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Language Acquisition

What is your focus when creating your English lessons? I’m sure your students are a lot more interested in your lesson when there’s a funny story, or when there's a relation to something they’re interested in. When explaining their teaching philosophies, many teachers claim that their students learn better when the classes are fun and/or related to their interests, so they always tailor their lessons to be so. However, many do not understand the deeper reasons why it works.

"Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drills." - Stephen Krashen

When it comes to studying language, researchers believe there are two significant pieces to the puzzle - Language Learning and Language Acquisition - and that one is more important than the other. Which one? What’s the difference?

One piece of the puzzle, Language Learning, is the conscious study of grammar, definitions, and the logical ordering of vocabulary.

The other piece of the puzzle is Language Acquisition, which is all about experiencing language and understanding intuitively through context. Mental understanding of language is necessary for perfecting language use, but it is clear that having English experiences is the most essential part in developing fluency and confidence in language.

Generally, the first impulse for teachers is to focus on the Language Learning aspect, because that mentality is how other subjects are usually taught - by organising the subject matter in a logical way and trying to explain the subject clearly. This method is popular for teaching logical subjects such as math, or science. In recent years however, it is being shown that developing students’ Language Acquisition is more effective. This is because language is different from other subjects.

In other subjects, the teacher and the student already share a common base for communication, and the teacher can appeal to students’ intellect through their shared language. When teaching a language though, the luxury of direct communication is negated, and explaining rules and details only creates confusion and insecurity. Only through developing Language Acquisition can fluency and spontaneous speech develop, and Language Acquisition can only be made through unconscious, intuitive comprehension. Basically, only raw understanding creates confidence and fluency in language, and not understanding through explanation, but through intuitive experience.

Therefore, it is believed that natural associations between words are stronger than logical ones. This flies in the face of most lesson plans, the idea that the association between ‘red' and ‘apple’ is stronger than the more logical association of ‘red' and ‘blue’.

Researchers such as Stephen Krashen from the University of Southern California believe that lessons which mix grammatical rules and vocabulary in order to convey some interesting story, or message, have a deeper impact on a student’s Language Acquisition than lessons that focus on explanation and segmenting language rules.

These researchers recommend that classes should be taught by guiding students through experiences in English with lessons that have an organic interconnected blending of topics which promote meaningful associations, and with students feeling the language rather than receiving explanations. So if you can relate the target of your lesson to another topic, especially one of great interest for your students, it will create an emotional impression and unconscious acquisition. It is very much easier said than done, but by focusing on Language Acquisition, it will go a long way towards improving your student’s ability, interest, and motivation. It will also help make class a lot more fun!

“Language acquisition proceeds best when the input is not just comprehensible, but really interesting, even compelling; so interesting that you forget you are listening to or reading in another language." - Stephen Krashen

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