7 Key Factors to an Ideal Language-Learning Method

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victorhart
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7 Key Factors to an Ideal Language-Learning Method

Postby victorhart » Sat Sep 19, 2020 12:57 am

I recently made a video about what I consider to be 7 key factors to an ideal language-learning method. I'll summarize them here and also link to the video.

While these factors are broad and could characterize a lot of different approaches, I expect I'll get some disagreement (and hopefully some agreement as well).

1. Is tailored to the learner's specific interests, preferences, and objectives.
2. Combines the four language skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking
3. Is communicative
4. Uses authentic content
5. Uses level-appropriate content
6. Includes corrections from native speakers
7. Allows for review of context-based content

The seventh is a fairly innovative factor that I've developed over the years. The idea is that, while getting corrections from a native speaker is necessary, if you can later review those corrections efficiently, you get synergistic benefits from combining repetition/memorization with real-life communicative context, which facilitates long-term retention.

Do you agree or disagree? Is it possible to characterize an ideal method? What factors would you include?

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Re: 7 Key Factors to an Ideal Language-Learning Method

Postby 白田龍 » Sat Sep 19, 2020 1:49 am

Apparently factors 2-7 are in contradiction to factor 1.
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Re: 7 Key Factors to an Ideal Language-Learning Method

Postby victorhart » Sat Sep 19, 2020 4:03 pm

白田龍 wrote:Apparently factors 2-7 are in contradiction to factor 1.


But, in fact, they're not.

That an ideal method uses authentic content, for instance, complements the principle that content should be aligned with learners' interests and objectives. If you use a traditional textbook or any content that has been prepared for language learners, you're rather stuck with the topics and writing style provided by that method, whereas if your method employs authentic content, you can choose exactly the content areas that are aligned with your interests or needs for communication.

Similarly, using a communicative approach that includes speaking with and getting corrections from native speakers is compatible and even conducive to focusing on topics (for writing and speaking) that are tailored to learners' preferences and goals. Reviewing vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation derived from that communication, rather than from pre-fabricated lists, is the more innovative part of my theory and is an extension of the first principle, rather than contradictory to it.
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Re: 7 Key Factors to an Ideal Language-Learning Method

Postby rdearman » Sat Sep 19, 2020 4:15 pm

I think the "ideal method" would be different for a mono-lingual beginner and a person learning a 3rd or 4th language. For a monolingual step 1 is pretty arbitrary.

Also, I have no idea what #3 even means. All languages are communicative, so...
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Re: 7 Key Factors to an Ideal Language-Learning Method

Postby Cainntear » Sat Sep 19, 2020 7:04 pm

victorhart wrote:
白田龍 wrote:Apparently factors 2-7 are in contradiction to factor 1.


But, in fact, they're not.

If they're not, then your definition is too vague to be of any real use, as it leaves far too much room for interpretation.

1. Is tailored to the learner's specific interests, preferences, and objectives.
2. Combines the four language skills: reading, writing, listening, and speaking
3. Is communicative
4. Uses authentic content
5. Uses level-appropriate content
6. Includes corrections from native speakers
7. Allows for review of context-based content

The seventh is a fairly innovative factor that I've developed over the years. The idea is that, while getting corrections from a native speaker is necessary, if you can later review those corrections efficiently, you get synergistic benefits from combining repetition/memorization with real-life communicative context, which facilitates long-term retention.

If I'm following you right, that sounds like a fairly complicated way of saying to look back at old exercises, which a lot of people do do anyway.

That an ideal method uses authentic content, for instance, complements the principle that content should be aligned with learners' interests and objectives. If you use a traditional textbook or any content that has been prepared for language learners, you're rather stuck with the topics and writing style provided by that method, whereas if your method employs authentic content, you can choose exactly the content areas that are aligned with your interests or needs for communication.

That's all well and good in theory, but how do you identify the appropriate material?

