Ways to learn (natural) languages?

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Ways to learn (natural) languages?

#1  Postby lpetrich » Oct 07, 2015 3:42 am

There are numerous methods that have been proposed and used over the years and decades and centuries.

The Best Method to Learn English | Language Teaching Methodology:
"The main methodologies are listed below in the chronological order of their development:"
  • Grammar Translation – the classical method
  • Direct Method – discovering the importance of speaking
  • Audio-lingualism – the first modern methodology
  • Humanistic Approaches – a range of holistic methods applied to language learning
  • Communicative Language Teaching – the modern standard method
  • Principled Eclecticism – fitting the method to the learner, not the learner to the method
What is the Best Language Teaching Method? | ALTA Language Services
What | Direct | Gr-Tr | Au-Li
Speed of Learning | ++ | + | ++
Listening Comprehension | ++ | | +
Reading Comprehension | + | ++ |
Speaking Capability | ++ | | +
Writing Capability | + | ++ |
Grammar | ++ | + |

So different methods can produce different results.

Language teaching methods -- another list of methods:
The Direct Method, Grammar-translation, Audio-lingual, The structural approach, Suggestopedia, Total Physical Response (TPR), Communicative language teaching (CLT), The Silent Way, Community Language Learning, Immersion, Task-based language learning, The Natural Approach, The Lexical Syllabus

It ought to be evident that learning another language requires a *lot* of practice. These different methods are different ways of getting practice. There also does not seem to be any single best way to do so.
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Re: Ways to learn (natural) languages?

#2  Postby Spearthrower » Oct 07, 2015 9:38 am

The best way to learn a language is essentially the same way you learn it as a kid: hear the language modeled, try it, get feedback.
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Re: Ways to learn (natural) languages?

#3  Postby igorfrankensteen » Oct 08, 2015 1:15 am

Actually, the 'best" way to learn a language, is for the person trying to learn it to have a reason to do so. It is the motivation which causes the subject to open the appropriate ports, and remove obstacles from the learning paths.
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Re: Ways to learn (natural) languages?

#4  Postby don't get me started » Oct 08, 2015 1:32 am

Lots of issues to consider here.
One of the main one's is: What does it mean to 'learn' a foreign language?

I know Japanese people who can score very highly on standardized tests and whose knowledge of English grammar is better than mine, but they can hardly string a sentence together in ongoing spontaneous interaction.
I can sustain conversation in Japanese with no real effort, and have friends and colleagues who do not speak any English, so our interactions are entirely in Japanese, with no real handicaps. But on the other hand I am only semi-literate in the language and really struggle with official correspondence in the workplace.

I'd estimate that about 80% of my Japanese ability comes from actually 'doing' the language in real-world situations and the remaining 20% comes from formal study of the language. I find that sitting down with a text book, listening to audio materials and, worst of all, doing on-line computer based exercises represents a very poor balance of effort on return. The hours and hours I have spent bent over textbooks has not paid off, and the gains I have made from these efforts have been modest indeed.

On the other hand, I grant that I am in the position of being able to access real-world instances of the language that would be denied to me if I was living in the UK, and would have to rely on such formal methods of study.

A lot of my students arrive in my class after 6 years of formal study of English with very limited abilities to engage in spoken interaction, even though they have often quite sophisticated knowledge of grammar and an extensive passive vocabulary. I am tasked with remedying this.

The background to my oral communication course is as follows:
Although many textbooks adverse a 'balanced' approach to the four skills (Speaking. listening, reading and writing) no such balance exists in the real world. Speaking is the fundamental skill. Literacy skills are secondary.

Within speaking there are many different genres such as role plays, interviews, presentations and so on, but these are not the central genres. Conversation is. Spontaneous, multi-party, free-flowing interactions whose main purpose is not propositional or transactional but phatic.

