Monday, February 29, 2016

What you need to know to learn a foreign language

Paul Nation's book What you need to know to learn a foreign language is available for free download from Victoria University's website. It's a quick read aimed at educating the general public about language learning. It's a relatively recent book, published in August 2014 - practically hot off the digital presses as these things go.

In short, the book offers some useful insights into language learning and very practical advice to people meandering about how to approach studying a new language. Some teasers:

Learn through listening and reading:

- Extensive reading

- Narrow reading

-  Intensive reading

- Should you reread books?

- How much reading do you need to do?

 - Reading while listening

- How much vocabulary do you need to know to watch a movie?

- Finding out about useful words and phrases by using a concordancer

Learn through speaking and writing

- 4/3/2 activity

- Prepared talks

- Memorized sentences and dialogues

- Developing writing fluency

- Delayed copying

- Transcription

-  Read, watch, listen and write

Deliberate study of language features

-  Word cards

Get fluent at using what you know

Learning rates for “Easy” and “Hard” languages

The Four Strands

"A large part of this book focuses on the principle of the four strands. This principle
says that in order to have a proper balance of opportunities for learning, we need to
spend about one quarter of our time learning through input, about one quarter of
our time learning through output, about one quarter of our time doing deliberate
learning, and about one quarter of our time working with easy input and output in
order to develop fluency."

Is there a best method for learning a language?

"Unfortunately, the answer is no. Language learning can occur through all kinds of methods. What is most important is that good principles of learning are applied."

Paul Nation is Emeritus Professor in Applied Linguistics at the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies (LALS) at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.