The Natural Order of Language Acquisition
I’m always amazed when I talk to people about language learning, how much pressure we needlessly place on ourselves. Ego, paradigm, we just don’t like to wait… call it whatever you want – when it comes to language, people seldom claim that learning a foreign language is easy! Words like “Fast” and “Easy” are the by words of language schools who are trying to convince you that their program is better than the rest.
So, we take something admittedly difficult, and we attempt to do everything at once! I mean does this make any sense at all?
Think about the skills you need to understand a person when they’re speaking to you. What’s going on? You’ve got to correctly understand all those sounds, tones of voice, overall context and specific words. Sometimes it’s technical in nature. Sometimes it’s very emotional incoming stuff. Sometimes, it can even have humor with the bite of truth, or hidden meanings that aren’t just sitting on the surface. In every case, you need to know it if you’re really going to communicate. And that’s just the Listening side of things.
What about the need to speak? What needs to be in place? Of course first of all, you need to have something to say. But then you need to vocabulary, you need the grammar, you need to context and the right tonal inflection, and you need to have the confidence and correct body language if you want to really convey the right message. And that’s just the Speaking side of things.
There’s Reading and there’s Writing as well.
What I find amazing is that somehow, we adults are able to take something that we’ve all done well in naturally, turn in into a subject that few people really enjoy and even fewer seem to do well at, and then try to EVERYTHING AT ONCE!
Think about it. What makes sense about trying to do it all at once? None of us, bar none, ever did anything like that in our native language. In fact, we probably don’t know of anyone who has done it well all at once either.
I’m not known for my language house perhaps but to me there’s always seemed to be a natural order to language acquisition.
I don’t know of a builder anywhere who would suggest building the second or third floor of the house before setting in a good foundation. Why do that with language?
I have lived in Thailand long enough to know that the reality is, very few of us are where we want to be in our language ability. Perhaps we ought to give a bit more than a second or two of thought to the idea that a good foundation is the basis for a solid structure – always – and never the other way around.