May 11

“The Wrong and Right Way to Learn a Foreign Language”

"There is a Wrong Way and a Right Way to Learn a Foreign Language" 

In 2012, the Washington Post published an article titled "The wrong and right way to learn a foreign language", written by Stephen Krashen, the prominent linguist and educator. In the article he took issue with some recent advice by a State Department staffer. The staffer advised "study grammar very hard, drill vocabulary every day, and force yourself to talk" in order to learn a foreign language.

Krashen points out that this advice flies in the face of decades of research. Krashen writes:

[Instead], we acquire language when we understand what people tell us and what we read, when we get “comprehensible input.” As we get comprehensible input through listening and reading, we acquire (or “absorb”) the grammar and vocabulary of the second language.

Following are some quotes from Krashen's writings followed by explanations of how Designed Immersion™ relates to the same concepts:

Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill.

Our Designed Immersion™ approach avoids all use of tedious drills and instructs the user to focus on enjoying the content rather than on memorization while using the program. More importantly, Designed Immersion™ is based on the principle of maximizing comprehensible input over time.,

Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language - natural communication - in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding.

When the condition of 'meaningful interaction in the target language' is satisfied, students invariably find the process satisfying and enjoyable. When, instead, the focus is placed on the language itself with drills, memorization exercises and grammar study, most students find it difficult to maintain interest for very long.

The best methods are therefore those that supply 'comprehensible input' in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear.

All the content within and experienced through the Spanish Fluency Membership is comprehensible - either explicitly because of the contextual translations and explanatory notes or implicitly because of the Training included with the Spanish Fluency Membership. You watch, listen and read along on your own with no social pressures, tests, corrections, etc. that might cause anxiety.

Regarding 'speaking practice' Krashen says:

Should language students force themselves to talk? Research informs us that at beginning stages, highly successful second language acquirers often experience a substantial “silent period,” a time when they produce little or no language. The silent period is nearly universal for children acquiring a second language, and there are entire cultures in which second language acquirers are expected to experience a silent period.

Forcing language students to speak before they are ready not only makes them extremely uncomfortable but does nothing for language acquisition. Speaking doesn't cause language acquisition; rather, the ability to speak is the result of comprehensible input.

There is a substantial research literature showing that vocabulary knowledge comes largely from comprehensible input, especially reading in both first and second languages.

In Designed Immersion™ our main focus is on students acquiring the ability to fully understand native Spanish speakers when they speak because understanding (knowing) the language is the basis for fluency. As adults, we all know how to speak - we learned to speak as children learning our native language.  And we can easily apply that speaking ability to Spanish - to the degree that we know the language. 

Nevertheless, becoming really comfortable and confident with speaking Spanish is an additional skill we focus on in the Spanish Fluency Membership.


language acquisition, learn Spanish, native Spanish speakers, Spanish class, Spanish language practice, travel

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