Thursday, March 20, 2008

Keys to Succcesful Language Learning

I am just starting new classes at the university, and students sometimes ask me what are the keys (or secrets) to learning English. As part of this discussion, I often point out four things:

  1. Natural ability
  2. Motivation
  3. Effective study skills
  4. Out-of-class activities
I'd like to share some thoughts on #3 for today. Many students, unfortunately, have little understanding on how their study patterns or habits affect how quickly (or not) they learn the language. In my grammar class, I test all of my students by recording and grading their productive use of the grammar in CONVERSATION. In other words, I give them a situation and then record them using the grammar in natural conversation rather than using a paper test. Unfortunately, studying and reviewing the textbook in a quiet corner of the library by yourself will do very, very little to help you PRODUCTIVELY use the language when you need it in real conversation. However, this is a method used by many students to study for PAPER tests. Students just don't know or see any other way to study.

Therefore, I hold regular speaking workshops after school where students can practice their speaking skills in more natural situations. I also encourage students to use the grammar we are studying in their other classes as a way of recycling and reinforcing the structures we are studying.

Learning to use the language takes a lot of practice, and just being in a foreign country where the language is spoken isn't enough if you spend most of the time in your apartment alone.

So, please share your ideas on the topic.

Best,

Randall

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting on this subject!

    I have 2 comments:
    1. I love the idea of using recordings not only as exams but as homework--having students record mini conversations, or even record their homework aloud. What I've found with my students (university level) is that if they don't see the point of studying aloud, and instead see this exercise as an added burden, they don't get much out of it. I've had some trouble finding appropriate ways to help them see the benefits of studying aloud and recording themselves. Thoughts?

    2. this second comment is a little off topic--I hope that's alright. I'm a non-native speaker teacher of Arabic, and as a student and instructor, I've often wondered about the relative importance of the 4 factors you mentioned as being important in learning. There are some who would argue that natural ability to learn a language is a myth, and that motivation/study skills/learning behaviors are what are really behind our "natural ability." Personally I guess I still have some feeling that some folks learn languages more easily than others, but I feel the role of that "natural" inclination may be minimal, and that motivation and ability to learn about learning/monitor one's own learning is far more important in comparison. Any thoughts on that?

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  2. Good points. I think there are a variety of factors that contribute to successful learning, and people through hard work and focused study can perhaps enhance their "natural ability" to learn.

    Randall

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  3. SI agreen with motivation/learning behaviors and study skills are more important than natural ability. As a forigner, I have to create an English environment to study English in my mother land. In reality, not all of students could go abroad or had an opportunity to study Englsih in the western countries. However, there are a lot of learning materials on the internet and book stories. If people want to be a self-study who could use those materials to improve themsleves.Unfortunately, Speaking English must be practice with a partner or human in order to communicate with people. As a result, out of class activities are important for students to pick up language and be proficient.

    Best,

    Jenny

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  4. I agree with you. Having good knowledge of the sytematic/grammatical aspect of a given language doesn't necessarily mean that someone has good conversational/speaking skills.
    I also believe that the best way to learn something is by experimenting with/in it ( = learning by doing).

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  5. Hey!

    Your blog is lovely!I think learning
    a language requires dedication and efforts as language learning is lot more than increasing vocabulary and following rules.

    ReplyDelete
  6. My name is Anibal Gomez and I think one of the keys to learnd other language is to realy study and try to practice with other person and not be shame when you are talking,because the more you practice the more you goin to lernd it.

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  7. This is Ivan from China.
    I love your idea of how to study a language productively and effectively .I'm a man that you had refered someone study language in apartment alone,so,I had poor speaking language until now.you know , i study the English since junior high school.

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Thanks for posting a comment. I appreciate your interesting in sharing your ideas.

Best,

Randall