I am currently starting on a new book ‘An Introduction to Foreign Language Learning and Teaching’ by Keith Johnson.
- Is there actually a formula or a tried and tested method that contributes to effective language learning?
- Should more responsibility be placed on the teacher, the student or the environment in which language learning takes place?
- Does the effectiveness of foreign language acquisition depend on which languages the student is learning or is it affected by the student’s mother tongue?
I believe that anybody, as long as they have the interest, can learn any language. Although I do admit that it’s easier if your mother tongue (L1) is similar in structure/grammer to the foreign language (L2).
Take, for example, Japanese. I’m sure many Chinese-speaking individuals find it so much easier to acquire it due to a prior knowledge of Kanji (chinese characters) present in the Japanese orthography. Similarly, speakers of a Romance Language find it easier to acquire another one.
But we still hear of many westerners who are fluent speakers of Japanese and likewise, I know of Koreans who could speak Spanish and German just as well. Initally, the similarity between L1 and L2 languages do help in making your language learning journey a little easier. But past the elementary level, everyone’s on similar grounds again.
I’m also an advocate of self-study. Personal effort is the most important determinant of how successful you are in your L2 acqusition. I have seen people who only depend on their teachers, textbook materials and those who only come into contact with the language during class hours. Even if you understand the entire textbook, real world conversations are different.
Slangs, sentence structure simplifying, personal styles/intonation/speed all come into play and suddenly.. you wonder to yourself whether what you are hearing is the language that you are studying! Not to mention dialetical differences. Add everything together and suddenly you realise that your taped sample dialogues is of limited use in the real world.
Who will actually talk in the perfect sentence structure in real life? Not me.
Oops I’ve ranted on too much.. I sort of diverted from the blog post title. So how do we learn languages effectively?
To me, there’s no perfect answer. I would say.. it depends. (Don’t groan and say ‘You made me read all your rantings and now you tell me it DEPENDS ‘)
I’ll just share how I self study Korean over the past 1 year.
1. Take a good beginner course
Some things can be self-studied. But you need a firm foundation before you can do so. Pronounciation is not something easily mastered over the tapes. Having a real-life teacher to interact and ask questions to helps alot in grasping the basic concepts. They always say ‘Basics are the hardest’
2. Start with the textbooks
Perhaps for some, this will be the ‘boring’ stage in language learning. However, a good drill in grammar structure is necessary and you can pick up alot of vocabulary on the way. Prounciation and listening skills are honed through reviewing of sample dialogues. I particulary enjoy the satisfaction of being able to understand and use more and more grammar strucutures. :D
3. Throughout step 2, grab any chance to immerse yourself in the language
Be it drama, music, movies or podcasts – Listen to anything and everything. As mention in a previous article, immersing yourself in the sounds of the L2 language does contribute to effectiveness of foreign language acquisition. Isn’t nice to be able to pick up more words and phrases and yet at the same time, enjoy your favourite drama? You can drool at the guys at the same time :D
I know it’s impolite, but I snatch any opportunity to listen to conversations abroad the subway or bus too. Oops. :P
4. Interact with the native speakers
Once you are comfortable with the basics and are starting on the intermediate materials, find a penpal who can do language exchange with you. I started out using msn with my Korean friends. For me, typing is much easier as I could think through my sentences and anything you don’t know – check the dictionary!
5. Read widely
Now you can start to reap the fruits of your efforts. You now have access to a much wider range of entertainment materials. I am currently reading entertainment news and magazines. They are easier to start with and you can progress on to international news, books etc.
6. Talk with the native speakers
Yes. For me, this has got to be the hardest part and I’m trying to overcome it right now. This is a true test of your language abilities. You can’t say that you mastered a language without being able to hold a decent conversation with a native speaker without all the urmms, errs and frequent pauses. Practice makes perfect, at the same time, you can get to know more about your friends (:
Wow, I didn’t realise I have written so much. haha anyway I’m really happy today :D For the first time, I had a pretty decent converation in Korean. I used to have the problem of pausing for really LONG moments and end up suggesting that we just type in msn. Today, I persevered and kept typing at a minimal.
I really have to thank my friend for his patience 고마워요 오빠!
I shall aim to increase my confidence.