Who doesn’t want to master a new language fast and effortlessly?
This article will introduce you to 9 major research findings in the field of language acquisition and give you a headstart in learning a new language more efficiently.
Let’s get started with some research findings that provide general guidance for language learning. These findings should help you develop a learning strategy or long-term plan that can guide your study process from a novice to a master in your target language.
The tips from these theories are applicable to learners of all levels.
The Processability theory seeks to account for the developmental stages in learners of a second language. The Processability theory suggests that from an absolute beginner to an advanced-level speaker, the learner’s development across time can be divided into a number of hierarchal stages.
At each stage, the learner can only produce what he or she can process and comprehend. As learners progress through each stage, they will acquire a wider range of processable language materials.
Pienemann (1998), for instance, found the following developmental stages from the performance data of ESL learners on the topic of Question Formation.
|SVO question||He live here?|
|WH + SVO||
Where he is?
Where is he?
Where has he been?
I wonder where he has been.
In this case, at each stage, the learner is only able to understand or produce questions of the current structure. For a beginner, the only type of question he or she can understand is a one-word statement with rising intonation. When the learner progresses to the second stage, s/he can form a simple question by adding rising intonation to a declarative statement: Subject + Verb + Object.
From stage 3 to 5, the learner gradually starts to understand WH-words: inverting the word order with an interrogative structure and using auxiliary verbs for grammaticality.
In the final stage, Stage 6, the learner can form a question without a question mark by using “wonder”.
- Tip #1: Find a well-designed curriculum that fits the universal developmental pattern of second language acquisition. LingoDeer builds its curriculum in such a way that the complexity of input is increased step-by-step to make sure that learners at different levels can progress at a steady pace.
- Tip #2: Find suitable study materials according to your ability. When you are a beginner, practice listening to sentences consisting of only a few words and make sure that you understand every word. Once you grasp the content, gradually increase the length and complexity of the sentences you process.
Task-based language teaching and learning emerged in the early 1980s and is currently one of the most effective approaches to language instruction and acquisition.
This approach suggests that learners are most engaged when learning content through tasks that mimic real-life situations. For example, students should study shopping-related phrases by being placed in a shop and tasked with buying certain items.
In one experiment, Ruso (1999) applied task-based learning to a traditional classroom situation for Turkish students of ESL.
The findings of the study revealed that implementing a task-based learning approach in language classes creates variety for the students, which enhances their engagement and learning. The tasks encourage student involvement, basic problem-solving, and lead to significant improvements regarding their language performance.
- Tip #3: Design imaginary scenarios for yourself to tackle tasks. For example, imagine yourself in a Korean restaurant and try to order your favorite dish. To tackle this task, you challenge and improve yourself in multiple ways: to be familiar with food or dish names in order to read the menu, to know the expressions of addressing the waiter or waitress and saying what food you would like to have, to know how to communicate politely and appropriately, etc.
- Tip #4: After learning a new set of sentence patterns in LingoDeer, try creating a dialogue to self-practice or do a role play with your language buddy/tutor.
Semantic Category Effect – For Beginners
It is a long-standing assumption in the field of language sciences that presenting new second language vocabulary in semantically grouped sets, i.e. according to the category of the word meanings, is an effective method of learning and teaching.
Compared with trying to remember words in a random order, learning words with related meanings in the same category is supposed to be more efficient.
- Tip #5: Learn new words or expressions grouped in meaning categories, such as a group of color names, country names or food names. You can also learn words in relevant semantic groups. For example, prepare two groups of words for a memorization challenge: one consisting of 10 major country names, and the other consisting of the capital city names of those countries.
It is regarded as a good technique to show new words or expressions on flashcards to help learners strengthen the memorization.
In 2013, Sitompul carried out a study to investigate the most effective English vocabulary teaching method. In the experiment, young students were trained with either flashcards or a plain word list. The results showed that students’ vocabulary improved more after they were taught with flashcards than with a word list.
The students who were taught with flashcards admitted that they could memorize the words easily, and they were motivated to try to learn and understand.
