Posted by: janecronin | June 11, 2017

Assimilation


Learning a language is completely different from learning any other subject, or indeed any other skill.  In my years at school History and Geography lessons basically consisted of large amounts of information that we had to digest, memorize and regurgitate for examination purposes.  Then there were subjects such as Maths which required us to perform mental operations in order to come up with solutions based on set rules and patterns.  There were practical skills such as domestic science, which again meant acquiring skills to achieve predictable results.  Other subjects such as art, physical education and music also trained us in other areas of ability, or lack of ability, as they case may be.

When it came to languages the approach was rather similar to that of History and Geography.  We had to memorise words and grammatical structures, we were required to translate to and from our own language and if we were lucky we might also learn to imitate some sounds.  I can remember having to stand up at the beginning of French classes and repeat a series of vowel sounds in a long list with absolutely no reference to any kind of meaningful context.  In retrospect we must have sounded like a herd of cattle with head colds.

The problem that still occurs in language teaching today is that it is so often still treated as an academic subject that requires mechanical responses such as doing grammatical exercises, memorising vocabulary or translating texts.  This is fine if all we wish to do at the end of the process is pass an exam.  The problem with this kind of teaching is that it doesn´t take us to the next level, which is actually assimilating the language so that it becomes something we can use to express ourselves.   This is the process that is unique to language learning; in other words, the realisation that all those rules and lists that I am memorising and practising are actually just tools or means by which I can communicate my own  thoughts and ideas.

Sometimes in class I find that a student reports being absolutely amazed when they have used something they have learnt in class in a real situation and have been understood.  I sometimes pull their legs about this, but in reality, it is only when we have that experience of using language as a means of communication that the process of assimilation has really taken place.

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Responses

  1. How so. I totally agree!


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