language learning

How to persist in learning?

persistAnyone who has ever started learning a language knows that there is a really great chasm between the desire to do something and bringing it to an end. In many cases reading different motivational texts is not enough. The initial fervor quickly goes out when encountering unforeseen obstacles, and they do not have to be large at all. One tiny little thing can turn upside down the entire study plan. Fortunately, some of these problems can be prevented, and this is exactly what this text will be about. The rest is up to you.

1. Do not force yourself to learn a language

It is true that nowadays knowing foreign languages is a desirable skill. However, you cannot afford to get yourself carried away by trends or promptings of friends. If you do not learn from necessity or because it is a source of direct or indirect pleasure for you, you should simply let go. There is no point in forcing yourself to do something you are not convinced of, when you can devote your leisure time to develop various passions.

2. Do not announce your goal

It is quite widely believed that telling your family and friends about your plan of learning a language will help you achieve that goal. Unfortunately, this is not true and can be even harmful. Language learning is a continuous process in which the limits of fluency are really blurred. It is difficult to objectively assess whether someone has made the expected progress. This can be the cause of unjustified criticism on the part of others, which lowers the motivation for action, or overestimating one’s efforts, with the result that the person stops trying so hard.

Publicly challenging yourself can also end in a different course. It is not uncommon for people from one’s environment not to take such a declaration seriously, to not be concerned about whether someone has actually got cracking. In some cases, this may result in the learner throwing away his or her learning goal completely, feeling insufficient external motivation to continue. In addition, the study of people who have bragged about what they were about to do has shown that it has not helped them, and has even given them the belief that they have done more than they actually did, and due to that their results were worse.

3. Avoid general goals

When learning a language, you cannot suddenly declare that you have learned it. A similar rule applies to reaching the levels of its knowledge – these abstract borders only approximately define  your skills. If you want to measure your progress objectively, you need to set more specific goals instead of general ones, such as going through a chapter or textbook, learning how to order something in a restaurant, memorizing  a list of words, communicating with somebody without having to look into a dictionary or reading a text with a satisfactory understanding, etc. All of these are things achieving of which shows with great accuracy how much you can already do.

4. Plan only as much as necessary

If you think that you are doing it right by planning everything from start to finish, you are unfortunately barking up the wrong tree. Some things are impossible to predict, so the only sensible solution is to limit yourself to write in a notebook (not a computer, mobile or tablet) a plan for one or two days. The complexity of such a list should not be too large. It is best to break the daily study session into small points, each of which can be ticked off after no more than an hour. It helps a lot in focusing on performing a given task and gives you satisfaction when the list for the day is finished.

5. Use time effectively

Studying every day brings the best results. You should assign yourself some more or less fixed time for learning, so that maintaining regularity will become your habit. Moreover, you can also use the time spent when driving a car, bus or train. Your session should consist of no more than 20-minute segments of intensive learning, separated by up to a maximum of 10-minute breaks. You can change its duration according to your taste, as long as you keep a level head and spend a minimum of an hour on it. You do not have to study in one session, because most important is the overall amount of time spent on learning.

6. Set yourself possible goals

Plan on doing just the things that seem to be achievable in the short term. This prevents discouragement caused by waiting too long for visible results. It is also worthwhile to give yourself little challenges in the form of assigning yourself a few percent more than you consider feasible in a given time. If you are successful, it will increase your motivation; and if you fail, you will have no reason to worry, because all the same you have accomplished your basic goal.

7. Isolate yourself from distractions

The modern world is flooding us with a lot of distracting stimuli. The main source of these are people and electronic devices, which together effectively draw us away from language learning. This can be remedied by finding a quiet place, warning others not to disturb us and disabling distracting hardware or even removing it from our field of vision. In situations where we are forced to use them, it is sufficient only to disable or temporarily dispose of digital distractions, for example using browser extensions blocking the most tempting pages (e.g. StayFocusd).

