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What is the one thing that makes a good language learner?

Discussion in 'Modern foreign languages' started by minka1, Dec 17, 2016.

  1. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

  2. Lara mfl 05

    Lara mfl 05 Star commenter

    A good memory certainly helps with acquiring the vocab but an 'ear' and a willingness to experiment and make mistakes help tremendously with the learning process.
    ViolaClef likes this.
  3. dunnocks

    dunnocks Star commenter

  4. lifereallyistooshort

    lifereallyistooshort New commenter

  5. Geoff Thomas

    Geoff Thomas Lead commenter

    Sorry - I am going to disagree.

    I know five year olds in many countries across Europe and beyond, all of whom speak their parents' language(s) perfectly (for a 5-year-old), and some of whom are already getting to grips with a different way of seeing the world.

    I am close to Lara's ideas, but for me - introducing a first foreign language to an eleven-year-old who has only English is a recipe for failure.

    I know it doesn't help you nice people, but really, you are being asked to do the impossible.
  6. Bungie

    Bungie New commenter

    Lara mfl 05 likes this.
  7. dunnocks

    dunnocks Star commenter

    I think that old myth about having a "window" age for language learning has been pretty much debunked by modern neurological research.

    I think that old myth about having a "window" age for language learning is still shackling the vast majority of the UK population by setting up extremely low expectations of their potential and likely success before they even start.

    Languages are or equal, the number of languages you speak is not an indicator of your understanding, vocabularly or articulatness! You can speak 1 language and have twice the vocabulary of someone who speaks 3
    sbkrobson likes this.
  8. NewToTeachingOldToMaths

    NewToTeachingOldToMaths Lead commenter

    The good language learner must have a certain je ne sais quoi :D
  9. roulette

    roulette New commenter

    What makes a good language learner? A good language teacher. of course! There are precious few of them around these days, unfortunately.
    Geoff Thomas and Lara mfl 05 like this.
  10. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    A typical graph of the forgetting curve purports to show that humans tend to halve their memory of newly learned knowledge in a matter of days or weeks unless they consciously review the learned material. I cannot think of any subject taught at school that taxes the memory so much. Add in little contact time with subject , negative attitudes of pupils and uninteresting curriculum and it's really not surprising why we suck at languages.
    Geoff Thomas and Lara mfl 05 like this.
  11. Incommunicado

    Incommunicado Occasional commenter

    The absence of uncooperative, disaffected, disruptive classmates.
  12. Geoff Thomas

    Geoff Thomas Lead commenter

    I was fortunate to learn a foreign language on an intensive course - seven hours a day, five days a week.

    We had weekly tests. Within two months of starting the course, the weekly tests were of O-Level standard.
  13. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    What was the point of the course, how long ago was it and has anything of the course stayed with you?
  14. Geoff Thomas

    Geoff Thomas Lead commenter

    Work related, fifty years plus, still speak the language accurately although have lost some vocabulary through lack of regular use.
  15. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    I would venture to guess most students who do not succeed at mfl would not blame it on themselves having the wrong attitude or not showing diligence or posessing a certain je ne sais quoi or the disruptions of uncooperative , disaffected, disruptive classmates . I think most would say they have difficulty in retaining the amount of vocabulary that is thrown at them. And once you fall behind it's impossible to catch up. Most students would blame themselves and say they have a bad memory and once that idea takes root it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. And that is when you get the bad attitudes and lack of diligence and uncooperative , disaffected and disruptive students. It's because the root cause is not addressed that the other problems come into being. But MFL teachers in UK do not seem to recognise this.
  16. Incommunicado

    Incommunicado Occasional commenter

    Minka....... "most would say they have difficulty in retaining the amount of vocabulary that is thrown at them."

    Are you suggesting that they need to be taught LESS vocabulary?

    And "It's because the root cause is not addressed" - what is this root cause? Being taught too much vocabulary?
  17. minka1

    minka1 Occasional commenter

    Not less vocabulary because the amount of vocabulary that a gcse mfl student comes out with by the time of exams is already barely useful in the real world . We need more vocabulary acquisition learnt with more effective methods than presently used. Teachers need to become more knowledgeable about how memory works and how it can be improved. Students are effectively taught what to remember but not how to remember.
  18. Incommunicado

    Incommunicado Occasional commenter

    Minka.... "We need more vocabulary acquisition learnt with more effective methods than presently used. Teachers need to become more knowledgeable about how memory works and how it can be improved. Students are effectively taught what to remember but not how to remember."

    Yes! Yes! Yes! I couldn't agree more.

