Another fantastic and inspiring TED talk that has some great nuggets of wisdom for us who are learning French in France, or any language in any country for that matter. I have found many of the techniques they suggest in this video very useful on my French immersion course at the ILA Language School; particularly for my DELF preparation course. In this article, I will discuss what their findings on language learning have been and why they thought it necessary to find a new approach.
They start off by discussing the problems many of us face when we begin the journey of learning another language and the issues they discuss will certainly resonate with a lot of you. They talk about the drop-out rates of people using self-study programs like Rosetta Stone which are pretty high. This highlights an advantage to doing an immersion course at a French language school like ILA as making a commitment to a course and being surrounded by the language is a good defence against the temptation to drop out.
The two language-specialists emphasise that going to a country where the language is spoken definitely helps and provides motivation as well as contact with the language. They do stipulate however, that this is not a sure-fire way to achieve a high level in the language. They site examples of individuals who have been in countries for years and by creating a cocoon of their mother tongue around them, by talking to expats or people who speak English they don’t get the contact with the language they have made the move to the country to get.
You’re Never Too Old To Start Learning French
Next, they address the common subject discussed concerning language learning; age. Many people say that they are just too old to learn the language and that kids are just better at it. Not so argue Vat and Scott, they cite a recent bit of research that suggest adults actually learn faster in the long run. They qualify this by explaining that when you get to native-like levels of pronunciation and grammar children start to excel but that this isn’t necessary for deep communication.
So then, what is the real problem for adults? They describe an initial zone of fear that can be quite difficult to push through because it is when learning the language is at its hardest, in terms of enjoyment, confidence and difficulty. Most of the students at the ILA French Language School would agree that learning French is more of a struggle at the beginning and sadly this zone will be where many people stay for their whole lives.
They use a helpful analogy of the sea with waves crashing onto a beach. You as the French learner are standing on the beach and you want to swim but swimming through the initial part is rough and the waves crashing hard makes things very difficult. After this initial section the sea is relatively calm and swimming not only becomes easier but enjoyable and fun. The treacherous start however can scare people off, make them think it isn’t possible or just destroy their motivation.
They conclude that to make your attempt to learn French more likely to succeed your best chance is to get through this choppy period of your language learning as quickly as possible so you can start to enjoy the process. It seems less likely that people who have pushed through the initial zone of difficulty and are now in a position where they can learn the language in a pleasurable way are going to drop out from their immersion course or whatever method they are using to learn French or their language of choice.
This is the set-up for their new approach to language acquisition which I will go into more detail on in the following article. Their suggestions are a bit extreme but when you are preparing for a TED talk you pull out all the stops and if you can incorporate some of the techniques into your French studies during your language stay in France you will see the benefits on your immersion course quickly.