The Best Way to Learn a Foreign Language

I taught Spanish in the public school classroom for 10 years, mostly at the high school level, then to homeschooled students (mine and others) for about 8 years. I am not a fan of traditional, formal curricula for foreign language learning. Some students will learn in spite of them… but many more inevitably wind up complaining, “I took x number of years and can’t speak a word.”The long-term retention (even short-term retention, in many cases) just isn’t there.

Fortunately, there are brilliant and talented professionals who have analyzed how the brain works and how we human beings acquire language. If you want to be sure that your curriculum choice aligns with how your child’s brain works, check out the following articles by Dr. Stephen Krashen and Dr. James Asher.

Dr. Asher’s article “Language By Command: The Total Physical Response Approach to Learning Language” explains his effective TPR method and describes the results. The claim is phenomenal:

“In study after study for 25 years, laboratory experiments and classroom observations have demonstrated results that were extremely positive. When the instructor skillfully uses the target language to direct the student’s behavior, understanding of the utterance is transparent, often in only one exposure. Also, the understanding is achieved without stress and then retained for weeks, months, and even years.”

My personal experiences as a language learner AND as a teacher of foreign language completely agree with Dr. Asher’s studies and observations!  Don’t we all want those positive results, transparent understanding, accelerated learning, and long-term retention??

A fascinating article by Dr. Stephen Krashen highlights the advantages of natural approaches that offer students comprehensible input or CI.  He indicates that “communicative situations” help students to acquire the language:

“Students in classes that provide lots of comprehensible input (e.g. methods such as TPRS) consistently do better than students in traditional grammar-based classes on tests that involve real communication and do just as well, and often better, on grammar tests. These students have acquired the grammar and vocabulary of the language naturally, and can use what they have acquired in real communicative situations. They are also more likely to continue foreign language study.”

The value of CI and “communicative situations” is confirmed as Dr. Krashen explores the intriguing success story of a Hebrew learner named Armando.  Armando became so fluent that he actually fooled native speakers, prompting Krashen to consider the implications for optimal foreign language acquisition. His conclusions:

“Armando’s case…shows us that one can do quite well in second language acquisition without living in the country in which the language is spoken and without formal instruction. The crucial variables appear to be comprehensible input and having a good relationship with speakers of the language.”

Dr. Krashen also believes that a complete absence of formal grammar instruction appears to be irrelevant as it relates to the successful acquisition of a second language!  Yet what is the focus of so many foreign language programs?  Isolated grammar!

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Why do we keep doing this??

Putting the research into my own words, this is how I would describe effective foreign language curricula:
1. Lessons mimic real-life situations using as MANY senses as possible… sight, taste, touch, etc.
2. Vocabulary words and structures are embedded in meaningful contexts (no rote drills).
3. Interest level is high–topics or situations are appealing to students.
4. Low–preferably zero–frustration for the student. Foreign language learning should be pleasant!

Excelerate Lesson 1

Excelerate SPANISH combines TPR with comprehensible input (CI) and realistic “communicative situations,” and further adds humor and suspense in order to fulfill each of the criteria above.  The TPR element appeals to visual and kinesthetic learners and activates the motor cortices of our brains, accessing more of the brain than so-called “traditional” methods.  Exciting action sequences, fun stories, and stimulating reading material draw upon the retaining power of the limbic system.  24 full-length lesson videos on 4 DVDs provide all of the necessary instruction for the program, and the coordinating lesson book and workbook furnish students with practice opportunities, activity suggestions, and more.  And of course, the answer keys take any guesswork out of the equation!  It’s comprehensive and easy to use.

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