Traditionally prestige has been given to advanced literacy skills and such things as Academic English, Business English and the like. Conversational English has been associated with notions of triviality and superficiality, to be taught by young and enthusiastic 'tourist' teachers whose main qualification is being a native speaker and looking the part. This is erroneous. Conversational English is as nuanced and specific as any academic variety, and it's components are often not open to casual introspection by native speakers.

Some of these components are as follows:

Discourse marking
Backchannel
Turn structure
Reported speech (including 'be like')
Narrative structures
Asssesments, hedges and upgrades
Purposeful vagueness
Vague category markers and general extenders
Open and closed class repair initiators and other strategic language.

I have been to conferences and shown 'before' and 'after' videos of students engaging in spontaneous conversation. The 'after' videos show a clear improvement in interactional abilities (once you know what you are looking for, i.e. items on the list above), even if there is little improvement in formal grammar.
But most importantly, my students like it and respond positively to my teaching and state so very clearly in the end of semester assessments that they have to fill in.

The underlying premise of my teaching is that language is primarily a social activity, not an intellectual one. To learn a foreign language means to construct a social, rather than institutional identity in that language.
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Re: Ways to learn (natural) languages?

#5  Postby Spearthrower » Oct 08, 2015 5:47 am

don't get me started wrote:
The underlying premise of my teaching is that language is primarily a social activity, not an intellectual one.


A salient way of defining it.
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Re: Ways to learn (natural) languages?

#6  Postby lpetrich » Oct 08, 2015 5:57 am

So in Japanese schools, the usual way of teaching English is the grammar-translation method?

What you'd prefer is something like Communicative Language Teaching? (The Communicative Method | English Language Teaching Methodology)
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Re: Ways to learn (natural) languages?

#7  Postby Spearthrower » Oct 09, 2015 11:43 pm

lpetrich wrote:So in Japanese schools, the usual way of teaching English is the grammar-translation method?

What you'd prefer is something like Communicative Language Teaching? (The Communicative Method | English Language Teaching Methodology)



That's really the most common way to teach language these days - or at least, it's the most common method touted by schools and institutes - whether their teachers actually know how to do it is another question! ;)

Thais, as kids, learn English in the most robotic and senseless manner possible, learning to repeat by rote the sounds which form words without actually understanding the words, let alone the sentences they comprise.

When I first came to Bangkok, I taught kids classes at the weekend (I actually have no qualifications to teach kids, but I am a native English speaker which is all they cared about, and unlike 95% of 'teachers' here, I actually know how to teach). I walked into my first class - full of 6 year olds - and said: "Hello children!"

The response was "Ha Lo Tee Cher"

My face immediately turned into this :what:

So I said "How are you today?"

Response: "I Fi Tee Cher An You?"

Hmm, I thought - they're robots! They don't listen and don't know what they're saying. It's just rote repetition.

So next class, and from then on, I would walk into class and say things like "Goodbye Children" and everyone would go into rote mode before one of the bright ones would suddenly realize and laugh, next "How old are you?" >>> "I Fi Tee Cher...." and someone at the back shouted "I'm 6!!"

It's amazing how ineffective the teaching is here - all rote learning, all manner of random grammatical and syntactic crap taught with little to no focus on actually using the language.
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Re: Ways to learn (natural) languages?

#8  Postby quas » Oct 10, 2015 5:29 am

Spearthrower wrote:It's amazing how ineffective the teaching is here - all rote learning, all manner of random grammatical and syntactic crap taught with little to no focus on actually using the language.


Rote learning is an Asian tradition. In many countries around S.E.A. region (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc), in the better schools, the English teachers have moved away from the rote-learning method of teaching, whereas lots of Chinese teachers teaching in the same school still use this enhanced-teaching technique.

It doesn't help that these Chinese teachers stereotypically look and behave like this:

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Re: Ways to learn (natural) languages?

#9  Postby Spearthrower » Oct 10, 2015 6:53 am

quas wrote:Rote learning is an Asian tradition.


