What do you think are the ideal conditions for learning a language?
A question like this could lead to a variety of answers with the focus on many different conditions and areas. However, in such a case it might be beneficial to concentrate on the most basic conditions which are common across all advice for language learning, namely:
- Active Receptive Engagement
- Active Productive Engagement
Whether a language is being learnt by attending a course, using a teach-yourself guide or simply extracting language from a friend or a newspaper, in all three cases the Target Language can only be extracted, processed and acquired if the learner actively engages with the language.
This means that a learner could learn a language completely on their own or with a teacher – in either case, any language they are exposed to must be under the condition that elements of it are later engaged, exploited and explored.
After having gone through the process of engaging with the target language, the learner now has to engage in producing it.
To give an example, let’s take the target language of asking ‘how are you?’ along with a variety of responses: the learner has used a dictionary, a teacher or some alternative approach to understand:
– the meaning
– the pronunciation
– the form
The learner now has to create the conditions for actively producing the target language: that could be testing it out with a friend or talking to the wall, creating the real-life scenario in their head.
This seems to be well supported by Kolb’s Learning Cycle, which contains the following stages:
1. Concrete Experience: Exposure to the language
2. Reflective Observation: Engaging with the language
3. Abstract Conceptualisation: Understanding the language
4. Active Experimentation: Producing the language
Here I would suggest adding a 5th stage which would look at gaining feedback on their Active Experimentation, namely:
5. Reflective Feedback: Reflecting on the language use
In this stage, the learner might simply take on board some correction in pronunciation which they have received from another speaker, or alternatively they might note a subtle difference in use by the other speaker; for example, the learner asks ‘how are you’ expecting to hear ‘I’m fine thanks’ but instead hears ‘fine, and you?’.
In short, it seems the ideal conditions for language learning are not determined by superficial environmental conditions, such as being in the country where the language is spoken or having the motivation to learn – though I am sure these factors do help – but rather by the approach the learner takes for engaging with the language and going through the learning cycle step by step.