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Debating the Best Way to Learn a Language

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Students at the International School of Louisiana in New Orleans. In 2011 the school received more applications for its French program than ever before. All 29 of the state's public French immersion programs had waiting lists.Students at the International School of Louisiana in New Orleans. In 2011 the school received more applications for its French program than ever before. All 29 of the state's public French immersion programs had waiting lists.
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Students at the International School of Louisiana in New Orleans. In 2011 the school received more applications for its French program than ever before. All 29 of the state's public French immersion programs had waiting lists.
Students at the International School of Louisiana in New Orleans. In 2011 the school received more applications for its French program than ever before. All 29 of the state's public French immersion programs had waiting lists.

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This is the VOA Special English Education Report.
 
What is the best way to learn a new language? A small study of foreign language learning in adults compared two methods. One is known as the explicit or classroom method. This is the kind of traditional classroom teaching where students are taught a lot of information about grammar rules.
 
The other method is known as the implicit or immersion method. The idea here is to learn much the way children do when they learn a native language. That is, by being with native speakers and absorbing the language that surrounds them, generally without a lot of explanation.
 
Teachers may combine these two methods into what Professor Michael Ullman calls immersion-style classroom teaching. But is that necessarily a better way to learn a language?
 
Mr. Ullman was the senior investigator for the new study. He is a professor of neuroscience at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington. He says he was surprised to find that combining the two methods might not help the brain in processing the new language.  
 
MICHAEL ULLMAN: "You know, if my life were on the line, and I had to learn a language, what would I do? I'm not sure. One possibility would be that, to start with explicit and then go to immersion, right? Start with classroom and then go to immersion. But there is this possibility that classroom could hurt later immersion. That's what, you know, one possibility of interpreting our data."  
 
The Public Library of Science published the study earlier this year. The twenty-one adults in the experiment learned Brocanto2, a thirteen-word language created for the study. The words and grammar rules relate to a computer game similar to chess that the learners played. For example, "Blom neimo lu neep li praz" means "The square blom-piece switches with the neep-piece."
 
The researchers tested the people three to six months after they had learned the language, to see how well they could remember it. The study found that those who had learned it with the immersion method had brain waves similar to those of native speakers of a language when speaking that language.
 
Professor Ullman says those who trained with the classroom method also became more native-like in their brain processing. But only the immersion group showed full native-like processing of the grammar.  Still, he says teachers should be careful how they use the results of his study.
 
MICHAEL ULLMAN: "You know I would not make any curriculum changes based on this. Nevertheless, it is suggestive, and I think it warrants further research to see whether in fact what kind of training might in fact be best not just for reaching the native brain bases but also for, you know, maximum proficiency in different aspects of language, like grammar, you know, syntax and lexicon. So I think further research is warranted. And it may be, for example, that a combination of classroom and immersion might be best. But we don't know that."
 
And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Christopher Cruise. You can find a link to the study at voaspecialenglish.com. I'm Steve Ember.
 
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: tuanminh from: vietnam
07/24/2012 3:52 PM
the best way is: read, listen as much as you can, then your 4 skills will increase automatically and instantly.
You must have contract with yourself.
good luck


by: Him from: kandal
07/13/2012 7:59 AM
I'm very happy that i have chance to watch this voa.i think that it is agood text and it has useful for all people and learners.we can know the best method and good experience from reserchers in this text.It show us to know alot new word and tell how to start.so it is very good.


by: Jean
07/03/2012 10:34 PM
If I have choices between explicit and implicit methods. I'll choose implicit one. That's my experience. I've learned English in classrooms for many many years, but my English is still very poor especially when communicating with native speakers. So my summary is the best way to learn a language well is having a boyfriend or girlfriend who is native speaker. Ha, hope my husband won't see this comment. Everybody has a nice July 4th. Thanks, VOA.

