The Future of Language Learning

What If Language Learning Were Individualized?

I remember my experiences in the language classroom. When I was a student of Latin, German, and Mandarin Chinese in my high school and college classrooms, we always followed the directions of the teacher and the textbooks. We always placed the focus on memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules for tests, but I noticed that as soon as I learned the rules and vocabulary for the tests and took the tests, I forgot a lot of what I learned. This especially showed when I and my parents hosted a German exchange student for six month my sophomore year of high school. I learned more German with her help than I did by simply sitting in the classroom and learning through textbooks.

Back in those days when I learned Latin, German, and Mandarin Chinese, used technique like writing vocabulary lists and in my Latin class writing out hundreds of flashcards, and writing out each Chinese character 20 times until my hands were hurting, so in the end I ended up forgetting most of what I learned. The human brain can only take in so much input at a time and be able to internalize it.

These days in the emerging digital age, there are all kinds of new (and not so new) methods for learning languages that I became aware of in the last five years. From an Irish polyglot showing you how to become fluent in 3 months to Spaced Repetition Systems like Anki, there are so many ways you can learn a language well outside of the classroom. The future of language learning is online and individualized.

(NOTE: Due to reading time constraints I’ll give you a short overview of these different kinds of language learning methods and resources that I’ll cover in more detail in future articles.)

  1. Speak From Day 1 Method — The Irish Polyglot Benny Lewis brands himself as a “language encourager”, he is a professional language coach and consultant who speaks around 10+ languages. He encourages people to start speaking their target language from day 1 to gain confidence in speaking. There isn’t a promise of becoming fluent right away with speaking from day 1, but the more you practice speaking the more comfortable you become. Having personally tried it I recommend it especially once you have put together words into simple phrases.
  2. Comprehensive Input — The linguist Stephen Krashen talks about comprehensive input, which is according to his extensive research in language education states that understanding spoken and written input, in other words, listening and reading a lot, will help in getting you fluent in a foreign language. Once again you won’t get fluent right away, but the more you practice the more you become comfortable. I recommend using simple texts and audio at first and slowly building upon that.
  3. Spaced Repetition Software — Spaced repetition software (SRS for short) is a learning technique that spaces units of time in between periods of review of previously learned material to help the language learner absorb information more effectively, such as writing systems, vocabulary, and phrases. Some of the most popular SRS systems include Anki, Memrise, and Duolingo. I’m a big fan of Duolingo myself and I need to get more into SRS methods so I will look for more websites that provie those kinds of learning techniques.

The future of language learning is going to rely a lot on these three methods and others and another point is that it will be focused on what the learner wants, not the teacher. Language teachers are indeed valuable, but what language learners learn outside of the classroom is just as important as what they learn inside the classroom. Stay tuned for much more on this subject.

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