Language Learning Quotes

To get back into full language learning mode, here are some quotes from scholarly journals and books to keep in mind. Citations are on the bibliography page.

1) why textbooks will not teach you to speak a language….

“Textbooks often present forms that are not commonly used, and most non-natives acquiring a language in a classroom learn a style that is too formal.” – Walz

“Books often teach written forms twice and oral forms not at all for words frequently spoken and almost never written.” – Walz

“[Textbooks] tend to teach items simply because the items exist and not because of any usefulness or frequency.” – Walz

“Writers present as many forms as possible without considering whether students can learn them or native speakers use them.” – Walz

“Despite today’s widespread acceptance of teaching language for oral communication, current textbook grammar is still a reflection of classical grammatical rules based on formal, written language.” – Glisan & Drescher

“Formal instruction (i.e., grammar analysis and discrete-point grammar practice) can temporarily improve performance on discrete-point tests, but apparently has relatively little influence on spontaneous language use.” -Schulz

“Language learning – regardless of theoretical orientation – necessitates frequent recycling of lexical and grammatical structures in different contexts. While we pay lip service to to the cyclical nature of language learning, indicating at least an awareness that the frequency in which vocabulary and grammatical patterns are encountered in the input contributes to their eventual retention and use, a large percentage of the words and structures we expect in the students’ active command appear only once or twice in the textbook.” – Schulz

“Teaching vocabulary without incorporating the necessary recycling is wasted effort.” – Harwood

“The belief underlying the use of drills is that production of the correct form is acquisition. However, as we indicated above, this is not the universally accepted position of SLA theory and research, and flies in the face of all the evidence when it comes to the creation of an implicit system. Acquisition of a linguistic system is input-dependent, meaning that learners must be engaged in comprehension in order to construct that system. By consistently and constantly having to process linguistic data in the input, learners push the linguistic system along. Production is not comprehension and thus produced language is not input for the learner. That input must come from others.” – Wong & VanPatten

“There is no SLA theory or hypothesis that suggests that practicing a form leads to its acquisition.” – Wong & VanPatten

2) the importance of listening, cultural input and pronunciation in learning vocabulary…

“L2 learners cannot learn a language if they never hear it; the sounds, the words, the structures have to come from somewhere.” – Cook

“Many important elements of languages, especially those that are unspoken or implicit, do not really exist outside of the culture in which the languages are spoken… not only can culture and language be taught together, they probably should be.” – Bush as in Kramsch

“Too much time is spent teaching imaginary content about fictional people and places rather than real content that tells the students something about the real world and real people.” – Cook

“Authentic materials, particularly audio-visual ones, offer a much richer source of input for learners and have the potential to be exploited in different ways and on different levels to develop learners’ communicative competence.” – Gilmore

“To keep information in working memory from fading it must be constantly repeated.” – Cook (this is called the articulatory loop – the faster you repeat things, the more you can remember)

“If we cannot say the sounds quickly, our short-term memory span will be very restricted and consequently we will face severe difficulties with the processing of language and with storing the language in our long-term memory. The lack of emphasis on pronunciation in language teaching in recent years has hampered not only the students ability to pronounce words, but also their fundamental capacity to process and learn the language. Pronunciation should be taken more seriously, not just for its own sake, but as the basis for speaking and comprehending.” – Cook

3) to summarize the best way to learn new vocabulary…

Notes from Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition edited by Coady & Huckin

New vocabulary items need to be learned in a meaningful and authentic context with plenty of audio-visual reinforcement. They should not be learned in isolation or by rote memorization.  Repetition of words and phrases (out loud!) and linking this new vocabulary to existing knowledge is also essential.

“Rehearsal at regular intervals is much more effective than massive rehearsal at infrequent intervals.” – Hulstijn (i.e. study in short bursts!)

“Learning items together that are near synonyms, opposites, or free associates is much more difficult than learning unrelated items.” – Nation & Newton

The easiest words to learn are:
1. Concrete words that can be  visualized
2. Frequent words which are mostly functional
3. Cognates with the native language

The hardest words to learn are, of course, abstract words and as they are usually forgotten first, they should be the focus of the majority of time devoted to learning vocabulary.

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  • http://nouvellevieenfrance.blogspot.com/ Katie

    You are definitely meant to be a linguist someday soon! :)
    .-= Katie´s last blog ..Julia Child’s "My Life in France" =-.

  • http://nouvellevieenfrance.blogspot.com/ Katie

    You are definitely meant to be a linguist someday soon! :)
    .-= Katie´s last blog ..Julia Child’s "My Life in France" =-.

  • Rebecca

    This sounds like part of the argument I got into with the woman proctoring the speaking part of my DALF exam a while ago: she insisted that she’d met someone who’d learned perfect French from reading a dictionary, never having seen a French sentence or heard French spoken. Uhm, what?