In Response

by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
07/05/2012 2:23 PM
Hi Jean, how are you? I'm posting from Jipang, the country rising the Sun first in the world ! Wouldn't you like to learn Japanese? I'm sure you would be able to speak Japanese as good as native before long !! Wouldn't you love to have another boy friend overseas? I promise your husband won't see this comment !!?? It's very kind of you if you tell me your home town!! Please feel ease I'm just one of your fans feeling sympathy with your comments posted ever before.I thank you for your witty and thoughtful comments every time.


by: Chizimi from: Japan
06/30/2012 5:44 AM
I have been studying English. There is class that native speaker comes once every week. I am happy, because I have a chance that I can listen to voice of native speaker. I think Japanese education have to increase class of native speaker.


by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
06/30/2012 4:39 AM
What's needed in conversation? First, hearing ability of what others saying. Second, own opinion. Third, speed in resonse. Fourth, rich vocabulary. I'm afraid we Japanese are most behind in vocabulary. This is my impression having felt since attending VOA and reading many comments posted from other countries. They know much words I don't know. Great! And I suppose we need much more time in writing comments reflecting me. It's probably because we are apt to be fixed to details as grammer or spelling. I tryed to write this comment as quickly as possibe imagining as if I'm speaking, not careing about making mistakes. So,sorry for many mistakes. And it took about ten minutes. As for me, it usually takes twenty to thirty minutes in writing one comment. I wonder how long other readers take in writing one comment. Practice makes perfect. Anyway it's true we Japanese don't have many chances to speak with foreigners, exactly speaking, we may not need to speak English in daily life. But we want to know about foreign affairs, go abroad and make friends with foreighners. Year, we should seek such chances to speak and debate with foreigners. In conclusion, Implict immersion method would be prefered for Japanese.

In Response

by: tâm from: việt nam
07/07/2012 3:55 PM
i have read your opinion so hard, we need english for our job and english is a key successful. but there are 4 skill in english, you have to forcus 1 skill to get more improve and to do that you need combine both of them to get better.I think that immersion method and classroom method have each good point and bad point. we should combine both of them to make improve.


by: Manda Ginjiro from: Japan
06/30/2012 12:25 AM
I think combined method of explicit and implicit method would be good for adults, because we adults have experience learning foreign language by grammar rules and it is easy way to understand a foreign language structure.
And then we need to listen and speak a lot of words and phrases to absolve them.

In Response

by: anh from: vietnam
07/02/2012 9:13 AM
you speak true. but i feel very difficultly when use forein language. thus i am shy writing comment.


by: Kyoka from: Japan
06/29/2012 12:27 PM
I am happy, because I could know the best way to learn a language. I heve learnd English now. And, my classmate and I speak in English in English class. I think to speak foreign language is very fun, and I can learn the inside of language.
I want to debate in English with my friends.

In Response

by: Anonymous
07/06/2012 3:01 PM
I can only speak English with native speakers on Skype,but there are many people speaking English around me.I don't think I took advantage of that.I've been trying to combine explicit method with implicit method to improve English.My problem is that which one should I pay more attention?


by: hisk from: japan
06/29/2012 8:53 AM
Japanese junior high schools and high schools are usually using classroom teaching method. I think that immersion method and classroom method have each good point and bad point.We have to find method that suit myself.But I think trying various ways is good.


by: Andrew Weiler from: Melbourne
06/29/2012 6:08 AM
I must admit I am a bit perplexed by what is said in this article. How is it possible to clump classroom teaching together and say it is all the same? I have been looking at the question of the best way to learn a language and the answer comes down to "improve your language learning so that it becomes as effective as it one was". All of us have that capacity. Once we acknowledge it the real search begins! A good police to start is at: http://www.strategiesinlanguagelearning.com


by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
06/29/2012 12:43 AM
Yes, welcome much debate about the way of improving learning foregin languages! Please explore supreme methods and tell me, please!
Explicit?, implicit?, or combined? Which is the best way? I suppose it depends on the purpose of learning foreign languages. When to write a pater or novel, explicit classroom method would be essential and first. When to exchange conversation, implicit immersion method would be favorable.

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