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Learning Spanish Part Sixteen: This Time Do It Right!

I've been thinking about this lady in San Miguel de Allende. I don't know her well. I've never met her, actually, but we have corresponded. She told me that she's tried learning Spanish. She's spent money she didn't have to attend classes that yielded little in the way of spoken fluency in the language. Her experience? It's very typical. You come to Mexico, you might even come to live, and take classes only to find very little, if any, success in learning the language. Imagin...

mexico,mexican living,san miguel,guanajuato,spanish.learn spanish

I've been thinking about this lady in San Miguel de Allende. I don't know her well. I've never met her, actually, but we have corresponded. She told me that she's tried learning Spanish. She's spent money she didn't have to attend classes that yielded little in the way of spoken fluency in the language. Her experience? It's very typical. You come to Mexico, you might even come to live, and take classes only to find very little, if any, success in learning the language. Imagine the despair, the frustration, and the emptiness.

I've seen a trend in the research I've been doing lately. I've been looking at American expats in many different countries involved from Foreign Service to simple retirement. The overwhelming common theme that dominates almost all of the Americans in foreign countries is the linguistic inability to communicate with the locals of the country.

Some Americans, let's face it, do not want to learn the language. If they don't have to, why bother? They associate with other monolingual Americans and locals who speak English. In Asia during the 1950's, the locals called the enclaved Americans The Social Incest Club.

What is so sad to me are those who want to learn the language and make a valiant attempt only to fail. They want to significantly expand the social group with which to have communion and fellowship but they can't. They are forced either to mingle with the Gringolandia "Social Incest Clubs" exclusively or they remain alone and isolated. These are motivated people who need to know a secret.

The "Translation Method" of language instruction, the method which dominates almost everywhere, by design cannot work to teach you spoken fluency.

What are all the different language instruction methods that have come down the pike in the last 100 years? Why are there so many methods and which ones, if any, really work?

NEXT: What is the translation method?

 

Learning Spanish Part Seventeen: The Translation Method Of Language Instruction

The grammar translation method of second language acquisition is virtually the only method used in most language courses taught in classrooms all over the world. It is also known as The Classical Method. This method was developed over centuries to teach classical languages. Latin and Greek were seen as important "dead languages" to learn in order to read ancient texts, understand the origins and basics of the grammar and vocabulary of modern languages as well as the influence...

mexico,mexican living,san miguel,guanajuato,spanish,learn spanish

The grammar translation method of second language acquisition is virtually the only method used in most language courses taught in classrooms all over the world. It is also known as The Classical Method. This method was developed over centuries to teach classical languages. Latin and Greek were seen as important "dead languages" to learn in order to read ancient texts, understand the origins and basics of the grammar and vocabulary of modern languages as well as the influences Latin and Greek had on them.

Literally, you learn through the memorization of grammar rules and lifeless vocabulary (not taught in the context of real life speech) how to translate and read a piece of written text. Latin and Greek are still taught this way today, the same way as they have been taught for centuries. So are most modern languages. You engage in an unimaginably boring process and somehow, though no one tells you how, you are supposed to arrive at the goal you are seeking in taking these courses: spoken fluency.

The reason The Grammar Translation by design does not work to give you any degree of spoken fluency is because it concentrates on short and long-term memory. You have to engage in intense memory work to try and recall the rules of translation. You also have to try and engage memory for the massive amount of vocabulary you must remember for the written tests within the course and to perform translation tricks.

This method is still taught today because "that's how we've done it all these years." More than 40 years of linguistic research in second language acquisition is totally ignored in favor of, "that is how we've always done it." Tradition and blind allegiance is a woeful combination.

If what you are seeking is real fluency in speech and listening comprehension, then this method doesn't work. There really is a natural progression to acquiring speech no matter if it's your first or second language. It involves developing a "speech center" in your brain that is not connected to memory. When you are shown a picture of a cat, immediately in your brain you can utter the word "c-a-t" in your native language. You did not engage in short or long-term memory work in order to do this. It comes automatically without translation or even thinking. You "just know" the word for cat in your native tongue when you are shown the picture.

That's what you are shooting for in true second language acquisition. Not memory recall as is involved in The Grammar Translation Method. What you want is thinking in the language. The Grammar Translation Method is not going to give you that.

NEXT: The Direct Method

 

Learning Spanish Part Eighteen: The Direct Method Of Language Instruction

Realizing that The Grammar Translation Method of second language instruction did not work to impart spoken proficiency in the target language, in the late 1800's, The Direct Method surfaced in language instruction. The need for a system that worked to teach spoken competence is what drove those to create The Direct Method. What it entailed was methods of language acquisition that were more closely related to how first (native) languages were acquired. The main goal was to tea...

mexico,mexican living,san miguel,guanajuato,spanish,learn spanish

Realizing that The Grammar Translation Method of second language instruction did not work to impart spoken proficiency in the target language, in the late 1800's, The Direct Method surfaced in language instruction. The need for a system that worked to teach spoken competence is what drove those to create The Direct Method. What it entailed was methods of language acquisition that were more closely related to how first (native) languages were acquired. The main goal was to teach how to think in the second language and move as far away as possible from the harmful grammar-first approach. It did not seek to make constant references to one's first or native language, as does The Grammar Translation Method.

The Direct Method brought a new wave of thought into second language teaching. The shift in philosophy of second language education led its proponents to believe that all instruction should be taught in the target language with no translation into the learner's native tongue. The emphasis was in forming connections between meaning and the second language being learned. One of the major and famous advocates of The Direct Method was Charles Berlitz. His schools still employ this method and are famous worldwide.

The basic idea was to learn to think in the language one wanted to learn. This was to be done without relating the learner's first language to the second language at all. Through the use of picture and pantomime, meaning was to be conveyed. The objective was to make links between meaning and the target language. If you were shown a picture of a cat, the word c-a-t in English would not be used to help you learn that in Spanish, the word is gato. The picture would convey the meaning of the word spoken by the teacher.

A problem with The Direct Method is that it met with opposition in public schools that are governed by strong political forces. Second language learning, for communicative purposes, was never popular in education and especially in mainstream America. Budgets, time, classroom size, and teacher incompetence were all cited reasons for sending The Direct Method into decline in the public eye. It is still employed in private schools.

It is the basis for The Audiolingual Method of Second Language Instruction.

NEXT: The Audiolingual Method

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