Chapter 2. A few practical concerns
You now know the three basic requirements for continued progress in language learning:
Though I've elaborated on each of them, I'd rather you remember the simple principles than all the other things I have said so far. My elaboration was merely intended to make the principles more meaningful. As I discuss language learning techniques and activities below, these three principles should become more concrete. In the end, if all you remember is the three principles, and if you apply that knowledge systematically, you'll do all right. You should apply these principles in planning your overall approach to language learning, in designing specific activities, and in evaluating the effectiveness of you language learning strategy.
It should be obvious that I am assuming you want to do more than “just let it happen”. Some people feel they will be successful language learners if they simply “hang around with the people” enough. Or some linguists may feel that if they analyze the grammar and sound system of the language linguistically, they will learn to understand and speak the language without giving it another thought. Such people will experience varying degrees of success, ranging from near zero, to fairly high, depending on a variety of factors (see Thomson 1993d).
The fact that you are reading this makes me think that you yourself would like to put some special thought and effort into your language learning, and to do the best possible job given the constraints of your situation and opportunities. Therefore, I have been assuming that you would recruit a speaker of the language to help you on a regular basis, hopefully even on a daily basis. That will allow for a lot of flexibility in your use of language learning techniques and activities. It may be that the language you are learning is relatively easy, in the sense that it is quite similar to a language which you already know well. To make matters better still, it may be that there are extensive resources for getting comprehensible input--newspapers, television, etc. In such a case, it might not be essential that you have someone help you with the language in regular, structured language sessions. But the more difficult the language, and the more distant the culture, the more important this becomes.
A person who meets with you regularly for the purpose of helping you improve your skill in the language is what I call a Language Resource Person (LRP). If you are to make good use of your times with your LRPs, you will need to spend some time daily in planning and preparing for the sessions. You will also spend time afterward going over tapes you made during your sessions, and reflecting and evaluating what you did, as a basis for further planning. You will probably want to do some record keeping in order to stay organized, and to evaluate your progress. The records will be of several types. You may keep a daily journal in which you describe your experiences in using the language that day (in both listening and speaking), along with cultural observations you have made that day. You will want some sort of planning notebook in which you store the results of needs analyses (see below), and a growing list of social situations and topics from which you will choose when planning your language sessions. Since you will be accumulating a lot of tape recordings, you will want to keep an index of what is where on which tape. If you are a linguist or anthropologist, you will want to be keeping a notebook of linguistic observations, and/or more formal and extensive anthropological notes appropriate to your research project. These can easily be integrated into, or better yet, grow out of, your daily language learning activities.
Now I have made numerous references to language learning activities without describing any of them. I will get to that momentarily. However, before I do, a few final practical concerns need to be addressed which will have a major impact on the scope and intensity of your language learning activities.
- 2.1 How much time do you have?
- 2.2 Whom do you have?
- 2.3 What should you learn next?
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Page content last modified: 7 July 1998
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