8. Learn right away

Relatively often, when learning a language, a problem occurs with choosing the right materials. Searching for better and better textbooks, courses, or articles on the Internet leads to neglecting real learning. If you do not incorporate immediately the content you found into the to-do list for the day, then gathering a stack of titles and links will be for naught. Besides, just by trying to learn something you can discover the weaknesses of the found materials, the faults of a learning plan or the shortcomings in your knowledge. And from that point, there is a clear way to fixing them and avoiding similar situations in the future with more ease.

The above guidelines help to prevent most problems associated with understanding a foreign language and communicating in it. Generally speaking, it will be enough if you remember to set yourself appropriate goals, make the most of your time, and be serious about learning, then foreign languages will stand open before you.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – a book review

Do you know the feeling when you finish a book and then it stays In your head for a very long time? The answer is probably positive. The book that literally changed my life is “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest” by Ken Kesey. If you don’t read it, you may have seen the movie based on this story with the same title with a brilliant role of Jack Nicholson. You may see his speech while receiving the Oscar – click here. No more digressions, let’s start!

In 1962 Ken Kesey published his first book and thereby changed the history of an American novel. The book has been included on the list “100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005” published by Time Magazine. It was also adapted as a play in 1963 by Dale Wasserman.

The story is set in a psychiatric hospital with the narration of Chief Bromden who has been a patient for ten years. He wants bo invisible so he presents himself as deaf and mute. He tells the story of a normal routine on the ward that changes with Randle McMuprhy. The rebellous man decides to fake insanity to avoid a prison work farm. Unaware of the rules of Nurse Ratched he thinks that can spend his time mainly gambling with patients. Chief describes exactly what happens when two different characters meet. McMurphy understands very well that every single move against Nurse Rachted Is a sign of rebellion, not only for him, but also for the others. At the very beginning patients are afraid of loosing their daily routine, but then, Randle shows them that he is not afraid of being sent to the Disturbed Ward. He does whatever he can just to upset Big Nurse. She knows that patients should obey the rules. This is the main rule. What to do with somebody who doesn’t cooperate and ruins her work? The rest of patients seem to be normal. They are aware that they need to well behave. If they don’t there are many different ways to make them obedient like shock therapy. Big Nurse realizes that McMurphy rebels against her iron fist by having no use for her. He is different. He doesn’t follow the rules. What’s more, other patients treat their encounters as a kind of entertainment and that’s something she can’t stand.

I don’t want to reveal all mains events in the story so that you can read the book and see what happens on the last page. The story seems to be simple, one man spends some time in a mental hospital and tries to deal with the daily routine. This is just a surface. Ken Kesey’s novel is full of symbols. That’s what I really love in it – its multi-layers context. Chief sees the whole society as the Combine. He seems that he doesn’t fit so he needs to spend the rest of his life on the ward. But thanks to McMurphy he starts to treat himself as an individual. After Nurse Ratched’s therapy he can’t be cured, but after spending time with McMurphy Chief regains his faith in his humanity. In addition, the image of women presented in the book is extremely sad. We can only take to prostitutes, except for them, women are presented in a very unattractive way as a overpowered and threatening figures.

To read this book is not enough. To truly see what the author meant You need to understand it. To achieve that You need to read carefully the title. Ken Kesey took it from a nursery rhyme:

Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew East
One flew West
And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest

Have you ever seen the cuckoo’s nest? Well I guess nobody has. Even if you are not an ornithologist you may know that cuckoos don’t build their nests. Their children are raised by other birds. It must be read as an allegory, McMurphy is the one who flew over this nest. He passes the border and does something that seems to be impossible.

The most beautiful thing about this book is the fact that you can read it many times and every single time you can go deeper and deeper. You can spot the power of laughter in the book and than you may focus on the sexuality issue. Every single dialogue is powerful. There are plenty of symbols that you may undertsnad in many different ways – like for instance the white whale on the McMurphy’s boxer shorts. Does it sound to you like Moby Dick?

This novel will stay in your mind for a very long time. It will – trust me. So powerful and up-to-date. The story of our live in a modern society, roles that we need to play and punishments for those who refuse to do it. This novel is also about humanity, our treatment of mentally ill people, and about our fight for our own freedom and our dignity.

Don’t wait – read it. Fly into the Cuckoo’s Nest!

