When we are put into real learning situations we have a big opportunity to improve. My recent visit to Romania was just such a real life language situation. I was forced to use the language for real communication. Romanian ceased to be a subject of study and became a real life necessity. I spoke Romanian with business associates, taxidrivers, shop keepers, waiters and others. Being thrust into real meaningful language situations can be very beneficial to language acquisition.
We do, however, have to prepare for this opportunity. My two months of intensive study, mostly listening and reading and building up my vocabulary, enabled me to take advantage of these real-life situations. If we are thrust into these situations too early then we are often unable to participate in meaningful communication. Of course, I also had my five hours a week skype discussion with my online tutors. These were invaluable. I don’t know if I learned more Romanian when speaking to my tutors compared to when I was listening and reading. However my human contact with speakers of the language kept me going and introduced an element of the real, even before I arrived in Romania.
But these were tutors whom I paid. They were kind to me. They spoke slowly. They were sympathetic. The people you meet in real life situations will not necessarily behave the same way. The broad vocabulary base that I was able to achieve by spending most of my time listening and reading, served me in good stead. Had I relied more on speaking with my tutors, then I would not have learned as many words and would not have been able to understand as well as I did once on the ground in Romania.
That is why I think that some of the modern language teaching techniques such as role-playing and task based language learning, do not provide the best form of preparation for real life language situations. These activities are not real and the likelihood is that the way in which the language comes at you in a real life situation will be quite different from these artificial classroom scenarios. So I prefer free-flowing conversations with my tutor on whatever interest us. This kind of interaction is more meaningful and real then “pretend” role-playing and or “task-based” classroom activities.
In a few days I will put up a video of a discussion with one of my Romanian tutors. I will put up a translation in the form of subtitles. This will enable you to learn a bit about Romania, as well as get a sense of what can be achieved in two months of input-based activity, some online conversation, followed by a brief visit to the country where the languages is spoken.