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Stages of language learning



The Guidelines for a language and culture learning program refer to three stages of learning. The definitions of the three stages are taken from an unpublished paper by Greg Thomson, entitled Different Stages, Different Stuff and from personal communication with the author. Thomson actually identifies five stages of learning, but we have provided guidelines only for the first three stages, because it is assumed that people at the fourth and fifth stages will continue to learn as long as they are living and participating actively in another language and culture.

Correlation with ACTFL guidelines

According to Thomson, at each stage the learner's speaking ability is one stage behind comprehension, as described in the ACTFL Guidelines. Thus at the end of stage one, learners would be at ACTFL Intermediate in listening comprehension, but still at Novice level in Speaking ability. Similarly, at the end of stage two learners would be Advanced listeners, but Intermediate speakers; at the end of stage three Superior listeners, but Advanced speakers, and so on.


Thomson says that reading and writing skills become more relevant in stages two and three, and that the four language skills become more and more intermingled as proficiency increases. Thus speaking ability can be aided quite a lot by reading at stage four, and somewhat less at stages two and three.


In the Guidelines for a language and culture learning program we have separated the four language skills to allow for learners who only wish to work on certain skills; for example, reading. We also wanted to allow for approaches to language learning that emphasize speaking more from the beginning , as well as Thomson's comprehension-driven approach. For this reason, the levels of proficiency described for each skill at the different stages correspond more closely to the ACTFL descriptions than in Thomson's description. Thus achieving stage one speaking objectives would probably produce a High Novice speaker; stage two objectives, a high intermediate speaker; and stage three objectives, an advanced plus speaker.

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