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How language learning works

While there is much debate on how to teach and learn languages, each person has a unique way of learning. My personal experience and philosophy may not work for everyone. In any case, I strive to adapt and provide many different styles and activities.

Input & Output

What is input?

Input is the language that learners are exposed to that is communicative in nature. That is, the learners are paying attention to the language for the message it contains. Note: this is not passive. Many people still believe that you will learn a language by listening to it while you sleep. Ehhh... I'm not sure that has much truth.

In the 80's, an American linguist, Krashen, introduced the Input Hypothesis. This hypothesis basically says that language acquisition is completely the result of comprehensible input and the understanding of the language. However, this ignores the whole other side of language. Output.

What is output?

Output is the produced language, such as speaking and writing. Swain supplemented Krashen's theory by creating the Comprehensible Output hypothesis as many people were seeing that they could identify words and read in another language but they simply could not communicate with it.

Now, why would you learn another language if you couldn't communicate in it?

This supplements input because it provides an interesting noticing function. When students try to reproduce the language, based on what they have heard/read/etc, they notice the gaps in what they know how to say and what they want to say. This motivates learners to fill those gaps by asking questions, consulting a dictionary, etc.

Output also helps learners receive feedback. If students are only listening and absorbing the language, a teacher (or whoever) can't provide feedback on their progress, help with grammar or pronunciation.

If you think about it, toddlers are little language learners. We spend so much time simply talking to them, reading them books, and showing them pictures to convey a meaning. They absorb all of this information and then one day, they say their first words. And pretty soon, they are a 3 year old who won't stop talking. We continue to give feedback and tell them the correct word to say in a phrase or help them sound out words.

The biggest difference I find is that young children aren't as afraid to make mistakes or say something silly. I think that is one thing that seriously holds adult language learners back: anxiety. We are very anxious when speaking or writing a foreign language because we do not want to be wrong or look dumb.

But, practice makes perfect.

In my opinion, the best way to learn a language is a combination of meaningful input and output.

There are many 'hacks' to learning languages, so below I will provide a few suggestions:

  1. Get real world practice. Talk with native speakers, visit a country where the language is spoken, study abroad (BIG ADVOCATE OF THIS ONE).
  2. Use authentic sources. Watch TV shows, movies, listen to radio programs, watch the news, read popular books from countries where they speak your target language.
  3. Practice language/vocabulary/phrases that are useful to you. It's not very motivating to learn things that you can't see a real world application. Think about your hobbies, what you do everyday, your routine, things you would need to know if you went on a vacation, your attitudes and opinions. Now can you describe those things in your target language?
  4. Practice daily. I like using apps like Duolingo and Memrise to remember to practice daily and expand my vocabulary.
  5. Make mistakes. Like a lot of them. Act foolish. Use lots of hand gestures to communicate your idea. Never be afraid of looking silly. No one who knows you are trying to learn something new is going to make fun. You are going to mispronounce things, use the wrong verb tense, use the wrong gender, use the wrong meaning or translation. But making these mistakes gives you the opportunity to learn and surpass everyone else who is still afraid to make them. You will correct your mistakes and you will be even better than you thought!

My classroom philosophy

We will listen, read, talk about, and laugh about real life situations through storytelling, games, activities, projects, authentic sources and discussion. We will focus mainly on input first and output as a way to assess learning and give feedback. Unlike other professors, I will not be explicitly teaching grammar in the old-fashioned sense. There hasn't been enough scientific evidence supporting the explicit grammar teaching as a way of language acquisition for me to simply teach grammatical structures that do not serve or make any sense to the learners. If anything, I would like to compare my classroom to how children acquire languages: lots of input, feedback, and learning grammar in 'real-life'.

Why learn another language?

Bilingualism offers many benefits, including greater mental flexibility, improvement in all areas, more careers options, better decision making, more networking opportunities and can even delay dementia!

Did you know? Spanish is the second most-spoken language of the world, and the USA is the second largest Spanish-speaking country after Mexico!

Also, some articles report that if you speak both English and Spanish you can communicate with around 80% of the world's population!

Sadly, the United States doesn't put much emphasis on learning another language, compared to other places like Europe where there are many languages in such a small area. So bravo to you for your interest!

Check out this article and video for more benefits:

https://bebrainfit.com/benefits-learning-second-language/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=MMmOLN5zBLY