  • Rebecca

    This sounds like part of the argument I got into with the woman proctoring the speaking part of my DALF exam a while ago: she insisted that she’d met someone who’d learned perfect French from reading a dictionary, never having seen a French sentence or heard French spoken. Uhm, what?

  • http://laprochainefois.blogspot.com/ cathy

    love your quotes! thanks for sharing. i think that regardless of what method one picks to learn… in the beginning, i feel it’s crucial to be near someone who can spot when you’re doing something wrong. which is why i don’t understand rosetta stone, or books aimed at people with no knowledge and not to be used in a classroom setting.
    .-= cathy´s last blog ..happy first birthday, lpf! =-.

  • http://laprochainefois.blogspot.com cathy

    love your quotes! thanks for sharing. i think that regardless of what method one picks to learn… in the beginning, i feel it’s crucial to be near someone who can spot when you’re doing something wrong. which is why i don’t understand rosetta stone, or books aimed at people with no knowledge and not to be used in a classroom setting.
    .-= cathy´s last blog ..happy first birthday, lpf! =-.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    @Rebecca: Haha, suuuuuuuuuure they learned to SPEAK a language without ever HEARING it. Because that’s been working out so well for the deaf population, right? I hate when people who have absolutely no knowledge of second language acquisition think they know everything about learning languages.

    @Cathy: I agree, learners definitely need feedback and correction from a teacher. Just because a sentence is grammatically correct doesn’t mean that it’s all that common or that native speakers ever use it.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie

    @Rebecca: Haha, suuuuuuuuuure they learned to SPEAK a language without ever HEARING it. Because that’s been working out so well for the deaf population, right? I hate when people who have absolutely no knowledge of second language acquisition think they know everything about learning languages.

    @Cathy: I agree, learners definitely need feedback and correction from a teacher. Just because a sentence is grammatically correct doesn’t mean that it’s all that common or that native speakers ever use it.

  • kathy

    @Jennie: Actually deaf and some Deaf individuals CAN in fact speak a language without being able to hear. Parents often don’t want to integrate their children into the Deaf community and choose for thme to have an oral education instead. i get that you probably meant that they don’t speak perfectly. Sorry, i just go a little overboard when people make comments about that. I am sure it was just my interpretation of what you said since words can seem different when written down. Anyway, not that Deaf people actually need to learn to speak since they sign actual languages.

  • kathy

    @Jennie: Actually deaf and some Deaf individuals CAN in fact speak a language without being able to hear. Parents often don’t want to integrate their children into the Deaf community and choose for thme to have an oral education instead. i get that you probably meant that they don’t speak perfectly. Sorry, i just go a little overboard when people make comments about that. I am sure it was just my interpretation of what you said since words can seem different when written down. Anyway, not that Deaf people actually need to learn to speak since they sign actual languages.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    @kathy: I meant that deaf people cannot pronounce the words like a native speaker and have an accent when they speak because they are not able to receive the oral input. I was just trying to make the point that in order to learn pronunciation properly, one must listen all the time. If you never hear the sounds, you can never pronounce them correctly.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie

    @kathy: I meant that deaf people cannot pronounce the words like a native speaker and have an accent when they speak because they are not able to receive the oral input. I was just trying to make the point that in order to learn pronunciation properly, one must listen all the time. If you never hear the sounds, you can never pronounce them correctly.

  • kathy

    @jennie: True. I also fail to understand how someone can learn a language by reading a dictionary. Forget the speaking part, how do they even learn conjugation, grammar, expressions, etc. One of life’s great mysteries if true.

  • kathy

    @jennie: True. I also fail to understand how someone can learn a language by reading a dictionary. Forget the speaking part, how do they even learn conjugation, grammar, expressions, etc. One of life’s great mysteries if true.

  • lillie

    i want to learn how 2 speak french any advice?????????????????? i got a quiz tommorow!!!!!!!!!HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • lillie

    i want to learn how 2 speak french any advice?????????????????? i got a quiz tommorow!!!!!!!!!HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://allhotelsuk.blogspot.com/ Gavin Boyd

    I admire your desire and flexablitiy to learn different launguages. I would love to learn spanish or french but I have found it dificult in the past.
    .-= Gavin Boyd´s last blog ..Cardiff Station Hotel Gets Redevelopment Go-Ahead =-.

  • http://allhotelsuk.blogspot.com/ Gavin Boyd

    I admire your desire and flexablitiy to learn different launguages. I would love to learn spanish or french but I have found it dificult in the past.
    .-= Gavin Boyd´s last blog ..Cardiff Station Hotel Gets Redevelopment Go-Ahead =-.

  • Tania

    does anyone know who “Cook” is?  I’m trying to cite one of his above quotes, and a first name or year that he said this would be extremely helpful!

    -Thanks

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    As noted in the post, citations are on the bibliography page: http://ielanguages.com/bibliography.html

    Cook, V. (2001). Second Language Learning and Language Teaching. London: Hodder Arnold.

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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