The fashion for authentic materials has been a thing for around half a century now, and it's now quite openly questioned in academic circles. When it first kicked off, the concept of "grading" meant the teacher finding and selecting appropriate material, but quite quickly the term "grading" came to mean rewriting the materials to eliminate grammar points and vocabulary that was above the students' level. It often also means taking out all the most colourful, natural, authentic idioms because they're simply too much for learners without a strong background. So the "authentic" material isn't authentic any more, and but the teacher is invested in the notion that "authentic" is superior and kids themself on.

Even for a full time teacher teaching the same course 5 times a week, finding authentic materials that cover and revise all the language points is quite simply an unfeasibly large task. As soon as you find something suitable for one thing, you spot that it relies on something else that you haven't taught yet. It's a frustrating thing.

But that's not all. There's a line of thought in parts of academia that even unaltered native-directed material isn't genuinely authentic either. The thinking is that you can't really separate a single piece of writing from the wider context it was written in. A beginner can't engage with an article on childhood nostalgia in the same way as a native speaker can, because they won't have watched the same TV programmes, played the same games or eaten the same sweets.

This school of thought holds that teacher-originated material is the only sort of material that can genuinely claim to be built around student needs.

Certainly, I don't think there's really any level-appropriate authentic content that you can use with someone who's only spent two or three hours learning the language so far.

Similarly, using a communicative approach that includes speaking with and getting corrections from native speakers is compatible and even conducive to focusing on topics (for writing and speaking) that are tailored to learners' preferences and goals. Reviewing vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation derived from that communication, rather than from pre-fabricated lists, is the more innovative part of my theory and is an extension of the first principle, rather than contradictory to it.

And what do you mean by "a communicative approach", because that's already a term that's used in several different ways. The original meaning as I understand it was a narrow post-Krashen idea. Krashen said "you acquire language when you understand messages". The communicative approach said instead that you acquire language when you use it to solve problems. However, the true communicative approach is therefore quite opposite of the idea of "authentic materials" as the core learning activity consists of language originating in the learners themselves, and even where there is a native involved, that's still not "authentic materials" as the native speaker is consciously aware that they're speaking to a learner and will not speak naturally.

As for corrections from natives, in an ideal world yes, but that would have to be a native with an exceptionally deep technical understanding of their language -- a well-instructed second language speaker will often have a better understanding of why the learner made the error they did, and is therefore able to better correct it. The typical native response to the question "Why?" after correcting an error is "... that's how we say it," and that doesn't always help the learner to understand how to avoid the error in future.
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Re: 7 Key Factors to an Ideal Language-Learning Method

Postby victorhart » Sat Sep 19, 2020 9:28 pm

rdearman wrote:I think the "ideal method" would be different for a mono-lingual beginner and a person learning a 3rd or 4th language. For a monolingual step 1 is pretty arbitrary.


I agree that the aspects I've outlined don't fully apply to total beginners. So, to clarify, I'm talking about students that have already attained a minimal ability to communicate in writing and speaking. My Brazilian student of English went from zero knowledge to that level in about 3 months, but this timeframe can obviously vary greatly depending on L1 and L2, among other factors.

I don't think being monolingual or a polyglot makes a difference - I would recommend a method that meets the above factors in either case.

rdearman wrote:Also, I have no idea what #3 even means. All languages are communicative, so...


All languages are communicative, but not all language acquisition approaches are. Communicative approaches have become popular in recent decades, but the immensely popular Duolingo, for instance, is not a communicative approach.
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Re: 7 Key Factors to an Ideal Language-Learning Method

Postby victorhart » Sat Sep 19, 2020 10:07 pm

Cainntear wrote:If they're not, then your definition is too vague to be of any real use, as it leaves far too much room for interpretation.

Sorry you found my ideas useless. I find most of what I read on this forum interesting and/or useful and I hope, likewise, to be able to contribute useful ideas. Did you watch the video?

If I'm following you right, that sounds like a fairly complicated way of saying to look back at old exercises, which a lot of people do do anyway.

Not really. The idea here is that vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation content is extracted from your conversation and writing and that you are later able to review that content, with context, in dynamic ways. In the method I've developed, this is done using a trained teacher and technology my team has developed.

