Pens and notebooks out …
coursebooks open …
turn to page 5 …
☹ ☹ ☹
Sound familiar? Well, it doesn’t have to be like this. In fact it shouldn’t be this. I’ll explain why with a short history lesson.
Are you sitting quietly?
Then I’ll begin.
Language learning in the English-speaking world grew out of the study of ancient Latin and Greek.
This meant grammar, conjugating verbs, and translating texts. An approach called the Grammar-Translation method.
Because who needs to speak Latin right?
That changed with something called the Direct Method around the end of the 19th century. Here learners worked with real-life speech. People thought that immersing the learner in the ‘target language’ would lead to proficiency over time.
Obviously, you can see problems here. A ‘sink or swim’ environment of new speech doesn’t automatically lead to learning a language. It can also lead to frustration – as any language learner will know!
One method to address this was the Audiolingual or Army method, named the U.S. Army’s need for a ‘scientific’ way to learn languages during the Cold War, as mere exposure to Russian was not enough to create a new generation of spies.
This approach aimed at developing good habits through repetition or ‘drilling’ of the target language, with mistakes corrected by a
sergeant major… I mean a teacher!
Older readers may remember ‘language labs’ where learners would play tapes and learn a language via headphones. These come directly from the Army method.
But does this look like fun to you?
Here the problem is: How can you learn to communicate with other people in a new language – by listening to tapes inside a plywood box!
We needed the communicative approach to kickstart language learning. An approach that believed languages are best learned by using the target language in (semi-)realistic situations.
Here the emphasis is on developing communication skills through interaction. That’s why today’s classrooms involve working in pairs or groups, and role plays.
But hold on. You’re thinking ‘That’s English – what does this have to do with learning German?’
Well for a while scholars have been developing something called Second Language Acquisition theory or SLA for short.
SLA involves theories for learning all languages not just English. One strand of research is the work of US linguist Stephen Krashen, who came up with several hypotheses. Here’s three and why they’re important for you as a German language learner:
1. Natural Order. There’s a natural order to learning languages which you can’t fast-forward. That means, leider, that you’ll still be making mistakes with Der/ Die/ Das for years to come!
Why is this important? Well, it means the order of grammar points you find in coursebooks is, well, almost meaningless.
Second, it means there’s little point in teachers correcting every tiny mistake a learner makes because a) in the ‘natural order’ of learning a language mistakes are inevitable and b) it can demotivate learners. Which brings me to …
2. The Affective Filter. One thing that prevents people learning languages is a mental ‘filter’ which comes up when they feel stressed or anxious. This means it’s really important for learners to have a nurturing environment in the classoom – and not be punished or made to feel stupid!
3. Comprehensible Input. To learn effectively learners need ‘input’, speech and texts in the target language that is one step above what they know now.
They don’t need to know all the words, just most of them; the words they don’t know they can guess. It follows from this that teachers should ‘grade’ their language and speak to learners at their level.
It also means that private reading and listening may be one of the best ways to learn!
You can read more about these theories here. But here are the five questions we think you should ask your German teacher, or language school, before you take a class.
1. Do you have a language learning theory behind your approach or teaching?
2. Which teaching methods do you use?
3. What is the content for your course?
4. Can I help decide on the course content ?
5. What are some of the learning activities we will do in class?
That’s all from us. I hope this post helps you choose a teacher or school.
If you want to learn German call 030/3983 3993 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Apart from that, stay warm and …