Oh, How Language Learning Has Changed!

Latin. That is what you would have learned if you were learning a second language before the 18th century. In particular, Latin grammar. That’s why they were called “grammar schools”.  Not very helpful if you actually wanted to talk to someone in a language other than your own  – considering that there were no longer any native Latin speakers to speak with.

In the 18th century, more languages were added. Living languages, like English or French or German and were actually spoken somewhere in the world. But the method was still heavily founded on translation and grammatical analysis. Memorization was key. Language drills, mostly written, were the norm.  And to be honest, simply boring!

But something happened in the 20th century. Suddenly linguistics and pedagogy and developmental psychology coalesced to produce a multitude of language learning methods. Suddenly all languages were fair game – even made-up languages (like Esperanto), or minority languages (those spoken by only a few people in the entire world). Methods used in “grammar schools” were replaced with a plethora of educational theories that spawned a multitude of learning and teaching techniques. Methods like the audio-visual approach, or the direct method (talking only in the new language), or language immersion (talking only in the new language in every possible school subject), or the communicative approach (learn by interacting with others in task based situations). Certainly a more active and creative way to learn than before, but you still needed a school, a teacher, books, a way to get there – in short, money and opportunity.

And now we are into the 21st century. Books are being replaced by the internet and mobile revolutions. We don’t need to be in a physical classroom. We can use the cloud. We don’t need to try to decipher strange phonetic symbols in a printed dictionary in order to understand how a word is pronounced – we can hear a recording or a synthetic sample of the desired word right at our finger tips. We don’t need to read dialogs – we can simply play a cool video with optional subtitles. We may even get the translation of it in our own language at the exact moment we want it. We can play language games by ourselves or with the world community. We can interact, globally, with any student or teacher or native speaker in the world – if we know where to find them! In short, we can learn by ourselves, for ourselves, with ourselves (or others), if only we want to, and if only we know how to. So what is the problem now? It is finding what motivates us and what will ‘work’ – but this is for another blog. Remind me for next time, OK?

SpeakingPal is proud to be at the forefront of 21st century language training!

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3 Responses to Oh, How Language Learning Has Changed!

  1. Robert Israel says:

    I wouldn’t be so quick to put down Latin. Although it wasn’t spoken, it was read by educated people all over Europe. In those days you might not often have a chance to speak in person to somebody who lived more than a short distance away, but if you wrote a book in Latin it would be accessible to far more people than if you wrote it in your local language (which would likely have been something like Picard or Prekmurian rather than a big national language).

  2. Rhoda says:

    Very useful

  3. Dear Babbler,

    Your first article was fascinating and sounded like you are going to write a series of articles on how the learning has changed or should change. At the end you even asked (somebody) to remind you about continuation. I do it with pleasure and to give you the topic for discussion I decided to share my observations in the field of learning languages.

    In the Internet Ocean of information you may find answers to any imaginable question; however some questions are not covered, probably because they are considered as politically incorrect. I could not find information on the question: what is the average success rate of learning English in the world if measured by the ratio of number of people who learned English as a foreign language (EFL) and who speak it fluently?

    James Asher (2003) has made a widely advertised estimate that 95% of people who undertake a foreign language course in America never achieve any functional competence in it.

    If only 5% of adult language learners attain native-like fluency in
    a second language, clearly teachers and researchers should be concerned. Adults have experience and knowledge that can help them learn faster than any child by overcoming misconceptions and using brain-compatible method. What are these misconceptions and how to avoid them?

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