Many students and teachers have sought after alternatives to traditional methods of language learning since grammar can be extremely confusing to understand for beginners and confusing to explain. While many know that learning a language only through grammar textbooks and rote memorization is no longer a preferred approach, we still struggle in deciding which alternative approaches work best. The language classroom has always been a safe space for creativity as topics and themes for lesson plans can be as unbounded as the language allows. It may seem that our possibilities are endless, so maybe the trick is to ask ourselves where we should start or rather where did we start when we began to learn our native languages?
Many of us started when we developed hearing abilities in our mothers' wombs. That suggests to me that successful language learning approaches may be ones that mimic the same linguistic milestones we reached as children. Babies begin by listening; they certainly don't begin to learn their languages by reading a grammar textbook. Moreover, since their approach has largely been proven successful, maybe there is some wisdom adult language learners can take from the goo goo gaa gaa.
I've realized, not as a language teacher, but rather as a language learner how important active listening strategies are as a beginner to improve pronunciation, comprehension, retention of new vocabulary and recognition of patterns, tones and rhythms. Before babies became school children who learned grammar in a classroom, they listened closely to be able to master the linguistic patterns, vocabulary and cultures that adult language learners struggle to grasp. Adult language learners can stress active listening too and pay closer attention to native speakers and to their own attempts to imitate their speech.
After reading several FluentU blog posts I was reminded that babies have the privilege of learning their languages in an immersive environment. They also do a lot of repeating, unfortunately with YouTube videos, and have absolutely no shame in any of it! While it may seem strange to emulate a baby, they show us how to successfully pace our learning and that an ideal alternative approach to language learning may be one that we've already established, one where we immerse ourselves like children do in play. Let's begin learning through games and picture books and music! You have permission to put that YouTube video or podcast or song on repeat! Now is also the time to look within and confront, in our own ways, the fear that we all so inevitably carry, which makes us feel ashamed right when we really just wanted to express ourselves. Children have just been trying to explain to the hardheaded adults that mimicking someone's speech over and over again is not always rude, it's learning and it's fun!
So before we begin to name the grammar rules and concepts, we should recognize the language's patterns, sounds, tones, words, habits, cultures, expressions, and the list goes on. A simple online search can reveal a plethora of language resources, besides textbooks, such as Verbling, cellphone game apps, podcasts and TED Talks, children's books and cartoons to take advantage of. And, of course, this is the time to learn how to to become a good listener, one who is perceptive of themselves and others and is able to leave shame behind.