17 popular opinions about language learning and teaching

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
— Oscar Wilde

In Lightbown and Spada’s (2006) handbook on language learning, they have a brief questionnaire at the beginning of the book to test your assumptions about language learning.  At the beginning of class today, the professor handed us a sheet asking us to analyze our beliefs and assumptions about 1st and 2nd language learning and elaborate on the reasons why we chose what we did.  Here are the 17 points the authors bring up, you are to choose 1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree:

1. Languages are learned mainly through imitation  

2. Parents usually correct young children when they make grammatical errors 

3. Highly intelligent people are good language learners 

4. The most important predictor of success in second language acquisition is motivation 

5. The earlier a second language is introduced in school programs, the greater the likelihood of success in learning 

6. Most of the mistakes that second language learners make are due to interference from their first language 

7. The best way to learn new vocabulary is through reading. 

8. It is essential for learners to be able to pronounce all the individual sounds in the second language. 

9. Once learners know roughly 1000 words and the basic structure of a language, they can easily participate in conversations with native speakers 

10. Teachers should present grammatical rules one at a time, and learners should practice examples of each one before going on to another. 

11. Teachers should teach simple language structures before complex ones. 

12. Learners’ errors should be corrected as soon as they are made in order to prevent the formation of bad habits. 

13. Teachers should use materials that expose students to only those language structures they have already been taught 

14. When learners are allowed to interact freely (for example, in group or pair activities), they copy each others’ mistakes.

15. Students learn what they are taught. 

16. Teachers should respond to students’ errors by correctly rephrasing what they have said rather than by explicitly pointing out the error. 

and finally,

17. Students can learn both langauge and academic content (for example, science and history) simultaneously in classes where the subject matter is taught in their second language. 

So reflecting on how we think languages are learned should also make us pause and think for a second about how we should go about teaching them.  As both a teacher and a student, number 15 is definitely one that warrants a bit of reflection.  I’ll be following up with Lightbown and Spada’s ideas on these opinions, so stay tuned so you can compare and contrast your own views with theirs!



Resources used for this post:

Lightbown, P. and Spada, M. (2006) How languages are learned, Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers, Oxford: Oxford University Press

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