Foreign Language Learning

Foreign Language Learning

In order to understand foreign language learning, it is necessary to examine not only the linguistic properties of the languages involved but also the physical, psychological, and sociological characteristics of the learner.

Just as children play an active role in acquiring their native language, so foreign language learners approach their task with established capacities, strategies, physical and cognitive development, goals, attitudes, and motivations, all of which interact to affect their success.

With so many different factors involved, there is great variation from one person to another.

Students of a foreign language are faced with an extremely difficult task. Whether they wish to acquire native-like mastery of the language in all aspects or merely to learn to read foreign language material in their own professional field, they must cope with the complex and abstract system of rules and forms that constitute every human language.

When we consider this along with the variety of nonlinguistic factors mentioned above, it should not be surprising that methods for foreign language teaching frequently fail to assist learners in attaining their goal.

The phenomenon of foreign language learning is enormously complex, and until it is understood fully, the development of effective and efficient teaching methods and materials will remain a difficult, if not impossible, goal.

To see how far we are from achieving this goal, we have only to observe that foreign language learning is frequently best accomplished without any teaching at all.

That is, the preferable course of action for people who really want to learn a language is to go to an area where that language is spoken and immerse themselves in the new environment, gaining maximum exposure to, and practice in, the language.

However, not everyone can afford the time and money required for such an experience. The only practical procedure, the, is to enroll in a foreign language class, where the teacher can facilitate learning by presenting samples and descriptions of the language, along with opportunities for its use, in such a way and such an extent that the students, consciously or subconsciously, internalize the forms and rules sufficiently well to meet their performance goals.

Julia S. Falk