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1. Some Background Principles


Who should read this?

Have you ever noticed that learning and using a new language can be emotionally demanding? That's for sure. We can make it better by good mental health practices, but we can't make it emotionally undemanding.

So we've been thinking, since it is going to be emotionally demanding no matter what, why not make it intellectually undemanding? Now you may find that you like it to be intellectually demanding. Maybe that helps your emotions. You are an outstanding student, and your ability to learn stuff better than the rest of us is a real encouragement to you. You love languages courses, and you like them to be as demanding as possible. Or you love reading complicated grammar books and doing all the exercises. Question: Is this working for you? Are you steadily getting better in the language you are learning (as measured by your ability to use it conversationally)? Then accept the heartfelt congratulations of other readers and us, and put this paper down. We've known people who have become famous as language learners through endless hours of intense study combined with intense efforts to use the language in real life. What we have to say is for those of us who are tempted to envy them.

Or perhaps you are just hanging around with people and you are making good progress in the language. We know a guy who learned Urdu really, really well just hanging around with buddies in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (We kid you not.) We know another guy in Canada from Russia who is an excellent public speaker in English, fifteen years after starting. He refused to take ESL courses, because he hates studying languages. He noticed after nine months that he could speak a lot more English than many of his friends who had been full time ESL students for the same nine months. If you're doing great without doing any special "language learning activities" beyond communicating in real life, then accept the heartfelt congratulations of other readers and us, and put this down. What we have to say is for those of us who are tempted to envy people like you.

Whew! Are they gone? Now they are kind, well meaning people, and we love them, and are happy for them, but they intimidate us. Now we're left with the 80% or so of us who are unable to remove the emotional demands from language learning, and so we really might like to limit the intellectual demands.

Now we are a pretty traditional family. Angela bore and we raised six children. Four of them are out of the nest. What we are about to share has grown out of our recent language learning experiences. One of us (Greg) previously wrote a number of papers on field language learning. Those reflected what Angela and Greg, and a number of colleagues in the Language Project of the Church of Pakistan, learned about language learning between 1986 and 1990. For people who have read those essays, this can be taken as a partial update. Those papers contain a lot of detail. That is one reason for the present paper. Getting started in language learning shouldn't be so complicated. What we have to say here is based on our recent experiences in what Greg has elsewhere called a "challenging" language learning situation: the early months of learning Russian in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. At the outset of this project our ages were 13, 47, 10, and 47, respectively. It has been nearly 100% a joint project. Learning Russian is part of our shared family experience.

1.1 Four cute language learning principles you won't forget
1.2 Things to do to learn a language
1.3 Now what do you do with your resources?

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Go to SIL home page This page is an extract from the LinguaLinks Library, Version 3.5, published on CD-ROM by SIL International, 1999. [Ordering information.]

Page content last modified: 21 March 1999

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