Eugene A. Nida: Learning by Listening


Eugene A. Nida: Learning by Listening

The linguist Eugene A. Nida is probably most well-known for his contributions to translation theory and linguistics. Throughout his lifetime (1914-present) he has worked on numerous projects including Bible translation, language structure and translation, and the science of translating. He has also made contributions to theory in the field of applied linguistics. One prominent contribution he has made is that of "Learning by Listening."

Eugene Nida makes the case that there is perhaps no place on earth where more people are multi-lingual than in Africa. The reason for this, he suggests, is due to the fact that many inhabitants of Africa speak not only their local tribal language, as well as the trade (or, "colonial") language, but also another second tribal language (or more). From his experiences and observations of Africans, Nida concludes that learning through listening is the "best way to acquire a foreign tongue" (42). In so doing, the "passive listening" stage allows for the learner to lower his inhibitions about the various grammatical structures and other barriers between his native language and the foreign language.

Nida believes that some of the same processes used by Africans to acquire foreign languages can be applied in the foreign language classroom. He suggests that passive listening can be improved in the following ways: 1) provide the brain with plenty to listen to 2) be relaxed 3) do not create barriers to sounds 4) give the brain enough time 5) let the brain work for you while you are doing something else. As part of the passive listening process he also recommends that one should "selectively listen" in order to pick up on the nuances of the language. These suggestions involve monitoring the tone of the voice of the native speaker and the strange sounds and different words and phrases used in the foreign language. These ideas all hinge on Nida's suggestion that "learning to speak a language is very largely the task of learning to hear it" (53).

Nida, Eugene A. 1982. Learning by Listening. Innovative Approaches to Language Teaching, ed. by Robert W. Blair, 42-53. Boston: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.