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Language Learning Principles
by Carol J. Orwig

Complete Table of Contents


This book is a collection of language learning principles and guidelines for language learners. The general principles describe what the editors of the bookshelf hold to be important truths about second language acquisition. The guidelines give advice on what to do, based on the general principles. Many of the principles are linked to illustrative stories from the Language Learning Story database. These principles and guidelines can help language learners understand what to do to learn a language more effectively, and why they are doing what they are doing.

General language learning principles

Principles about language in general
Language is systematic
Languages have a sound system
In some languages the tone system carries as much meaning as consonants and vowels
Languages have a grammatical system
Languages have a lexical system
There is seldom a one-to-one correspondence between words in two languages
Language is used in discourses
People sometimes speak or write in monologues
Language is used interactively in conversation
Language is meaningful
Language has referential meaning
Language has functional meaning
Language has social meaning
Language has cultural meaning
There are variations in language due to regional, status, and stylistic differences
Knowing a language involves control of integrated skills
Language skills may be productive or receptive
Some chunks of language are stored and used as wholes
People use language creatively by recombining elements
Language knowledge may be intuitive
Principles about learner characteristics
People are wired to learn languages
Aptitude can speed up learning
Some learners take on a different persona when speaking another language
Some learners resist sounding and acting differently
Some learners have a higher tolerance for ambiguity than others
Learners who use learning strategies effectively are more successful
Learning in your preferred learning style increases motivation and effectiveness
Principles about learner attitudes and motivation
Motivation affects the time spent learning a language
Learner attitudes affect motivation
If you expect to succeed, you will be more likely to succeed
If you have unreasonable expectations you may get discouraged
Certain kinds of anxiety can interfere with your language learning
Fear of making mistakes can inhibit your learning
Too much correction or criticism can inhibit your learning
The more positive you feel about the speakers of a language, the more motivation you will have to learn it
If you want to communicate with speakers of a language, you will be more motivated to learn it
If you need to use a language, you will be more motivated to learn it
Principles about language learning situations
People learn better if their learning is encouraged by speakers of the language
People need to experience language used in context
If speakers of two languages really want to communicate, they can do a lot with a little
People have expectations about who speaks which language
Communication tends to take the easiest path
People may resist speaking their language because they want to learn your language
People often modify their speech when speaking to foreigners
In traditional cultures there may be only one right way to do something
It may be culturally inappropriate to be too direct in what you say
Every culture has taboo topics
Principles about the language you are learning
The more the language you are learning is like one you already know, the more quickly you will learn it
Differences between two languages interfere when you try to learn them
Some features of language are harder to learn than others
Principles about language acquisition
Language acquisition is a developmental process
People learning a language build up their own systems
You need lots of comprehensible input
You can improve your sound discrimination, memory, and grammatical sensitivity skills
You can compensate for deficiencies in some skills
The sooner you can acquire the grammatical system of a language, the sooner you can use the language creatively
You need chances to negotiate meaning with native speakers
Native speakers often highly value good pronunciation
Repetition helps things stick
Producing language that sounds too good can be misleading
The more meaningful exposure, the more you learn
You cannot rely on memorization alone
Memorized material can give a false impression of your proficiency
Your brain analyzes language whether you know it or not
Knowing a language is different from knowing about a language
Knowing about a language may help you learn it
Body language, gestures, and your face communicate as much as words
Learners build up an auditory image of what the language sounds like
Language learners need to learn to understand and produce well-formed discourses
Predictable scripts aid comprehension
Language learners seem to hit plateaus
You need exposure to language in a variety of social settings
One language may interfere with another
The mind tends to filter out redundant material
Productive skills are harder than receptive skills
Comprehensible output can become comprehensible input
Knowing the topic helps you interpret what you hear or read
Linguistic context helps you understand the meaning of words
Knowledge of a language may lie dormant, but be reactivated
Multilingual people may associate languages with a particular setting or audience

Guidelines for language learners

Be proactive
Take advantage of everything that happens for language acquisition
Use selective attention to help your accuracy
Combine formal and informal learning
Put yourself in situations where you have to use the language you are learning
Establish that you want to speak the language you are learning
Be creative in finding ways to practice the language
Expand the areas of language you can operate in
Use a variety of strategies to help yourself learn
Take opportunities to use the language
Set yourself achievable goals
Find ways to generate comprehensible input
Help yourself understand
Use analysis to help you understand how the language works
Get exposure to different kinds of discourses
Use media resources
Look for reading material of the appropriate difficulty
Use cognates, but use them carefully
Don't always try to understand every word you hear
Help yourself remember
Apply what you have learned as soon as possible
Make up games that work like drills
Memorize things when you have to
Associate words with images to help you understand and remember them
Reinforce learning with actions
Encourage yourself
Find ways to relax and get away from the language for short breaks
Believe that you can learn a second language
Find ways to express your personality
Accept the fact that you sound like a child, even though you are an adult
Remind yourself of your motivation
Find nonthreatening people to talk with
Look for situations you can participate in without pressure to speak a lot
Do not let your desire to be correct keep you from talking
Set yourself up for small successes
Learn to take risks wisely
Expect to make mistakes, and learn from them
Be patient with yourself and persevere
Learn to laugh at your mistakes
Watch people's reactions to what you say
Find ways to explore your interests using the language
Consciously remind yourself of what you like about the culture, the people, the language
Remind yourself of what you are good at
Interact with people
Establish reciprocal relationships
Adapt to the culture to make relationships and learn the language
Participate as fully as possible in the culture
Listen to other learners talk with native speakers
Listen to people talking to each other in their language
Talk with children and listen to parents talking to their children
Make a culture-friend who will tell you when you act or speak inappropriately
Try to find a pen pal
Look for people who have time to talk with you
Find good language role models
Listen to people of different regions and social status
Make friends with some monolingual speakers
Find people who speak clearly
Show your interest in the language and culture
Learn appropriate varieties of the language
Ask for help and you will learn as well as make friends
Find ways to communicate
Use all your resources to communicate
Coin words to help you communicate, but be careful
Rehearse what you want to say ahead of time
If you do not know a word, circumlocute
Learn responses to keep the conversation going
Use memorized phrases at the beginning to get people to talk to you
Check out the meaning of words, before you add them to your active vocabulary
Give and get feedback to check comprehension

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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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