Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Continuity & Context - Foreign Language Learning

Preamble: I was talking with an acquaintance about language learning and in writing a general response to them about the topic, it just occurred to me that it would be good to have the text I wrote about this subject in a blog post - so next time I can just send someone the link! :)  Here it is:

Dear [foreign language student],
   I've been meaning to write in more detail, but have been busy with things, and then got distracted....
   Basically I thought I should say something about continuity and context.  The problem with language education in general is that it is generally not designed for the students, due to logistical reasons.
   In school, there is one teacher and 35 or so students, so the material and tests need to be designed in way that the lone teacher (with all those students) can - logistically - handle lesson presentation and student grading.  Since it's a logistical problem, it's not really the teacher's fault, but it's most unfortunate for the poor students who study from defective material and are given irrelevant tests!
   Fast forward a little to adults working at companies.  Again we run into logistical problems!  The companies need to assess who has what skills, and - as tends to be the case at school - the methods of ascertaining skill levels are made for logistical reasons that are counterproductive to actual comprehension and ability to use a language.  In short - they are designed for the companies, not for the individuals.
   Language is only partly a science; it is at least as much an art, and like learning to play a musical instrument or dancing in a beautiful way, you have to learn through doing.....
   The next thing I need to say here is a conclusion!  Basically it's this: You get better at a language by using it.  And as a specific criticism of the adult testing system, it tends to be a lot of bits and pieces thrown at students with no context or continuity.  Probably no one on planet earth could score 100% on those (often deeply flawed) tests.
   So... how are you these days anyway? :)