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How To Learn Another Language

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Pacific Standard has just published a very interesting article titled “Speak Memory: How the science of recall is finally helping us to learn other languages.”

The entire piece is worth reading by all teachers — not just those who teach languages — but here’s a section I found particularly useful. It shares the thoughts of Michael Geisler, head of Middlebury College (which has one of the best, if not the best, language program in the U.S.):

According to Geisler, you need four things to learn a language. First, you have to use it. Second, you have to use it for a purpose. Research shows that doing something while learning a language—preparing a cooking demonstration, creating an art project, putting on a play—stimulates an exchange of meaning that goes beyond using the language for the sake of learning it.

Third, you have to use the language in context. This is where Geisler says all programs have fallen short. “A lot of people think that learning with authentic materials”—audio or video in which native speakers are speaking naturally, without a script—“is just a gimmick. But what you will get out of it is all the nonlinguistic cues that you get in a real language-speaking situation. If you are in a doctor’s office, you know what they are saying due in large part to visual and audio clues, not linguistic clues.”

Fourth, you have to use language in interaction with others. In a 2009 study led by Andrew Meltzoff at the University of Washington, researchers found that young children easily learned a second language from live human interaction while playing and reading books. But audio and DVD approaches with the same material, without the live interaction, fostered no learning progress at all. Two people in conversation constantly give each other feedback that can be used to make changes in how they respond.

Makes sense to me. What do you think?

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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