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.

Dr. Wagner has a PhD in Linguistics and is dedicated to learning and teaching languages online and abroad. She has studied in Quebec and Australia, taught English in France, and is currently based in the US.