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SIL Electronic Working Papers 2011-002

Learning to Speak an Unwritten Language

Author  Thormoset, Henny Jane
Abstract  This literature review highlights both advantages and challenges for a literate person from a highly literate society wanting to learn to speak an unwritten minority language. The process is compared to that of learning a written majority language, such as French. In either case, the argument is made that adults, having certain advantages over children, can indeed learn to speak a second language well; a lot of listening should precede a lot of practice speaking, albeit imperfectly. Also, language learning should be inseparably linked to culture learning in order to achieve fused language-culture proficiency, for the ultimate purpose of building relationships and impacting the world. Some learning styles and strategies are reviewed. A self-directed individualized learning plan should state an appropriate desired achievement level linked to a specific anticipated use of the language. The most effective strategies should be used, including at times those least preferred, if necessary to enhance progress or to take into account the local context's unique opportunities or challenges. Finally, an argument is made that literate learners can indeed learn to speak another language from people whose method of communication is predominantly oral.
  Learning to Speak an Unwritten Language
Published  2011
Subject  Language learning
Keywords  literate society; oral communicators; second language acquisition; language and culture learning -- assessment; language and culture learning - strategies; unwritten language; linguistic minorities; learning styles; comprehensible input