Learning by listening?

This was originally a post about learning words by listening to them unconsciously after recording them.

Not a fan of this type of “passive learning” approach. Playing and listening to the recorded audio will only give the illusion of knowing.

It is better to use “active learning” approach like testing again and again.

Try it for 2 days, I think that it will somewhat work, but give you different results than expected.

You could try a smaller lists:
It may be faster to learn chunks of 100 than to learn 1000 in a go.


Are you saying that kids learn their native language(s) passively and subconsciously? Do you have proof for that perhaps?

From what I have seen of Kreshen, I never got the impression that he thinks children to learn passively.

As a mom, I also can say that they learn far from passively. If anything, they learn a language more actively than we do, not less.

A main difference between kids and adults in language learning is where we come from in terms of language. Adults will learn a later language from the viewpoint of their native language or another language they know well. Back when you wanted the translation for сосуд, you did just that, you took a word and wanted a translation that covered the full meaning.

Kids don’t learn like that, they take something and attach a series of sounds to that. More often than not, they get it wrong too. They then have adults correct them until they get it right, which can take years.

Kids are not some sort of linguistical sponge that absorb stuff about languages and then suddenly use them fluently. They listen to the words used to describe the world around them and then actively practice those words because that is a way for them to interact, a way that they have seen us adults use, a way they imitate just like many other things.

As I mentioned in one of your earlier topics, there is no such thing as a passive learning that is just as effective or even more effective compared to casual or active learning.


Children’s brain is highly plastic. They soak up info like a sponge! Adult brain is less plastic than the children!

Also,children are a very active learner! They interact with their environment all day long! It is wrong to think that they are a passive learner. They will make you go crazy with their curiosity and enthusiasm to learn everything!

For example, an autistic child doesn’t(or cannot) interact much with its environment and this is one reason why,he doesn’t progress in his speech or social interactions like a typical child does! An autistic child is not an active learner!

This sounds like “psychic driving” a technique employed by Dr. Ewen Cameron.

You are right here!

But then,they actively use what they passively heard! And this is the important part. If what they passively heard is not actively used,they would not be able to progress in their speech and other activities…

Both passive and active learning are in play here… After all,human brain works in a complex manner!

However, adult brain seems to work in a slightly different way than a child brain, because by the we are 15+,we lose that super plasticity of the brain!

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Passive learning still works, with advantages and disadvantages to active learning.

Full passive learning of a language is feasible, that includes being able to speak the language, albeit pronunciation errors and lengthy duration’s are expected.

My child self would say: adults are just lazy, they give up without trying, then overwrite any effort you have put in as ‘because you are a child’.

What exactly do we lose the ability to do, with this supposed missing ‘super plasticity’?

I guess ‘nothing’! :smiley:

Yes,a 3 year old child could absorb sounds,words pretty fast. Their brain is like a net that catches everything…But the adult brain has more experience than the child and hence,learns things in an organized and more effective way!

Anyway,what does science say? Is an adult brain as plastic/malleable as a child brain? :wink:

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I’m willing to bet that if it didn’t say this now then it is going to say this with the heading ‘we were wrong’ in a few years time. This has happened frequently…

While you have more recent articles like these : https://scitechdaily.com/adult-born-neurons-grow-more-than-their-counterparts-from-infancy-may-even-have-unique-functions/
or : https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/202005/does-running-treadmill-enhance-brain-plasticity
General science does state things more in line with :

What science says

Indeed, the information-processing capacity
of the nervous system is refined through its use, most
dramatically in early postnatal life but also into adulthood. In this sense the nervous system continues to
develop throughout life

The synaptic connections in ocular-dominance columns are adaptable to experience only during a critical period in development Nevertheless, many properties of cortical neurons remain mutable throughout life.

Moreover, the ability to induce synaptic changes in adult auditory cortex by engaging attention or reward raises new hopes for brain repair even in adulthood.

plasticity during a critical period may represent an adaptive compromise between flexibility and stability.

Critical periods can be reopened in adulthood

By definition critical periods are limited in time. However, it is now clear that they are less sharply defined than previously thought

Recent data suggest that critical periods can also be extended or reopened in mammals. There have even been reports that the best-studied critical period, the period for formation of ocular dominance columns, can be modified. Human amblyopia can be ameliorated in adulthood by training.

