The real advantages to online language learning and you (Part 1)
The real advantages to online Second Language Acquisition (SLA) are the multitude of resources available. Any where from rock bottom free to high priced online software programs that allow for speech recognition.
So what is the best approach?
Well, it depends.
First, what is your current level of target language exposure?
If you are a total beginner then there are so many resources to choose from that will get you started. Don’t be afraid to try as many as you can. The more exposure to “what’s out there” the better. You will soon find what works for you and what engages and holds your interest.
If you already have some target language exposure, i.e. high school, online, living abroad/travel or from some neighbor, friend or ex or current significant other, then I suggest going to a resource that can adequately get you to the next step in your language learning journey.
Because we are talking about online resources, this consists of some sort of structured course/program and/or online target language community.
I don’t like this either per se, but if you want to take the language you’ve started to learn and finally make it the language you’ve always wanted, then its best to face the facts.
The reason for this is that once you have some background in the target language, the “FREE” material for the most part will only refresh what you already know or have forgotten.
“FREE” may offer up some new vocabulary and hopefully some entertainment, but when was the last time you used what you learned from the free stuff and got meaningful results via entering into a conversation with a native speaker and feeling like a confident partner in that exchange?
If you want to progress further, it is time to invest, either monetarily in a comprehensive course that meets your language level goals or with a time commitment within the chosen target language community.
I cannot overstate that you get what you pay for. Not that you have to give a months salary for the privilege of learning a new language, but if you want quality instruction with a few of the SLA bells and whistles, it comes with a cost: either time and/or money.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, what are your goals? (Again it’s going to get back to either an investment of time and/or money. What follows is how to make the most of that investment so that you reach you goal.)
If you want to give adequate instructions to your Spanish speaking gardener or negotiate pricing, then a minimal thematic run through should start you on the right path. For this, there are programs out there that will get you going. Your favorite shrub may still get butchered or you may pay way more than expected but at least you will know you need to study a bit more vigorously for next time.
If your goal is a bit more lofty, perhaps, planning to travel to a foreign country for the cultural experience or maybe wanting to communicate with your significant other’s family, you may need quite a bit more.
And when I say more, I mean, more time and effort both researching what meets your learning needs and how much time and money you are willing to spend to accomplish those goals.
But here is the thing. . .
The real advantages to online language learning and you (Part 2)
Do you want to speak the target language or learn its grammar? By this I mean, do you want to communicate orally with native speakers or read a book?
Many people feel that knowing the correct grammar rules is quintessential for communication.
Well, let’s think about it for a moment.
Not that this is bad. Grammar has its place, but placing grammar “perfection” before communication is counter productive.
It’s just not realistic. The mental processing required in referencing grammar rules referred to as the “filter,” (Krashen), hampers oral fluency.
Unless you have SLA academia in mind as your goal, my suggestion is that you start by getting the best conversational instruction available and start speaking at every opportunity that presents itself.
So, what is the best conversational instruction available?
Well, let’s start with the basics of SLA.
Get the sufficient aural input of the target language. That means a lot of repetitions. The more the better until you understand it completely.
So how do you accomplish this?
1. Have that input be comprehensible. Use resources that encourage understanding. Gibberish will not suffice. No matter how long you listen to intelligible information, you won’t grasp it until you understand it.
2. Allow/force yourself opportunities to create “pushed output”. This means that you attempt to interact with what you learn. Don’t just sit back and passively listen. Engage in the language learning experience.
3. Shadow, or mimic/repeat what you hear. Affirm that you understand a statement.
4. Respond either mentally or verbally to questions posed.
This is active participation and is the key component in SLA. (2, 3, and 4 are essentially the same but bear repeating)
The only way to progress is to get involved.
(Sleeping with a text under your pillow just won’t do it. Darn it. That would be so much easier.)
However, the rewards of interacting with your learning materials will give you the gains that you aspire to obtain, albeit over time. I’m not saying that it’s easy. I’m saying that if you want to join in the conversation with native speakers with as much confidence as you can muster, it’s easier to practice before hand and have a base comprehension knowledge of the language material that you have practiced.
Otherwise, you will be painfully lost.
Even if you do practice ardently, you may still find yourself lost.
However, there is a difference that should become apparent. If you put in the work in an effective manner, the results will be a noticeable accessibility to what is being communicated in the target language.
You may not understand it all and that is fine.
What is important is that you begin to understand bits and pieces of the conversation during daily language exposure and that will allow you to engage deeper into the interaction.
Once this happens, you will know the process is taking shape.
The starting point is knowing where you are at and what you want to achieve. From there, you investigate, decide and commit to taking action.
Patience is key.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and having a full blown conversation with a native speaker covering a wide range of topics will not likely happen immediately either. What will happen is the glimpse into the possibility that you can do it. It’s the “Sí se puede/Yes, you can” attitude.
If you apply that, you’ll accomplish whatever your learning goals might be.