    I've felt for years that not enough has been said about the workings of memory in MFL, nor about "imprinting" new information in students.

    I hope more posters will contribute to this thread now that this issue has been raised. Have you come across information about teaching students how to remember? Or is this an area that still needs to be researched?
  19. Dodros

    Dodros Lead commenter

    As well as teaching French and German, I used to work with students with SEN, who often presented with learning retention issues. Here's a message on memory in MFL I posted earlier this year on the TES MFL forum:

    In the early stages of MFL, you have to find a way of getting vocabulary from short-term memory (which can be very short in some students) and into long-term memory for later recall. Sometimes it helps to link a new piece of terminology to a funny or bizarre image. When I learned Latin in my boys' grammar school 50 years ago, I had trouble recalling the Latin words "tandem" (at last) and "paene" (almost). My mother, who knew some Latin from her own education, came up with "'At last' they said when they got off the tandem" and "The pie-ne is almost ready". I still remember those aides-mémoire to this very day, even though I do have the usual "senior moments" in retirement.

    When several items of vocabulary have to be committed to memory at once, it can pay to use mnemonics to support memorisation. In the TES Resource base you will find a resource of mine entitled "Subject to recall: memory activities across the curriculum". It covers the entire National Curriculum list of core and foundation subjects and introduces the mnemonics that have evolved within each to memorise key learning points and terminology. You will find the booklet at https://www.tes.com/teaching-resour...mory-activities-across-the-curriculum-3000821.

    You can make up your own funny or bizarre memory "triggers", using the student's own ingenuity or interests to make the exercise more enjoyable and enduring. Another strategy worth considering is getting the student to make a sound recording of these keywords and to play it back regularly, particularly if the teacher is proposing to assess how well the class has assimilated the new terms. And use the " Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check" method to reinforce spelling (see, for example, http://www.theschoolrun.com/Look-Cover-Write-Check-explained). Word meanings should be thoroughly understood too and that is best done from the context of a sentence where the other words support that meaning rather than in isolation.
    Lara mfl 05 likes this.
  20. Incommunicado

    Incommunicado Occasional commenter

    Thanks for that, Dodros. I'm still hoping more contributors will offer thoughts on Minka's point, ie teaching students HOW to remember, as well as what to remember.
    I've been thinking about my own experience of remembering vocabulary: obviously those of us who have studied MFLs to degree level have been memorising vocabulary successfully, but not always by means of an identifiable method. For the most part we 'just remember' it.

    I recall waiting for a train with a school party at a small station on a wooded hillside in Germany. A lizard appeared, and one kid asked "What's the German for a lizard, sir?" I told him "ein Eidechse", and he asked "How did you know that?" On thinking about that question I remembered that when we were about 15 or 16 (40-ish years previously) in school, our German teacher gave us an exercise in which he read out a text, in German which we had to listen to and re-write in our own words. It was about a boy who brought his pet lizard to school, and "ein Eidechse" appeared in it. That was the only time in my life that I encountered that word.
    Similarly a colleague in our department once asked me what are "santons"? (French). I told her that they were hand-carved figures for a crib - I knew this because I had come across the word in Marcel Pagnol's 'La Gloire de Mon Pere', once only in my lifetime.
    So, it seems possible for successful linguists to 'just remember' foreign words without resorting to methods. I could actually remember the moment of learning those 2 words. However, I was reading something in French the other day and had no difficulty with the word 'ardoise' - a slate - but this time I have no recollection at all as to when/where I learnt it.

    I do remember resorting to a 'method' when learning Russian at University (from scratch). We'd been told that the Russian for 'ceiling' was 'putalok',(emphasis on the last syllable) but I kept forgetting it - hardly a cognate! After having to look it up 3 or 4 times I decided to devise a way of remembering it: "ceiling" ... think of the alternative spelling "sealing" ... what do you do when you are "sealing" something?...you PUT A LOCK on it. End of problem!

    I have recounted this anecdote to students to try to show them how you can invent ways of remembering things - it has been successful, and there have been times when I've bumped into former students after many, many years, and they have been happy to remind me of 'putalok', the only Russian word they'd ever learnt, but never forgotten.

    The creative ways that students remember vocab always impress me - one told me that to remember the French for 'skating' - 'patinage' - she thought of a skater making 'patterns' on the ice. I'm sure we've all heard many other examples.

    In reality, though, we can't always find a way to help students to remember EVERY item of vocab - there seems little alternative to simply applying oneself and making a determined and committed effort to remember them (if the will is there). If there were a clear way, then all our students would be successful linguists. Hopefully we will find ways of at least increasing the number of words they can successfully learn.

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