How has language learning changed in 22 years?
In many ways, language learning hasn't changed in the past twenty-two years that I have been teaching. The core of it, i.e., understanding and using a new logical system by practising all four skills - listening, speaking, reading, and writing - equally remains the same.
Different sorts of methodology have been introduced in course books, from the 'sink or swim' approach to a more paced one, with varying degrees of success. Different tools as well, such as CD-ROMs, whiteboards, and virtual classrooms, to name but a few. The quality of vocabulary books, grammar books, and simplified readers has improved, especially when it comes to learning French and the range has increased as well.
Flying is cheaper and more accessible, inciting many to not only go on holiday abroad, but also to buy properties and retire there. And, as a result, far more people are willing to learn languages these days.
Of course, the biggest difference is that classes don't have be taught face-to-face, as we've seen during the past two years and a half (fortunately, I was already teaching online by the time the pandemic hit us).
But the main difference I see between the first time I taught languages and now, is that full immersion is no longer just about living in the country, and it hasn't been for quite some time.
Of course, in an ideal world, my students would all have the flexibility, time, and money to move abroad for a short or indefinite period, which is by far the quickest way to learn a language, as long as they actively use it while being there, which is not always a given.
Not being in the country is still a reason some of my students use, when we first speak, for not embracing their learning, but one that I quickly pull apart, by showing them that the Internet provides a wealth of content that does make for the fact that they haven't moved abroad.
In fact, I go as far as saying that these days, there is no excuse for not creating the conditions for a full linguistic immersion from home, not when you have at your disposal the following on the Internet in the language you're studying:
- dictionaries and thesauruses.
- conjugation websites.
- fiction, non-fiction books, newspapers, and magazines.
- blogs about any topic under the sun written by native speakers.
- TV, YouTube channels, and videos.
- films/series/documentaries (with/without subtitles in the original language or English).
- radio stations, songs, and a myriad of podcasts.
- tutorials and courses on any topic under the sun created by native speakers.
- conversation/social meetup groups and apps.
- language/word games and gaming.
In other words, this is content that helps students practise listening, speaking, reading and writing on a regular basis, which is what I keep on encouraging my students to do in between lessons.
There's a caveat though, which is that you need a teacher to guide through that wealth of online content, so that you don't up using tools that either don't correspond to your level or are poorly made. With the latter, I'm thinking of language apps or online lessons not designed by language teachers or dictionaries not created by lexicographers, for example.
Not everyone can teach languages, not everyone can create methods to learn languages either. I'm a linguist, I'm trilingual, and I have thoughts about the content I use and would be happy to give feedback to publishers, especially since I've worked for Pearson Education and Cambridge University Press (EFL), but I wouldn't dream of writing any in-depth methods or content. The only thing I have created, are learning guides for French in the shape of packages, to help you get started.
You don't need to have a language bookshop, library, or language centre near you to start learning a language. You don't need to spend a fortune either. It is still however a commitment that you need to make, in order to become fully proficient in the language you've chosen.
Having content at your fingertips does not mean that the process can be simplified or expedited. Learning a language takes time and means exploring a new logical system, a new culture, and a new country (possibly several, depending on the language you're learning). And twenty-two years later, seeing my students empowered with language and becoming independent speakers, is as satisfying as it's always been.
Don't hesitate to send me your questions.