in a way that non-native ears might have trouble deciphering. Sometimes it's the name of a person or place that may be unfamiliar.
  • Sic — (a term used in copyediting) words that are non-standard under formal rules of grammar and semantics. Remember, this is unscripted spoken material, and all speakers have the occasional slip of the tongue where they misuse a word or stumble into irregular usage.

You can choose which of these to show unredacted automatically. Alternatively you can start with them hidden and tap on them one-by-one to reveal the words as you need.

Hints

Stories zig, stories zag. It's easy to miss an important turn, leaving you fumbling as you try to fit the words you're hearing into the wrong context.

At the start of each passage we display a hint — think of it as a "semantic signpost" — to help you stay on track.

Again, you can choose whether to show hints automatically, or to keep them hidden and tap-to-show each one when you need. And there's a convenient "jump-to" button next to the hint that brings you back to the start of the passage.

Speed control

If full-speed is too fast for your first listen, Jiveworld lets you slow things down a bit... or a lot.

Note that there's a world of difference between artificial "slow-speaking" and "natural speaking slowed down". As long as the underlying speech is native and natural, your ear will improve.

Two-phase listening

A great story needs room to breathe: you don't want to force-fit it into a short-form segment for study. Jiveworld works with natural-length radio stories, breaking them up into digestible two or three-minute chapters. You listen to each chapter (at least) two times.

The first listen is focused on study and comprehension. The Jiveworld player offers you just enough assistance — vocab, hints, slower speed etc. — so that you can stay on track while understanding everything.

The second listen is about fluency. You start with all the assistance turned off, but you can always switch it back on with a single tap if you need to study more. At least one pass of unassisted listening is essential for your ear to adapt to natural spoken language, and to bake in what you've studied. It's also fun to listen like a native: it doesn't require the hard concentration of the initial study phase.

Think of it as cycling up and down hills. The study phase is like climbing the hill — concentrating hard on the sounds, checking each unfamiliar word. And the relisten phase — letting the sounds of the now-familiar content breeze through your ears at a natural speed — is like freewheeling down that same hill.

You are mastering essential language skills, but in a way that requires less effort. You'll enjoy listening to more content, and you'll be sustaining your concentration.

... and there's more

Jiveworld makes it easy for you to set goals and track your progress. You can revisit the new words you've learned with vocab lists. And you get cultural and language notes so you can appreciate the stories at a more nuanced level.

Graduating to fluency

Before you know it, listening will be getting easier. You'll be speeding up the playback little by little, hiding the hints and tricky bits, and looking up fewer words.

Finally you won't need Jiveworld, or any other language program. You'll be able to dive into authentic social situations with local people and you'll be improving without studying. You'll be Jiveworld fluent.

Try it today and see how it works, and let us know about your journey to fluency. Learning a language is a gift: it transforms us as individuals, and everyone we connect to through it.

It would be our honor to help you reach your destination.

Bon voyage!

Daniel, Joseph, and the Jiveworld team.