That's all well and good in theory, but how do you identify the appropriate material?

As a language student, I search for it. For instance, to keep up my French, many years ago I searched for a listening source and came upon Radio France Internationale. I found it to be my favorite news source regardless of language. Thus I kill two birds with one stone by listening to it fairly regularly, even if that's just 10 minutes, 3 times a week. Now that I've taken French up again a bit more seriously, I dabble in literature, podcasts about AI, news articles on science and technology, and language acquisition studies.

As an teacher, I ask students what their goals and interests are. I then use my background having grown up in the States and done 1st grade through college there to find reading and listening sources that match what they want. With a beginning student, that has recently been classic children's literature, which she has loved and been meaningful to her in reconnecting to her childhood. For an advanced student, it was political science material that was relevant to the doctoral program she is going to pursue in Canada.

As a language innovator, I have developed something called the "Homework App," which matches teacher-generated homework assignments to student profiles and expressed preferences.

The fashion for authentic materials has been a thing for around half a century now, and it's now quite openly questioned in academic circles.

Indeed, and I'm squarely on the side of those that advocate for the use of authentic materials, which I believe are the majority. I agree with you that graded readers authentic and am not a big fan of their use.

By the way, I disagree with your assumption that one needs to be focused on ensuring that authentic materials cover specific grammatical bases that students need. If you interact with native speakers and a variety of reading and listening sources, over time as a student you will get enough exposure to all needed grammatical structures.

There's a line of thought in parts of academia that even unaltered native-directed material isn't genuinely authentic either. The thinking is that you can't really separate a single piece of writing from the wider context it was written in. A beginner can't engage with an article on childhood nostalgia in the same way as a native speaker can, because they won't have watched the same TV programmes, played the same games or eaten the same sweets.

My student who is in her fourth month of study engages beautifully with Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and a variety of other classic children's literature authors. My advanced student engages superbly with academic texts on philosophy, political science, and public administration. I've found this to be consistently the case.

This school of thought holds that teacher-originated material is the only sort of material that can genuinely claim to be built around student needs.

I find this odd and would certainly disagree.

Certainly, I don't think there's really any level-appropriate authentic content that you can use with someone who's only spent two or three hours learning the language so far.

I fully agree with you. The factors I outlined fully pertain only to students who have attained a minimal level of proficiency.

And what do you mean by "a communicative approach", because that's already a term that's used in several different ways
.
I mean that students learn primarily through conversation, original writing, and reading and listening to authentic content. I mean it is not a grammar-based, translation-based, or Duolingo-type approach. While there can be endless nuances and academic debates, I think this is a fairly standard concept in language acquisition theory. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communicative_language_teaching

As for corrections from natives, in an ideal world yes, but that would have to be a native with an exceptionally deep technical understanding of their language -- a well-instructed second language speaker will often have a better understanding of why the learner made the error they did, and is therefore able to better correct it. The typical native response to the question "Why?" after correcting an error is "... that's how we say it," and that doesn't always help the learner to understand how to avoid the error in future.

Would you like to give my method a try? I'll offer you free classes with a native Spanish speaker who has gone through my basic training, but does not have an "exceptionally deep technical understanding of their language," which I believe you will nonetheless find extremely valuable.
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Re: 7 Key Factors to an Ideal Language-Learning Method

Postby Cainntear » Sun Sep 20, 2020 6:29 pm

victorhart wrote:
Cainntear wrote:If they're not, then your definition is too vague to be of any real use, as it leaves far too much room for interpretation.

Sorry you found my ideas useless. I find most of what I read on this forum interesting and/or useful and I hope, likewise, to be able to contribute useful ideas. Did you watch the video?

I hadn't, but I wasn't surprised to find it didn't clear much up.

The problem from the outset is that teaching is a complex interplay of multiple factors, and trying to compartmentalise it into a set of individual factors is fraught with difficulty. You've fallen into the trap of treating them individually with no clear attempts to reconcile or integrate them that I can see.

If I'm following you right, that sounds like a fairly complicated way of saying to look back at old exercises, which a lot of people do do anyway.

