By Dr. Peter Suwarno, CLS Resident Director (Malang, Indonesia) & Associate Professor at Arizona State University
|Dr. Peter Suwarno|
Current studies on major aspects of language learning suggest that learning a language is a skill-acquiring endeavor. Like learning to dance, learning a language is related to the ability to perform and is not just a practice in gaining knowledge and information.
Since a language becomes a language only when it is used in communication, and since human interaction has everything to do with performance, language teaching/learning activities should focus on the learners’ performance in the target language. This is not to say that we should abandon reading grammar rules and memorizing words, but the learner should understand that these are only some of the ingredients for the ultimate goal of language learning: perform in the target language and culture. Like learning to dance, where students practice how to move their bodies, hands, and feet, acquiring a language necessitates practice using the organs of speech (tongues, lips, jaws and teeth), as well as paralinguistic movements like gestures and expressions.
Yes, learners who do not like to perform (such as in role plays) and are reserved, quiet, and not eager to interact with others are disadvantaged when it comes to language learning. Intelligent graduate students who tend to be analytical about the target language and are eager to discuss features of the language and culture usually end up knowing much about the language but are not very competent in communicating in the target language.
What should students do if they really want to master a foreign language? They should focus on the performance of specific skills in the target language through accomplishing specific tasks. The tasks can be as simple as introducing oneself (novice) or as complex as negotiating a contract deal of an important government project in the country of the target language (advanced). Students have to be vocal – enthusiastic and able to speak loudly and clearly so that errors can be detected and corrected -- and adventurous, finding creative ways to perform, being unafraid of making mistakes, and not being so proud as to take correction poorly.
Students must also be regularly, if not continuously engaged (if not immersed), in target language activities. Even if they are not in a country where the target language is spoken every day, they should always be eager to speak only the target language when given the opportunity, and always interested in interacting with native speakers.
Language students often have difficulty continuing their engagement with a language after returning from extended periods of immersion. Taking a class in the target language is often the first step students takes when they return, but sometimes classes may not be available. Even if they are, it is a good idea to stay engaged outside of class as well as inside it. Some ways keep up your language include:
- Keep in touch with friends who speak the target language. This includes friends for whom the target language is their native language, but also your fellow classmates, as they can be your conduit to more target-language resources.
- Meet and befriend native speakers by participating in local groups or organizations of native speakers of the target language. They would usually be happy to have language learners join them.
- Join various Internet discussion groups on different topics in the target language, many of which are usually open to everyone who speaks the target language.
- Listen to or watch the target-language entertainment: music, films, comedies, and other shows are often available on the Internet.
- Engage in reading, listening, watching current events or watching documentaries from newspapers, magazines, radio, and television from your host country. These can easily be found on the Internet.
- Read print materials in the target language out loud in order for the organs of speech not to lose their learned skills in producing the sounds of the target language.