Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Three tasks of language learning

So, here is the most generic entry into how I think about language learning: Three general tasks enable a student to learn a language, they are: massive amounts of input in the language (exposure to the language), massive amounts of output in the language (opportunity to use the language), and plenty of opportunity to adjust understandings and utterances to closer match those of native speakers. Though these three tasks seem fairly obvious, it is surprising how routinely they are misunderstood, or misapplied. The third task--opportunity to adjust understandings and utterances--is critical, but many teachers overdose on an ugly step-sister to this task: the dreaded grammar drills. Such drilling before a student has a sort of feel for what is being drilled is a waste of time and effort.


  1. Ben,
    Real sorry, (this has nothing to do with your blog) what are your kids names?

  2. Gabby1:33 PM

    Hi Stephanie,

    They are: Ralph, Maude, Olive and Oscar.

  3. Miles wants to take French at an after-school program at Edgemont. What questions should I ask about the program that will make me look like an informed parent?

  4. Lisa:
    1. You could ask about the expected outcomes.
    2. You could ask if kids enjoy the program.
    3. What percentage of class time on average is spent either speaking, or actively listening to French? (Rather than say, making a French flag or other art project with little or no exposure to French--of course this could be a fun cultural experience and that's great too!) (the more actively speaking and listening the better--if language is what you're after)
    4. You could ask how often they say something in French then motion for the students to repeat. (the less the better)
    5. You could ask what method(s) they use and if it starts to sound suspiciously like 4, hmmm.
    6. You could ask if they read Oh, Judy!
    7. You could applaud them for offering it.
    8. And this is the most important. You could ask what they think of the "zone of proximal development" If they say they're not sure, just nod knowingly.

  5. wowzers! It's good to know our friendship has come in handy. Want a Maroon5 tshirt?

  6. Great suggestions Ben. I think some of these can be used even for non-language classes. What are the expected outcomes, etc. Very insightful.

  7. Lisa: Do I want a Maroon5 t-shirt? Uh, yeah. So did you get to look informed? I also thought you could ask how the teacher thinks children (and people in general)learn languages, and again if it starts to sound like #4, hmm.

  8. Ben, I just started school again and it bugs me that some professors take roll and even base part of the grade on attendance. It is this whole idea that rubs me the wrong way. Why should someone get college credit just for showing up to class? I am not paying just so I can attend classes. I am paying to learn. Grading should be entirely results oriented as should the class structure. It also bugs me when students ask to do less work, or are excited that class is cancelled. Do people take a language class so that they can say they took a language class or so they can say they know the language? For some I am not sure of the answer.