Not really. The idea here is that vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation content is extracted from your conversation and writing and that you are later able to review that content, with context, in dynamic ways. In the method I've developed, this is done using a trained teacher and technology my team has developed.

That's no so much a case of "not really" as "more specifically", because you're asking people to look at a specific subset of previous language work.

That's all well and good in theory, but how do you identify the appropriate material?

As a language student, I search for it. For instance, to keep up my French, many years ago I searched for a listening source and came upon Radio France Internationale. I found it to be my favorite news source regardless of language. Thus I kill two birds with one stone by listening to it fairly regularly, even if that's just 10 minutes, 3 times a week. Now that I've taken French up again a bit more seriously, I dabble in literature, podcasts about AI, news articles on science and technology, and language acquisition studies.

First up, to paraphrase:
Q. How do you find it?
A. I search for it.
I'm sure you'll understand that searching doesn't always result in finding. This is what I mean when I say that your advice is too vague to be of much use.

But setting that aside it does of course hang on a fundamental disagreement between us anyway.
By the way, I disagree with your assumption that one needs to be focused on ensuring that authentic materials cover specific grammatical bases that students need. If you interact with native speakers and a variety of reading and listening sources, over time as a student you will get enough exposure to all needed grammatical structures.

Exposure is not just about volume of exposure, it's about concentration of exposure. When something's new to you, you need to see it frequently for it to start to stick -- this is pretty uncontroversial stuff. It's really very difficult to learn the meaning of hypothetical language from exposure, too -- but if you have it explained to you, it gets easier.

As an teacher, I ask students what their goals and interests are. I then use my background having grown up in the States and done 1st grade through college there to find reading and listening sources that match what they want. With a beginning student, that has recently been classic children's literature, which she has loved and been meaningful to her in reconnecting to her childhood. For an advanced student, it was political science material that was relevant to the doctoral program she is going to pursue in Canada.

OK, and did she have any specific weaknesses in grammar? Did you never consider those weakenesses to be personal needs?

The fashion for authentic materials has been a thing for around half a century now, and it's now quite openly questioned in academic circles.

Indeed, and I'm squarely on the side of those that advocate for the use of authentic materials, which I believe are the majority. I agree with you that graded readers authentic and am not a big fan of their use.

No, they're not the majority. The majority think they are, but they're kidding themselves on. They're grading materials (by taking out tricky sentences or simplifying them) and calling that "authentic materials", because the majority of teachers take grammar into consideration, even if they don't consider themselves "grammar teachers".

There's a line of thought in parts of academia that even unaltered native-directed material isn't genuinely authentic either. The thinking is that you can't really separate a single piece of writing from the wider context it was written in. A beginner can't engage with an article on childhood nostalgia in the same way as a native speaker can, because they won't have watched the same TV programmes, played the same games or eaten the same sweets.

My student who is in her fourth month of study engages beautifully with Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and a variety of other classic children's literature authors. My advanced student engages superbly with academic texts on philosophy, political science, and public administration. I've found this to be consistently the case.

Which really opens up a whole other avenue of debate. Is any children's literature truly authentic? Or is it pedagogical in nature? (Dr Seuss was consciously teaching in his writing.)

But even setting that aside... you still have to reconcile that with your idea of personalisation, because what about students who have no interest in reading children's books? How do you find suitable material for them? If your principles only work for specific students, that brings us back to the claim that principle 1 is incompatible with the others.

This school of thought holds that teacher-originated material is the only sort of material that can genuinely claim to be built around student needs.

I find this odd and would certainly disagree.

It's not odd at all -- it's self-evident. Material written for learners is (usually) written with learner needs in mind; material written for natives is (almost) never written with learner needs in mind.

Whether that leads to a better learning experience or not is open to debate, but that in and of itself is logically unfalsifiable.

Certainly, I don't think there's really any level-appropriate authentic content that you can use with someone who's only spent two or three hours learning the language so far.

I fully agree with you. The factors I outlined fully pertain only to students who have attained a minimal level of proficiency.

How can a language course be perfect if it doesn't work for beginners.

