Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What's the best language learning method for you?

Maybe there isn't one. Edwin, who can't pull himself away from the How-to-learn-any-language forums (I'm kidding), ran across something interesting the other day. A commenter at HTLAL says:
It’s interesting, because some people think some of this methods are the BEST and some of them think the same methods are useless, boring …or the WORST. Thinking about that, how is it possible such a level of contradictions between people who have succeed learning languages.
Edwin sums up what he sees as the gist of the post:
The creator of the thread proposed that there is no best method in language learning. The most important factor is TIME and LOVE devoted to the target language. He was not talking about different people might have different best methods. He was simply saying that even for the same individual, there is no such thing as ‘best method’ in language learning. Provided he is spending time with the language and keeps himself motivated, no matter what method he uses, he will get there one day.
I think this is about right. Here's the thing: Every individual has a different learning style. And to the extent that our experiences change who we are, we are a different individual every time we come to a new language or a new method. When I was first learning French, I was in a class that meandered between Communicate Language Teaching and Grammar-Translation, but with a strong Grammar-Translation component. I learned a lot about English, as well as French, and benefited enormously from being able to see in sharp relief where English and French did things similarly and where they did them differently. But today, having seriously studied a half-dozen languages and fiddled with lots more, such an approach would be most painful. Some of the languages I study are too far from English - or French - for the approach to be useful. And others are so close to English - and/or French - that it would be wasted time when a note that "here's how you do the comparative; practice!" would do.

When I started Breton, I was baffled and searched high and low for something that would tell me more about what was going on with the grammar. Now, working through the Initiation au Breton sans peine, I'm skimming the grammar explanations - I don't care because I'm following what's going on and, in talking to myself, I'm finding that the structures pop into my head anyway. A moderate bump in confidence and competence showed me that what I thought I needed wasn't what I needed at all.

Regular visitors to this site will notice that it tends to, er, wander a bit. I'll put up a lot of information on an idea for a few weeks, and them I'm off to something new. I think the novelty aspect has a big role to play here: it boosts the enthusiasm, which keeps you giving your learning extra attention for a while. And lo, when you energetically and enthusiastically work at something, you get results!

This is not to say that what I've written in the past should be ignored, that it's not really useful anymore, or whatever. It means that it's not quite right for me where I am right now. But if it sounds new, or different, or useful to you, it might be what you're looking for, at least until you get burned out on it and try something else. The neat thing here - and I've counseled this before - is that language learning isn't about following a method; it's about getting in sync with and enjoying a language.

In this light, the debates about which method is best are silly. But if they keep people talking about new things that others might not have tried yet, they're still useful. Ignore the bombast about who's best, then, and keep reading the forums and blogs. You might just find what you are looking for now in spite of everyone's best efforts to settle what's best left unresolved.


Blogger gorka said...

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6:53 AM  
Blogger Darek said...

you can also check out our language exchange club, free at:

5:28 PM  

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