How Do We Gain Fluency in a Foreign Language?
There are a great deal of language learning theories out there. And a lot of programs that promise you quick fluency. But which language learning methods have the best results? Language acquisition may be the answer.
Creating a good strategy is crucial to your language learning success. You’ll want a program that incorporates the most accurate language acquisition theories. But to know which is best, you’ll also need to know everything about these theories. Mapping out how the brain sees languages is the first step in understanding language acquisition.
What Is the Best Strategy to Gain Fluency in a Foreign Language?
You’ll run into a lot of myths about there about language learning along the way. These range from kids being the only ones who can gain language fluency to immersion being the only way to learn a language.
Each platform has their angle for language acquisition. You’ll see that phone apps prioritize drilling and repetition. Some classrooms focus on linguistics and grammar. Other night courses focus on aspects of speaking. Out of all these language learning methods, which is the most effective? Well, for a method to be successful, it needs to prioritize something called “Comprehensible Input.” And to learn more about “Comprehensible Input,” we first need to look into the “Input Hypothesis.”
What Is the Input Hypothesis?
Stephen Krashen, the founder of the Input Hypothesis, created it after years of research as a professor at USC. Put forth in 1977, it is one of five hypotheses that set out to explain how we learn a language as a species. His studies illustrated that no matter who you are or where you’re from, every person learns a language in the same way. And this is through something called comprehensible input. In short, Comprehensible input is input in our target language that is interesting and accessible.
Imagine this. You pick up a novel in your target language. If you try to read and understand it with only that content, you wouldn’t be able to. You wouldn’t learn your target language. The material is simply too out of reach. And if the information is too easy, we get bored with it and tend to not stay interested in the topic for very long. The goal with comprehensible input is to keep it challenging enough to keep us interested. But the material also needs to be approachable enough to learn.
What Is the Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis?
How do we go about learning a language? According to Krashen, out language learning methods tend to be ineffective. Traditionally, schools tend to focus on grammar and repeated drilling. However, it’s not very effective as seen by the countless people who spend years studying a foreign language, only to remember very little of it.
As an alternative, rapid exposure to material that’s within our ability to understand in a more casual environment is a better option. This is similar to how children learn a foreign language. And if you’re someone who despises tedious language learning, then you’ll prefer this school of thought. Fortunately, language learning technology recognizes the importance of this.
What is the Monitor Hypothesis?
Inside every person, there’s a hypercritical analyst that wants our actions to be perfect. If you know words in your target language, but not enough to form a complete sentence, your “monitor” will tell you to refrain from using those words because it would be “wrong.” Stating for “food. Eat. Food.” Instead of asking, “Can we grab dinner?” in your target language seems unacceptable our internal monitor. This poses a problem when using the words, we know and making mistakes is part of how we all learn language.
The internal monitor does serve a purpose. It’s important to avoid making errors when you can while learning to speak in a foreign language. Grammatical rules exist for a reason, and you have to adhere to them to be understood. However, you don’t want the conversation stopping while you’re trying to figure out how to properly phrase a sentence. People make errors, and unless you’re a professional working a field where your language needs to be perfect or you’re writing, you’re can afford to make mistakes.
What Is the Natural-Order Hypothesis?
The idea behind this hypothesis is that we learn language in layers. We start out learning simple words, then phrase, then increasingly complex sentences. To gain fluency, you need to allow this gradual process to happen, focusing too heavily on detailed grammar will only slow you down and create more problems that interfere with your language learning.
What Is Active Filter Hypothesis and Interference?
It’s probably fairly easy to think back to your high school language learning classes and find a moment when you felt nervous, scared, our downright terrified. Speaking in front of people is challenging, speaking a second language is challenging, doing both at the same time as a teacher is bound to create some unfavorable memories. Krashen argues that in these moments, your active filter interferes with your language learning. The active filter is made up of:
- Motivation: You need to be interested in what you’re studying, or you won’t be involved. A lack of involvement interferes with success.
- Self-Esteem: When your internal monitor takes over, it can wreck your esteem. Poor-self-esteem shuts down learning.
- Anxiety: Being anxious will also cause problems with language learning as it inhibits learning.
The best language learning environment is one that stimulates interest while promoting success through positive interactions that cultivate self-esteem. The more interested you are and the less anxious you are, the more likely you’ll be to learn your target language.
What Roles Does the Input Hypothesis Play in Language Acquisition?
Focusing too heavily on linguistics isn’t one of the good language learning methods. Linguistics is not the same as fluency, Krashen would note. If you are studying a language to speak it fluently, then you need to focus on using it in a supportive environment. A heavy focus on grammar and syntax is only useful if you’re interested in linguistics.
Breaking down how we learn language allows us to refocus our efforts as we attempt to achieve fluency in our target foreign language. And knowing what works and doesn’t work further promotes success.