And what do you mean by "a communicative approach", because that's already a term that's used in several different ways
.
I mean that students learn primarily through conversation, original writing, and reading and listening to authentic content. I mean it is not a grammar-based, translation-based, or Duolingo-type approach. While there can be endless nuances and academic debates, I think this is a fairly standard concept in language acquisition theory. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communicative_language_teaching

I know you're not deliberately intending to condescend, but since getting my CELTA I've taught 4 languages and got an MSc in TESOL. Links to Wikipedia are not appreciated.
The thing is, there is nothing inherently "communicative" in reading and listening to authentic content. The term "communicative approach" has expanded over time from its original meaning of "we learn when we use language to communicate" to a largely arbitrary set of common teaching conventions and techniques that are not in and of themselves described by the term "communicative".

But this actually gets to the heart of my issue here, because you've taken an arbitrary set of common techniques and philosophies common throughout the profession, and you're talking as though you've somehow discovered these yourself, as though the majority of other teachers do things significantly differently.

Nothing in your video makes any reference to the work of others or tries to set it in any wider context, other than you building a strawman in the form of a false dichotomy between authentic materials and memorising vocabulary. There are courses that are entirely non-authentic that do not involve memorisation and I'm sure there will be courses out there built around authentic materials that do involve memorisation; even if there aren't, it's totally possible to make one.

As for corrections from natives, in an ideal world yes, but that would have to be a native with an exceptionally deep technical understanding of their language -- a well-instructed second language speaker will often have a better understanding of why the learner made the error they did, and is therefore able to better correct it. The typical native response to the question "Why?" after correcting an error is "... that's how we say it," and that doesn't always help the learner to understand how to avoid the error in future.

Would you like to give my method a try? I'll offer you free classes with a native Spanish speaker who has gone through my basic training, but does not have an "exceptionally deep technical understanding of their language," which I believe you will nonetheless find extremely valuable.

Thanks for the offer, but unfortunately that wouldn't prove anything. I've got a degree in Spanish already, so I don't need the technical explanations -- I can usually work out the whats and wherefores of feedback for myself based on the extensive study that I did for my degree (in lessons that used a mix of conscious grammar work, communicative activities and study of authentic materials).
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Re: 7 Key Factors to an Ideal Language-Learning Method

Postby EGP » Tue Mar 30, 2021 8:18 pm

What a lovely discussion! Reminds me of an assignment I had during my MA in TESOL. The task was to design a short course of lessons. And almost all the points raised above had to be negotiated somehow.

For me, the big one was finding a balance between authentic, but graded to the student's level. Those two ends of the spectrum are not simple either (as elaborated in the above discussion). The quasi solution I settled on was heavily relying on corpora either directly or indirectly.

1. Create a mini corpus of the students' work and quickly see what language exists and doesn't in it.
2. You need empirical proof of what graded language is generally possible for students at that level that is missing from the corpus. For this, you can rely on well-researched resources. (NOT INTUITION)
3. You need a way to locate that language in authentic materials quickly.
4. You need to mediate that language somehow. Be it cropping the texts, but still allowing links to the originals for the more adventurous.
5. Repeat.

Before I leave this topic, I should mention "breakingnewsenglish" website. They have daily news stories (authentic) but they grade the language and length of the story to many levels. That's as good as an example you can get really. They have a variety of tasks and some you may call communicative. All revolving around the news story topic.

I'm a fan of news because many of my students are lost for what to talk about with their home stay families. I always hope that at the dinner table at night they will be able to understand something being discussed, or flashing up on the 6 o'clock news and share.
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Re: 7 Key Factors to an Ideal Language-Learning Method

Postby golyplot » Wed Mar 31, 2021 7:10 pm

Cainntear wrote:You've taken an arbitrary set of common techniques and philosophies common throughout the profession, and you're talking as though you've somehow discovered these yourself, as though the majority of other teachers do things significantly differently.


This is really the key to an Ideal Language-Learning Method, (as opposed to an ideal language learning method). Step 2 is to make a website and Youtube channel.
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