Wednesday, September 30, 2009

the best way to learn a language is through constant exposure to its sound patterns

Ground-breaking research by Dr Sulzberger of Victoria University, New Zealand has found that the best way to learn a language is through constant exposure to its sound patterns — even if you do not know the meaning of the words.

His main hypothesis is that new structures are set up in the brain to learn the words when we constantly immerse ourselves in that language. In short, the importance of aural exposure cannot be underoverstated.

Going by the same argument, that is how babies learn their mother tongue and how children pick up other dialects or languages easily by playing with neighboursing children. who do not speak the same mother tongue.

Six-month intensive Mandarin courses offered by several language institutes in Beijing are also testament to this.

People with absolutely no knowledge of Mandarin are able to converse relatively well in the target language after six months.

This is because they have no choice but to study and speak the language in practical situations as determined by the course.

The amount of money the students have to pay in order to speak reasonably well after the programme is added motivation.

Dr Sulzberger also says people trying to learn a foreign language in their home country are at a disadvantage compared to with those who travel to another country land and immerse themselves in its sounds and culture.

My students come to me, eager to learn but are faced with untold obstacles.
Many lament that the only time they actually speak English is in the classroom.
The brave souls who dare converse in a foreign tongue face insurmountable discrimination in their own clan. The battle can become personal indeed.
Indeed Learning a language is a skill, not a content subject with facts you can memorise.

We will need to grow the appropriate “brain tissue” to learn the language. We cannot grow the brain tissue do so without feeding the brain with reading, listening, speaking and writing constantly in the target language.
We cannot grow the brain tissue if are must not be too frightened to break the mould of convention, familiarity and prejudice.

We may have diverse hang-ups about learning a language. But if we have the determination and resilience, then there is unity in focus.
Just like fasting, we may have different reasons but we are focused on what we want to achieve. The same but different.

an excerpt from - Language learning: Unity in focus - NST

written by:
Associate Professor Koh Soo Ling is with the Academy of Language Studies, Universiti Teknologi MARA. Email her at

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