The role of attention in language learning

Scientists have long debated the extent to which attention and conscious effort improve or harm the process of learning a foreign language. This controversy did not lead to a compromise as each side became entrenched in their respective positions, and the only thing that was changed by the passing years was toning down their positions and making some concessions. This article aims to elucidate the complicated situation on the effective mechanisms of language learning.

Understanding

In 1977. Stephen Krashen put together the observations of previous researchers and created an input hypothesis. It was based on the assumption that the only things required to learn a language are comprehensible spoken or written utterances in the target language that do not greatly exceed the student’s understanding. Krashen believed that it is mostly the absorption of prepared materials similar to the way children learn, and not listening to teacher’s instructions, that leads to mastery of speaking skills. Moreover, in his opinion knowledge of grammar rules does not translate into greater fluency of speaking, but serves only as a tool for conscious checking of its correctness. Until this day, these assumptions continue unchanged.

Every great idea, however, has its opponents. For example Rost (1990) pointed out to Krashen that understanding does not necessarily translate to mastering, because someone can easily guess what something is about but at the same time not know the grammar rules that were used. A similar view was shared by White (1987), who stated that the lack of problems with the interpretation of the meaning does not necessarily contribute to language acquisition. Fuel to the fire was added by Doughty and Williams (1998), who stated that although the dominant view was that a large part of the language can be learned in a natural way, some of its elements can be mastered only with a teacher’s assistance.

Noticing

One of the main opponents of Krashen was, however, Richard Schmidt, who in 1983 came upon the case of an English learner who was still committing significant errors in spite of a long stay in a foreign language environment. Schmidt concluded that his failure could result from not noticing that he speaks in a different way to his interlocutors. His subsequent experiment with the teaching of Portuguese (1986) confirmed his conviction that frequent contact with a foreign language ceases to be significant when the learner does not notice the constructions that are used. In a similar way, not getting a correction may make it difficult to learn from one’s mistakes. This discovery later became the basis on which the noticing hypothesis has been coined as a response to Krashen’s idea.

Of course, Schmidt could not avoid criticism either. One of the most important was the analysis performed by Truscott (1998) who stated that the mastery of grammar rules may not be possible because of the difficulty associated with the conscious noticing of all these abstract rules in an utterance. And he was talking only about drawing attention to them and not understanding them, because according to Schmidt (1990) drawing conclusions is not a part of the process. Due to these reservations, he moderated his postulates two decades later, recognizing that the concept of conscious learning applies mainly to adults.

However, some positive opinions in support Krashen idea also appeared. For example, Ellis (1995) found that most of the features of the language escape learners’ attention if they are not instructed by a teacher. In addition, in the case of things that have a chance to latch on by themselves students do not cope too well with their subsequent use. On the other hand, Rosa and Leow (2004) showed that the very awareness of the existence of certain elements of a language helps in their later acquisition. Subsequent research by scientists such as Takahashi (2005), and Simard (2009) confirmed the importance of learning methods that improve attention that include consciousness raising, emphasing selected parts of source utterances, high exposure to content, etc.

According to Ellis (1997) consciousness raising consists of explaining specific rules of a language and then ordering students to carry out certain tasks with the source materials, which stimulates them to understand how the rules work in practice. An alternative to this technique, described by VanPatten (2004), is to learn the rules and try to achieve some goal, which requires the use of acquired knowledge. The results of Amiran and Sadegi’s experiment (2012) show that consciousness raising is more effective than traditional teaching of grammar, but in the study of Jafarigohar (2015) it came out worse than performing practical tasks.

In the same experiment, emphasing fragments of texts, e.g. using bolds, turned out to have no impact on generating utterances. Moreover, Lee and Huang’s meta-analysis (2008) suggests that this way of increasing noticing might not be very effective or even completely ineffective when it comes to learning grammar and could also hinder understanding of the content. This calls into question the implementation of solutions focused on text enlarging, underlining, bolding, italicising etc.

Many researchers, such as Lightbown and Spada (1993), have confirmed the effectiveness of exercises in which the emphasis is put on communication, and grammatical explanations are only used from time to time, for example when there is an interruption in speech or a teacher decides to take a closer look at some rule that seems to be needed at that time. According to Fotos (1998), this approach is a response to the lack of evidence on the effectiveness of the methods of science in which most attention was paid to grammar. Of significant importance could also be the fact that according to Jean and Simard (2011) rigid learning of rules is considered tedious and demotivating.