It's actually a universal tradition, with some nations further removed.


quas wrote:In many countries around S.E.A. region (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc), in the better schools, the English teachers have moved away from the rote-learning method of teaching, whereas lots of Chinese teachers teaching in the same school still use this enhanced-teaching technique.


I would say this slightly differently: many of the better schools say that their teachers don't use this method, but many teachers still do. Even in Europe, I've seen this - in Italian universities, you are often expected to mimic your professors' arguments, not produce something novel.

Rote learning is good for one thing: learning tables of data, such as times tables, or irregular verbs in French or Latin, but not so much for more complex parts of speech.
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Re: Ways to learn (natural) languages?

#10  Postby don't get me started » Oct 12, 2015 9:26 am

lpetrich wrote:So in Japanese schools, the usual way of teaching English is the grammar-translation method?

What you'd prefer is something like Communicative Language Teaching? (The Communicative Method | English Language Teaching Methodology)


Yep, pretty much rote learning and memorization all the way here. The classrooms are set up to be teacher fronted and students don't speak until spoken too. It kind of* kills the interactional aspect of language.(* completely)

The way that Japanese learn to be literate in their own language also affects things, I feel. The learning of Kanji requires lots and lots of rote learning and sheer memorization. No deviation is allowed and you have to be very, very precise.
There was recently a scandal in Tokyo where a train company made a mistake when updating the signage for one of their stations. They used the Kanji 千instead of the Kanji 干. (The first one is the kanji for 1,000 and the second one is the Kanji stem for the verb 'hang'. The difference is very marginal. And this is only a three stroke Kanji, imagine the margin for error in the 17 plus strokers!) Red faces all round and much debate on the declining standards of literacy across the nation.

Students spend years memorizing this and the effects are that they often think there is a 'correct' answer and no deviation from this will be accepted. So, rather than go through the interlanguage stage, where the language system is emergent and prone to errors, they often want to make only 'correct' utterances. You might get a situation like this:

Teacher: So, what did you do last weekend, Tomoko?

(Pause while student looks upward and cogitates.)
(Seconds tick by)

Student: I, I, I, I go, I go, I went, I went to, I went to the, my part time job, I went to my part time job.

With regards to CLT, I am a bit wary about some so-called 'communicative language teaching' books and courses. On closer inspection they often turn out to be the same old grammar translation methodology, with a few 'activities' thrown in to jazz things up a bit. Said activities often have little or no real purpose other than getting the students to perform an externally imposed 'task' to satisfy a narrow criteria for using language 'correctly', usually judged on inappropriate models from the written form of the language.

As I have said before on these threads, human language is primarily social and interactive. I hesitate to call my lessons 'communicative'. In a sense just showing up and speaking is communicative and surely all classrooms and lessons are by some measure 'communicative'. I prefer the term 'interactive language teaching' where interaction between teacher and learners and learners and learners is both the medium and the message.
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Re: Ways to learn (natural) languages?

#11  Postby Scot Dutchy » Oct 12, 2015 12:20 pm

Dutch kids these days start learning English at 4. Many in secondary school follow the English stream.

I found necessity a good teacher when I was learning Dutch.
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Re: Ways to learn (natural) languages?

#12  Postby quas » Oct 12, 2015 3:33 pm

don't get me started wrote:The way that Japanese learn to be literate in their own language also affects things, I feel. The learning of Kanji requires lots and lots of rote learning and sheer memorization. No deviation is allowed and you have to be very, very precise.


It is the same with Chinese then. Is the Japanese languange also heavily dependent on idioms like the Chinese languange?
For example, the Chinese would say "ten whole ten beauty" to say perfect, "chaos seven eight bad" to say messy, or "“barbaric speech, eight ways” to say talk nonsense (bullshit). The languange could still function perfectly as a communicative device without these unnecessarily convoluted idioms, but somehow that they have decided that you have to use these idioms because it's proper.

