**LEARN ENGLISH PART (1)** **How We All Learn to Speak**
A new view of language acquisition7 talks about how infants acquire language and how early learning is achieved in a purely social context. The evidence suggests social learning shapes the neural framework of the brain for language and communication. Using brain imaging bilingual babies often show up activity in two overlapping areas, one for each language.
I saw mentions of ‘social interaction’, ‘mapping’ and ‘multiple listenings’ in infants and then second language acquisition was mentioned towards the end. Another paper by Dr. Kuhl and Maritza Rivera-Gaxiola, Neural Substrates of Language Acquisition8 contains a whole section on ‘social learning’. At the end of ‘Neural substrates…’ Dr. Kuhl asks this question: “Why are adults, with their superior cognitive skills, unable to learn as well as young infants? Can techniques be developed to help adults learn a second language?” Dr. Kuhl’s experiment with infants, helping them to acquire Mandarin, is very similar in execution (as it is described by her) to what we do using our English Out There materials with adult English learners.
The Psychology of Speaking English
The Psychology of Speaking English I wonder if students actually realise that a large part of the problem they experience with improving their speaking and listening skills is psychological and not linguistic. I have met many learners of English over the years who desperately want to improve their speaking and listening skills but through some deep belief planted earlier in their lives they think that what they need is more grammar and correction. This is because of the way educational systems, and English Language Teaching and learning (ELT) the world over, has stuck by a system of a) teaching to tests and b) either completely ignoring the psychology of language learning or failing to integrate psychologically supportive techniques into ELT curricula.
The Psychology of Speaking English It is an enormous and complex problem that places like China and India are trying to solve at the moment. Both educators and students regularly recommend ‘more of the same’ in terms of tuition even though it is not helping to address the speaking issues that clearly exist. At its root I would suggest that the concept of what does and does not make a proper educational programme is decided by people who prefer others to follow the path that they themselves followed.
This could explain why change is so slow and why awareness and value is so hard to earn for something that is quite different. Think of how many students in China are learning English in school or university. If they genuinely felt that the classes were giving them what they needed the phenomena of Mute English9 (millions of learners can read but not speak English) and English Corners10 (informal speaking practice in parks and public spaces) would not exist and the huge rush to online language exchange and real practice websites would not be growing fast. The learners, through the internet, are trying to find their own way to improve the skills that they can’t get in formal classes but know they need. How many teachers recommend online speaking and listening practice to their students or the use of structured and pre-taught conversation topics prior to real practice with a fluent or native speaker? And if they do recommend it, how should it be done to be effective?