Production

However, Krashen did not have to deal only with the supporters of Schmidt’s thesis. The third person who joined the controversy was Merrill Swain. In 1985 she created the output hypothesis, which was kind of a mirror image of Krashen’s claims. It was grew from her observation of participants in a long-term program emphasizing immersion in a foreign language. The results of this study were surprising, because it turned out that although children significantly improved their understanding and pronunciation skills, the level of grammatical competence was far less than the one presented by native speakers. In this respect, they knew only just as much as they needed to cope with normal situations and tests. Based on these findings Swain came to believe that simple contact with a language is not enough to acquire it.

One of the key tenets of the output hypothesis is that the imperfect attempts of communication are essential because they allow people to spot gaps in their knowledge and language skills. On this basis, learners build a picture of what needs to be improved and pick up with greater ease, for example, useful grammatical structures when they come across them in the future. According to Qui and Lapkin (2001), the higher the level of fluency students present, the easier it becomes for them to notice things that need improvement. However, according to Shin (2010) people who know quite a lot also encounter problems with noticing, which may be due to the complexity of the issues that occur at this stage.

Unfortunately up to this point, not enough studies have been performed to fully verify the validity of this hypothesis. The previous findings come mainly from experiments coauthored by Izumi (1999 – 2002), who studied the impact of the production of statements on noticing and obtained ambiguous results. Another attempt was made by Russel (2014), who ordered the subjects to learn the text filled with target structures and then take grammar tests. It turned out that their ability to use the practiced rule improved, although no one had explained to them how it worked.

Conclusion

On the basis of Ünlü’s (2015) words, it can be concluded that a significant number of scientists insist upon maintaining their opposing positions regarding conscious and unconscious language learning. This is particularly visible in Krashen (2013), who does not take into account any significant interaction between the knowledge acquired unconsciously and the one that is learned. The growing amount of research does not help to determine which hypothesis is the right one, because there will always be some counterarguments. Each group may very well be partly right without providing a complete explanation of the process of learning a language. People who are looking for effective prescriptions should then look for insight from the lucky ones who have managed to achieve their language goals, because the dispute among researchers still waits to be resolved.

References:

  1. Ahn, J. I. (2014). Attention, Awareness, and Noticing in SLA: A Methodological Review.MSU Working Papers in Second Language Studies5(1). http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-1770.2001.tb00016.x.
  2. Fotos, S. (1998). Shifting the focus from forms to form in the EFL classroom.ELT Journal,52(4), 301-307. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/elt/52.4.301.
  3. Godfroid, A., & Schmidtke, J. (2013). What do eye movements tell us about awareness? A triangulation of eye-movement data, verbal reports and vocabulary learning scores.Noticing and second language acquisition: Studies in honor of Richard Schmidt, 183-205.
  4. Jafarigohar, M., Hemmati, F., Soleimani, H., & Jalali, M. (2015). An Investigation of the Role of Explicit and Implicit Instruction in Second Language Acquisition: A Case of English Embedded Question.International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature4(3), 98-108. http://dx.doi.org/10.7575/aiac.ijalel.v.4n.3p.98.
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  7. Russell, V. (2014). A closer look at the output hypothesis: The effect of pushed output on noticing and inductive learning of the Spanish future tense.Foreign Language Annals47(1), 25-47. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/flan.12077.
  8. Schmidt, R. (2012). Attention, awareness, and individual differences in language learning.Perspectives on individual characteristics and foreign language education6, 27.
  9. Sarkhosh, M., Soleimani, M., & Abdeli, J. (2012). A Closer Look at Noticing Hypothesis and Focus on Form: An Overview.International Journal of Linguistics4(3), 179. http://dx.doi.org/10.5296/ijl.v4i3.2201.
  10. Ünlü, A. (2015). How Alert should I be to Learn a Language? The Noticing Hypothesis and its Implications for Language Teaching.Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences199, 261-267. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.07.515.