The usual form taken in a classroom to teach a foreign language involves mostly vocabulary and a progressive curriculum that warrants more memorization and translation than use and understanding. My foreign language experiences that where design as such proved to be painstakingly dull and had very little permanence in my body of knowledge. However, not to discredit the need for vocabulary and grammatical points in order to learn a language, to learn while using a language has proven to be a more effective and efficient way to functionally learn a foreign language. The Augustine Club at Columbia University suggests, ?learning a foreign language is not a matter of reading some grammar rules and memorizing vocabulary words?acquiring a language is learning a skill, not a body of information?(1).
In my own experience I have found that immersion in a language will greatly increase a person?s ability to functionally use the language they are learning. Immersion not only causes you to learn and understand the ideas and concepts of a language, ?but you must also make your body accustomed to using that information in physical activity: listening, speaking, writing, and reading?(1). The only proper way to accomplish this comes from a classroom that is focused on immersion, which means that only the foreign language taught is spoken by the instructor during class sessions along with activities that force the use of the language by the students. Therefore memorization and functionality is achieved through experience with other people in practical situations, not through staring at a list of words in a book or on a piece of paper. I personally have witnessed this to be true not only in myself with both Spanish and Thai, but seen it in students at TEFL learning English. The Augustine group calls this method ?studying out loud? about which they state, ?if you study out loud, you double your efficiency by adding auditory memory and you make your mouth work, helping with pronunciation and speech?(1). Though the immersion technique of foreign language learning will aid fluency it can prove to be deficient in teach proper grammatical use.
An experimental study performed by Elaine M. Day and Stan Shapson focusing on the difference between immersion classrooms and traditional language learning revealed evidence that indicated ?immersion shows persistent weaknesses in grammatical skills despite the fluent, functional proficiency the students achieve in their second language?(2). If fluency is the aim of second language learning more so than direct proper translation than immersion has been proven to be the most effective method of learning for it has ?revealed greater and more consistent growth in speaking?(2). However, the traditional form of teaching through a segmented curriculum might make a person more proficient in grammatical or literal translations of languages though fluency comes from use.
Both the experimental study by Day and Shapson and The Augustine Club at Columbia University agree that a curriculum is quite beneficial when implemented with functional use of content- based material. ?There is value in focusing on language form through the use of pre-planned curriculum materials in the context of content-based language learning?(2). The Augustine club suggests that a good curriculum is cumulative, ?you add new information and skills to the old without superseding them? (1).
To make your foreign language experience a success you must be motivated to attempt to speak it. Learning through immersion will add your pronunciation and auditory pick ups, as well as accelerate your learning of vocabulary and conversational language, not to mention the fact that it will keep your interest more than staring at a book will. The most important advice from my foreign language experience is to not be afraid to make mistakes. The Augustine club agrees and suggests ?if you are prepared to goof from time to time, or even frequently, you?ll feel much less restraint in practicing and trying to speak?(1).
Footnotes: (1)The Augustine Club at Columbia University. ?Studying a Foreign Language?. http:/www.Columbia.edu/cu/Augustine/study/lingual (2)Day, Elaine M. & Shapson, Stan. Integrating Formal and Functional Approaches to Language Teaching: An Experimental Study. http:/www.Blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467.x
Author: Stephen Buss
Date of post: 2006-10-10