Today I would like to discuss a deeper aspect of my beliefs as a teacher: how I assume we learn a language, and how this affects what I consider effective teaching. What follows is a list of beliefs I gathered from observing myself and from analysing how I myself learned my second (and third) language. They are by no means definitive or true, they just represent my impressions on a very complex, and sometimes mysterious process.
- Formal instruction plays a crucial role. In all my experience with language learning, I first sat down to study the language with a teacher, and then put what I had studied into practice in a real-life context. Of course I know of people who have acquired a second language mostly by immersion, but if they have done so as adults they all lack some structures, vocabulary or nuances in pronunciation that formal instruction can give.
- Exposure is equally important. Formal instruction alone will not lead to full acquisition, which can only happen through immersion in the language. This is where the individual effort of each learner comes into play.
- Noticing is the key to learning.
- Some people acquire language more easily than others, but this does not mean they end up being more successful learners. I strongly believe hard work, a willingness to try and learn from mistakes and motivation play a crucial role in the learner’s success.
- Automation is the key to fluency in a foreign language. In this sense, I think I can roughly ascribe to the Lexical Approach: “language is grammarised lexis” that needs to be memorised in chunks in order to be retrieved more quickly when necessary.
- As in point one above, formal instruction can be key to building the confidence of a solid base, before (or while) being massively exposed to the language.
- While contrastive analysis with L1 can be very helpful, relying on translation and L1 equivalence is a source of many a errors and misunderstandings.
- Learning happens more easily if the student feels at ease and motivated. Encouragement and positive reinforcement can have a beneficial effect on how a learner sees the language and the process of learning it, especially with YLs.