Learning the ‘Proper’ way – WHAT does that MEAN these days?


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In the old days……when a person decided to learn a language, there was a definite direction they took. They looked for a language centre in their area that had the best reputation, checked if it was within their budget, registered and attended the course. This was really the only way.

This way is still worthwhile and does tend to be the method of choice by most who are serious about learning a language, however there are many other ways nowadays that people pick up a language:

  • Watching films and television programs in the language of choice and following the subtitles
  • Connecting on facebook with someone who speaks the desired language
  • Doing an online course
  • Attending functions and seminars locally that are delivered in the language of choice
  • Making a friend with a person from that language

Some of these are relevant from the past also, but some are new. The question still remains however, what the word ‘proper’ means.

When we think of ‘proper’ we think of correct, but these days English (for example) is generally everywhere you want it to be and usually standing next to the local language e.g. on road signs, directions, pamphlets, registration forms, websites, passports, airport signs, etc …the list goes on.

The question to ask is, though this may help the learner to see the language being used in the everyday context, does the person take away a permanent understanding of a word from this? I’m going to say – temporarily, and in particular if the script is different from language script already known e.g. Chinese and English.

I would say that the other forms of learning a language come from a similar situation, a necessity or a push from the heart of the person to absorb the words or phrases.

But is this a ‘proper’ way to learn?

I think it all comes down to the time spent doing it.  For example, if you are just sitting in a transit lounge in a country trying to attempt the local language, the absorption will be extremely temporary. However, if you are living in a new foreign city and the words around you are translated both into English and the foreign language, if you are there are a year at least, you will retain something.

To ensure ‘proper’ learning I believe we need to understand the process of learning.

  1. Desire to learn a new language
  2. Observe new language in usage
  3. Attempt new language in speaking, reading, writing and listening
  4. Observe if the communication is effective
  5. If not effective, evaluate, correct add repeat
  6. Repeat and develop
  7. Observe if the communication is effective
  8. If not effective, evaluate, correct and repeat
  9. And so on…

So the sense of ‘proper’ is not necessarily about attending a class, it is more about being able to understand the cyclical process of learning entangled with a desire to improve.

If you have a desire to improve, there needs to be a reason for that too. It could be:

  • For a job
  • For a new lover
  • For a university course
  • For the love of the language

Whatever it is, the desire to learn is the first and most important to focus on.

The next mindset to have is the desire to try, not be afraid to make a mistake and then correct and try again, etc. This is that cyclical process.

The final point is that ‘proper’ does tend to involve some kind of ‘standardised testing format’ that you the learner are working towards. If you pass that test that benchmarks you at a certain point of proficiency, if not, you can’t be considered a speaker of the language, which generally only a course can offer you. If you aren’t interested in a benchmark, you don’t need to consider a course, however, I have to say that most language learners are at least curious to know where they stand in terms of their proficiency.

At the end of the day, though I am not saying that everyone should take a course in the language of their choice, I am saying more that the learner has to understand the process of learning, and take that on as their process of developing their skill as soon as possible and so the outcome will come faster, more accurately and with greater significance.

That’s usually why people take a course, the teacher and course design sets up the process of learning the ‘proper’ way for you without you having to be disciplined on your own.

In the end – it’s up to you and your motivation and discipline.

What do you think?


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