We are learning languages the wrong way says this article from the New Statesman. I don’t agree with everything in the article, but there are some important points.
I have always felt that the emphasis on teaching a few basic survival sentences, or correct usage, is largely a waste of time. I believe we need to emphasize the enjoyment of the language, and increased comprehension. The present emphasis in language class on producing the language, and on correct grammar, is usually counterproductive. Students graduate with little ability to understand the language, and still can’t produce many grammatically correct sentences.
What do you think? Are we learning languages the wrong way?
I derived immense enjoyment from listening to audiobooks and podcast, reading books, watching movies and participating in the cultures of the languages that I learn. Undoubtedly the amount of time that I enjoy my languages in this way is far greater than the amount of time that I am able to use the languages in talking to people. The goal is to talk to people, but most of the enjoyment comes from these seemingly passive activities. Of course, learning the languages through these somewhat passive activities, eventually enables me to speak comfortably.
We are conditioned by schools to think that our learning has to be directed by a teacher in the classroom. However, learning is inevitably a process of self improvement and personal growth. What matters most is what we as learners do, whether in the classroom, or outside the classroom. A teacher cannot force learning on a student. The teacher, or the classroom, are not the only resources available to us. The Internet is an amazing resource, as I have said many times. We can find language content, grammar references, and even articles about learning.
On another occasion, while googling in order to understand the difference between the words “imparare” and “apprendere” in Italian, I came across this interesting article called “Imparare a imparare” (Learning to learn). The writer, Luciano Mariani, discusses the importance of setting one’s own goals and organizing one’s own learning activities, in order to become a learner for life.
Mariani’s blog, www.learningpaths.org , in English and Italian, is devoted to issues related to motivation and learning, with specific reference to language learning.
My grandchildren in Vancouver attend French immersion school. This means that their classes, most of them, are in French. French immersion is very popular amongst English-speaking parents, because it enables their children to go to a school where there are fewer special needs learners.
On the positive side, students in French immersion develop good French reading skills. However, they understand spoken French fairly well, but only fairly well, after years of French immersion school. Their speaking skills and pronunciation are not as good as they should be, in my opinion. They have a strong vocabulary, and therefore can easily learn to speak the language well if they are motivated to do so and have the opportunity to speak a lot.
However, at school, the only French they hear comes from their teachers. I remember when I was in school, I didn’t always listen very attentively to my teacher. The other students were usually quite a distraction, or maybe I spent most of my time trying to distract them. I don’t remember. Listening to the teacher in the classroom is not enough. I would like to see the kids be assigned listening on MP3 players in order to improve their comprehension and pronunciation, but also to develop the skill of listening.
Most of my language learning time is spent merely listening. I do this all the time while performing other tasks. Yet some people claim that they are unable to focus while listening in this way. I feel this is a skill that can be developed. Probably it is an important skill to develop while kids are at school. If people develop the ability to download audio lessons and listen and learn, they can use a lot of dead time during the day to acquire knowledge and skills in various fields, throughout their lives. Listening is a powerful way to learn!
You won’t be surprised to know that I think LingQ is an excellent way to develop listening skills. Children could be assigned interesting content to listen to and read, and asked to save words and phrases (create LingQs) from these texts. Their knowledge of these saved words and phrases could easily be reviewed on the cloze tests that are a part of the LingQ system, as a measure of their activity and to motivate them to complete the assignments.
Compared to the enormous cost of our school system, and our expensive university system, the tiny little MP3 player could be a powerful yet inexpensive tool, if only people were trained to listen.
Para mí, esa distinción no es tan importante. El aprendizaje de idiomas es un proceso integral. La escucha y la lectura son actividades de comunicación con el idioma. Son las actividades de base para prepararnos a hablar. Una vez que empezamos a hablar tenemos que hablar mucho, y sin preocuparse ni de la gramática ni de nos errores.