Is High Intensity Language Learning A Valid Method?


Is High Intensity Language Learning A Valid Method?

Fri, 21 Sep 2018 11:19:30 +0000You might have heard the term High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) linked to fitness regimes in athletes. The training consists of periods of intense physical activity followed by long period of rest. It has been proven scientifically that the athletes get better results in terms of burning…

You might have heard the term High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) linked to fitness regimes in athletes. The training consists of periods of intense physical activity followed by long period of rest. It has been proven scientifically that the athletes get better results in terms of burning more calories in a shorter period of time and boost their metabolism throughout the day.

The question that follows is whether we could apply the same principle to language learning. Some people like Aran Jones, seem to think that we can. I came across his book “High Intensity Language Training” on Amazon, and it was a truly interesting read.

Jones affirms that language learning bears the same similarities to exercising. The brain like the muscles in your body can be stretched to the limit.

So, what is High Intensity Training in language learning?

Jones starts his book with a warning: “High Intensity Language Training (HILT) is the opposite of easy, it’s intense.” If you’re going for an easy ride this method is not for you. He carries on, “High Intensity language Training gives you a different experience. It makes you say things in your new language over and over again – different stuff every time. It gives you a neurological workout that will leave you absolutely exhausted”.

The Science behind High Intensity Language Learning

About the brain, Jones mentions that we have complicated sets of neural networks that can involve connections to all sort of things and that we, humans, have lots of different ways to engage with a word. He gives the example that “if you read and write a word you’re mainly strengthening the circuits you need to read and write that word – not the circuit you need to say it.” Hence the need to say these words out loud because thus “you’re calling a lot of extra neural circuits into play -the circuits that control how your tongue and mouth will move when you make that word, the circuits that control how your larynx will function, as well as the circuits that are responsible for connecting the concept in your brain to the sound that comes out of your mouth.”

He also mentions that to develop a richer neural structure, the words you’re producing must be grouped in what he calls formulaic blocks. Jones defines formulaic blocks as the group of language that we process almost as if they were a single thought. I call them phrases like described in the Chunking technique.

How does High Intensity Language Learning Work?

Jones proposes different types of schedules depending on your availability.

  • 1 hour a week: will guarantee you to be able to hold your first conversation within 3 months
  • 1 hour a month: you’ll reach the same objective in 1 year.
  • 1 super intense day a month: within a year you’ll be fluent.
  • 1 super intense day a week: you’ll start to get results in one month.
  • 2 super intense days a month: you can sustain a conversation easily within 3 months.


The method consists of massive speaking practice of formulaic blocks followed by “generous” rest and relaxation.

Jones maintains that to avoid not being able to recognise the formulaic blocks when the native speaker talks, High Intensity Language Training does three things:

  • The dialogues are played at twice the normal speed so that when you hear them used by the native speaker they seem slow and clear; (We usually do the contrary when teaching).
  • You keep acquiring new formulaic blocks (by massive spoken production) until you can recognise over 50% of ordinary speech.
  • You hear double-speed dialogues that expose you to new words, several times each, so that you can start understanding them from context.

Thus, you build a massive pool of passive vocabulary.

When learning a new language, you know that mistakes are part of the learning process. Here as well, Jones insists that they are “the lifeblood of language”. He suggests that “if you can start to embrace your mistakes, you’ll find HILT fast and exhilarating”.


This method is available in Welsh. The first level is available free as well as two levels of Spanish. If you’re interested visit the website. (Disclaimer: not an affiliate link).


I felt somehow shaken when reading this book, HILT seems to go against some of my beliefs. If you’ve been reading my articles for a while now, you’ve certainly have noticed my tips and advice advocating that little and often is way better than binge study, as I call it. Here Jones proposes the contrary. He affirms that “to do a little every day may be less efficient”.

We know that when we rest, our brain starts consolidating new language and it’s based on scientific evidence. Therefore, I recommend to study before bedtime due to the benefit of rest. But such big “rest” gaps in the HILT method seem too big.

Jones affirms that there is no need to revise the concepts you studied, on the other hand a great deal of scientific studies talks about the frequency of revisions to reach the consolidation of memories.

Jones concludes: “It doesn’t matter how much you do, or when you do it […] if you keep on moving through High Intensity programme, you acquire the language”.

The “little and often” method has helped me learn six languages. I would like to try the High Intensity Language Training with Welsh which is totally alien to me and different from the romance languages I speak. You never know, I might have to write again about HILT in the future.


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