Organized Language Knowledge Leads To Effective Language Acquisition

What is an effective learning path? An effective language learning path is a sequence of learning opportunities that facilitate the successful acquisition of a particular set of language knowledge or information. Effective language learning results in the acquisition of a pre-determined set of language knowledge. A goal to produce proficient speakers of a language begins with an understanding of the language skills required to be considered proficient. Accessible, organized language knowledge greatly helps with understanding proficiency levels or stages. Creating a learning path is like creating a set of instructions to accomplish a task or assemble an item. When creating instructions, it helps to know what the outcome or product will be. Designing a language learning path is similar. It helps to know what language is required to be a proficient speaker, and this determination is where organized language knowledge is most useful. The creator of any learning path must have an understanding of the learning steps along the journey.

Organized language knowledge can take many forms depending on a language’s structure. Vocabulary lists or dictionaries are useful sets of language knowledge. More useful are vocabulary lists organized around domains, such as cooking, among many others. Vocabulary lists only offer one part of the language equation; grammar features provide the mechanics of how the language works. Grammar is one set of language knowledge and is most useful when organized using a proficiency scale. In creating a learning path, it is highly beneficial to have a grasp of grammar features by proficiency level. Initially, determining the proficiency level of each grammar feature may be arbitrary and untested, but this is a crucial first step in the organization process. Learning path refinement will also lead to a refinement of language knowledge. When grammar is organized by proficiency level, the appropriate grammar can be infused in the learning path in a fitting sequence.

With accessible, organized language knowledge, one can create an effective learning path. You can determine an end point of the learning path with a holistic view of the language knowledge and information. When language is organized by domains and scaled by proficiency level, a sequential scaffolding learning path can be generated. If you are creating a learning path by domain, you can use all the language that occurs in that domain. For instance, the domain of cooking would include all the necessary language that revolves around food preparation. This would include vocabulary for food and cooking utensils. As well, grammar can be organized to include all the features that may be used to talk about the various acts involved with food preparation and cooking. When language knowledge is organized by domain, the cooking domain would have all these words and grammar features listed and organized within it.

With the holistic view of the domain of cooking, the learning path creators can determine the level or amount of information the learning outcome will accomplish. For instance, you could create levels of learning outcomes, such as novice, intermediate, and advanced levels of cooking language. So, the first cooking unit would involve novice-level language in that domain. The amount of language this level entails will determine the number of learning units and/or lessons required to facilitate the acquisition of the language. The same would be true for all language domains. You determine what content or language knowledge is required of the domain and any learning outcome levels. Then, you divide up that language knowledge into a number sequential lessons to facilitate the acquisition of the language.

Language learning can be a never-ending journey. When creating a learning path for students, it is important to create periodic points to recognize progress and provide reflection of how far one has trekked on this journey. These stop-overs provide motivation to continue learning and achieve the ultimate goal of becoming a proficient speaker of the language.

The process for creating a learning path is first to determine the body of language you want your students to acquire. Then you determine how this body of language can be divided up. How many words and concepts can you effectively teach in a given amount of time? What rate of learning can be effectively accomplished? A good rule of thumb is that language learners acquire language at 5 to 10 words and concepts per hour of direct instruction. Also, it takes 80 to 200 real-life authentic experiences with each word or concept to acquire and place the information into functional long-term memory. All teachers, including elderly master speakers, begin a lesson or course by first thinking about what they want their students to learn. This thought process includes a reflection on one’s own internal language knowledge and how to best present it to the learner. The same is true of developing an effective language learning path leading to speaking proficiency: it begins with examining the language knowledge and creating the sequence of learning.

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Notes:

  • Language knowledge
    • Resides with the speaking community
    • Words and sounds
    • How and why things are said = grammar
    • The information about how the language works
    • How words are joined together to express thoughts and ideas
  • Organized language knowledge
    • The information of the language arranged in a way that makes it accessible
    • List of words by domain
    • Grammar features categorized
    • Words and grammar features arranged by some scale
      • Proficiency scale – novice, intermediate, advanced
  • Accessible language knowledge
    • Speakers of all languages possess the inner workings of that language innately. It is generally inaccessible by most, especially learners of the language.
    • Linguists study language and present their findings in dissertations, papers, and conference proceedings. Unless you are a linguist, this language knowledge is generally inaccessible.
    • Historical documentation of language by clergy, explorers, and anthropologists is generally inaccessible, as most are written in unfamiliar writing systems or in languages other than English.
    • Audio/video recordings are great sources of language knowledge. Transcriptions of these recordings are of even greater value to accessing language knowledge.
    • Database language organization has great value for the creation of effective language learning paths.