As an addendum to my previous post here, there is also an unnecessary over-reliance on memorization in the process of teaching Chinese. The clearest example is this: In English class, you have dictation test where the teacher reads out a passage from a book, and the students write down what the teacher reads. But, in Chinese class, dictation means the students have to memorise the passage from that book first, and then write down from memory. Does the teaching process of Japanese follow similar tradition?
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Re: Ways to learn (natural) languages?

#13  Postby don't get me started » Oct 13, 2015 5:33 am

quas wrote:
don't get me started wrote:The way that Japanese learn to be literate in their own language also affects things, I feel. The learning of Kanji requires lots and lots of rote learning and sheer memorization. No deviation is allowed and you have to be very, very precise.


It is the same with Chinese then. Is the Japanese languange also heavily dependent on idioms like the Chinese languange?
For example, the Chinese would say "ten whole ten beauty" to say perfect, "chaos seven eight bad" to say messy, or "“barbaric speech, eight ways” to say talk nonsense (bullshit). The languange could still function perfectly as a communicative device without these unnecessarily convoluted idioms, but somehow that they have decided that you have to use these idioms because it's proper.

As an addendum to my previous post here, there is also an unnecessary over-reliance on memorization in the process of teaching Chinese. The clearest example is this: In English class, you have dictation test where the teacher reads out a passage from a book, and the students write down what the teacher reads. But, in Chinese class, dictation means the students have to memorise the passage from that book first, and then write down from memory. Does the teaching process of Japanese follow similar tradition?


Idiomaticity is a challenge for any language learner. I have heard about the heavy load of idiomatic and proverbial expressions that Chinese speakers deploy in daily interaction. Whether it is more or less than Japanese I couldn't say. Certainly, Japanese has its fair share of idioms, proverbs, fixed and semi-fixed expressions. Some of them I know, some I can guess and others are beyond me.
Where Japanese really outdoes itself is in the vagueness and indirectness aspects of the language. There is lots of sentence and discourse level ellipsis, double negatives and hedging that goes on that often makes it difficult to work out what is going on, especially for a learner who may be operating at sub-optimal levels of comprehension.

In reply to your question about memorization, yes. One popular activity at high schools is the 'English Speech Contest' where students memorize a speech in English, sometimes of their own making, sometimes not. I've had highschoolers asking me to check their pronunciation as they recite the Gettysburg Address for a speech contest. I'm pretty certain that they did not understand the content beyond any rudimentary level, and I'm also pretty certain that memorizing it was not the best use of time and effort in enabling the students to 'do' the language.

Such is the nature of much language teaching here. Busy work of dubious benefit, and an endless quest for the 'right' answer.
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Re: Ways to learn (natural) languages?

#14  Postby Spearthrower » Oct 13, 2015 5:52 am

don't get me started wrote:
Idiomaticity is a challenge for any language learner.


Ours are just as opaque to non-natives!

Then you chuck in phrasal verbs and Chinese is looking pretty tame in comparison! :D
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Re: Ways to learn (natural) languages?

#15  Postby quas » Oct 13, 2015 7:45 am

don't get me started wrote:In reply to your question about memorization, yes. One popular activity at high schools is the 'English Speech Contest' where students memorize a speech in English,..


Do they also do that for Japanese class? Is there something like the Japanese Speech Contest?
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Re: Ways to learn (natural) languages?

#16  Postby don't get me started » Oct 14, 2015 1:40 am

quas wrote:
don't get me started wrote:In reply to your question about memorization, yes. One popular activity at high schools is the 'English Speech Contest' where students memorize a speech in English,..


Do they also do that for Japanese class? Is there something like the Japanese Speech Contest?


I just had a class with some graduate students and we were discussing language education here. It seems that speech and presentation classes are mostly confined to English language education. My students all agreed that in Japanese classes, (国語
Kokugo or 'national language') the focus is almost entirely on literacy skills. Speech classes, debate and discussion classes were not on the curriculum of any of my students when they were at high school. (At first they misunderstood my question and assumed I was asking about English language education...)
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