Whether you are learning a second language or producing and selling language learning materials, it pays to understand some of the factors that influence second language learning. This is the first of a few short installments on the topic of second language learning.
University of Southern California linguist Stephen Krashen has identified two main modes of picking up a language — conscious ‘Learning’ and subconscious ‘Aquisition’. Language learning means a rule-based approach to new languages and is common in classroom settings. Teachers present students with grammar and pronunciation rules and then give examples of how these rules play out in real life. Language Aquisition, on the other hand, is most commonly identified with immersive language learning. Imagine, for example, an immigrant child who spend hours each day with her peers and absorbs (or ‘aquires’) the new language.
According to Krashen, the most effective language study focuses on language aquisition rather than grammar rules. When students are actively engaged in speaking and listening their focus is on the message being communicated rather than the form of the communication. Successful students know their grammar but they don’t use rules to form the sentences they speak. Rather they have developed a feel for the language that lets them create sentences more organically. Their knowledge of grammar is used sparingly, to do some last-minute editing before the words come out of their mouths. This function of the grammar is commonly termed the “monitor” since it monitors, reviews and edits what the mind produces.
What does this mean for you? If you are learning a second language, put yourself in situations where the focus is on conversation and communication. Don’t ignore grammar, but don’t worry if you don’t know the perfect way to communicate your thoughts. The process of interacting with native speakers is as important to your success as any language book you study.