How can we reconcile the strong evidence for critical periods with the newer evidence for reorganization of circuitry in adults? The plasticity of critical periods can be distinguished from plasticity in adulthood by its magnitude and by the ease with which it is triggered. These differences result from two factors. First, from early postnatal life into adolescence the molecular environment in the brain is conducive to axonal growth, and cellular mechanisms are optimal for promoting the formation, strengthening, weakening, and elimination of synapses. Under these conditions circuits can undergo fundamental changes in their architecture and biochemistry in response to the animal’s experience. Conversely, in mature circuits molecular and structural elements promote stability and impede plasticity. Second, in a developing circuit no particular pattern of connectivity is firmly entrenched, so there is less to overcome. The connections specified by genetic determinants are less precise and the connections themselves are relatively weak. The patterns of neural activity that are stimulated by experience sharpen and even realign these patterns of connectivity. Once a pattern of connectivity becomes established, strong activation of the established circuit impedes the development of alternative wiring. This difference may help explain the special circumstances needed to trigger plasticity in adulthood. Circuits can be altered by passive exposure of animals to unusual environments during the critical period, whereas adult plasticity may require that the animal pay attention to the stimulus. In sum, experience during critical periods has a potent effect on circuits because the cellular and molecular conditions are optimal for plasticity and because the instructed pattern of connectivity does not have to compete with a long-existing pattern.

Regardless of culture, all children initially exhibit universal patterns of speech perception and production that do not depend on the specific language children hear. By the end of the first year infants have learned through exposure to a specific language which phonetic units convey meaning in that language and recognize likely words, even though they do not yet understand those words. By 12 months of age infants understand approximately 50 words and have begun to produce speech that resembles the native language. By the age of 3 years children know approximately 1,000 words (by adulthood 70,000), create long adult-like sentences, and can carry on a conversation

From the book that pretty much every neuroscientist learns from.

Plastic may not imply better memory capability as it has a trade-off with stability so may actually not be a better thing. However, adults can reopen the period for this same plasticity with training, it’s much more circumstantial than it is for a child.

Surprisingly, exactly this, adults need to turn it on through effort. No effort no outcome.

The overall answer however is yes, potentially. It’s essentially like playing a game, it is somewhat harder to learn how to input a command after you have learned a similar one because you may fall back to the pattern you know at higher speed, once you know a few tricks in that direction and put in effort, it no longer is an issue.


As far as I know, a lot of doubt has been cast on that idea. More discussion is here.

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Wow this is great topic. I spent many hours doing this method also, but i found out that i could not use the words freely in conversation.
When i started doing more language exchanges, and small classes with only 2 or 3 people, thats when i learned to used the vocabulary. By making many many mistakes trying to use these words, and letting a native correct me, I improved faster. So keep it up, just add step 2, (use them and wait for the correction, i need 5 mistakes a day to keep improving​:joy::joy:)


Very interesting post subject.

There has been work done on this, and it is a technique I use all the time (though I still ahve LOADS to learn - like we all do. I use lists of words and concepts on audio to commit to memory things I do not quite get first time on paper so I can review them and eventually have that EUREKA moment where I finally understand and then can go from there to active use rather than passive understanding.
Litstening to lists is a great help in this journey.
Though it is not easy to describe quickly without a few definitions: You will find (as I did) that cognitive psychology courses have many terms for this sort of thing but you could do worse than to look up the following terms and combine them together:

  1. “Voice Shadowing” (where you repeat silently to yourself the stuff you hear) -
  2. “Late Selection” (where you voice shadow a specific thing before it …disappears… tis really is just the art of developing a method to pay attention.

These two if you combine these with an Encoding Strategy (this forum has hundreds of pages dedicated to that…) into a pre-prepared memory Palace (a prepared spatial route - good example is a Golf Course - imagining each hole as a different ‘stage’ - if you don;t play golf - just imagine playing Urban Crazy Golf with a hole with a flag at the end of a route of streets you know)… This really is the key.

Many of us use TTS synthetic voices to make lists or record ourselves on dictaphones - not just of long string of numbers but of all sorts of information - and we use very sophisticated encoding - characters, actions, emotions to encode the words being spoken by our characters in specific places we know - and that all helps and can be very rewarding to help deeper understanding of topics that ‘won’t go in’ at first. .

Hope that’s relevant.;