- Tip #5: Use flashcards when you try to teach yourself new words and expressions. LingoDeer has a built-in flashcards module to help learners achieve optimal vocabulary learning.
Spaced repetition is a learning technique that is usually performed with flashcards.
Newly introduced and more difficult flashcards are shown more frequently while older and less difficult flashcards are shown less frequently in order to exploit the psychological spacing effect and build robust long-term memory.
As the time proceeds, the inter-study intervals should also be expanded, as shown in the following graph.
Evidence supporting spaced repetition technique can be found in a review (Cepeda et al., 2006) of 839 assessments of distributed practice in 317 experiments located in 184 articles.
The review examined effects of spacing and of expanding inter-study intervals. The analyses suggested that the spaced retention and expanded inter-study intervals over time jointly improved the final retention outcome of targeted learning contents, not necessarily only for the purpose of vocabulary memorization.
- Tip #6: Review newly learned words actively and periodically in order to prevent forgetting. As time goes on, the review intervals should be expanded accordingly.
- Tip #7: Anki is a free flashcard program that uses spaced repetition. You can utilize this software to intelligently achieve your vocabulary learning goals.
Using Suitable Materials- For All Levels
Choosing suitable materials can play a key role in a learner’s development of listening skills. Using authentic materials, including songs in the target language, radio, and a larger variety of multimedia resources should be taken into consideration.
A descriptive study (Brett, 1998) investigated incidental language learning using multimedia as a self-study method. The study compared the language items of the multimedia input with learners’ output. It showed that learners are a lot more likely to reuse the language items made salient and with interactive opportunities in the multimedia input.
- Tip #8: Listen to songs or podcasts in your target language. J-pop and K-pop are the ultimate motivation for many learners of Japanese and Korean, trying to understand the lyrics of J-pop or K-pop is a great exercise for learners.
- Tip #9: Watch movies or TV programs in your target language. For example, the Oscar award-winning Korean movie 기생충 Parasite. From video materials like this, you can not only get access to the most authentic expressions in daily scenarios, but also get a glimpse of the culture and society.
Effects of Speech Rate – For Beginners & Intermediate Level
The different rates of speech have different outcomes in the development of learners’ listening comprehension skills. Rate of speech can be especially utilized to develop learners’ listening in computer-assisted language learning materials.
In a study investigating the effects of training learners of English as a foreign language with different rates of speech (McBride, 2011), evidence was found to suggest that exposing L2 learners to slow and clear spoken input can encourage their acquisition of the target language.
This does not mean that learners should always practice with slow speech. A higher level of proficiency requires learners to be exposed to a large variety of styles of speech. However when introducing new words or grammatical structures, slow and clear speech is more helpful in letting them notice the details.
Another study (Hayati, 2010) showed that for learners of intermediate or even higher level, natural speech rate could demonstrate greater improvements than slow speech rate in learners’ listening comprehension.
- Tip #10: For beginners, listen to slow, clear speech and try to notice the details of language. LingoDeer provides slow, clear speech recordings by native speakers.
- Tip #11: For intermediate learners, try to listen to materials at a natural speech rate. You can challenge yourself by watching movies in your target language with subtitles on the first time and without subtitles the second time.
Corrective feedback – For All Levels
Having a good teacher, preferably a native speaker of the target language, and getting corrective feedback on one’s production is important.
Corrective feedback can confirm the strengths, and 7point out the weakness of the learners’ speech production, and explicitly teach them the standard pronunciations in the target language.
Saito and Lyster’s (2012) study, which used communicative language tasks, showed that an explicit focus on form with corrective feedback led to improvement in the learner’s pronunciations.
- Tip #12: Practice with native speakers or advanced learners and drill on the sounds that have been the most challenging for you.
- Tip #13: You can even practice with Siri or any other intelligent chatbots! If Siri can perfectly transcribe whatever you say in your target language, give yourself a little reward because this is not easy.
Effects of Language Awareness – For All Levels
Researchers hypothesized that learners can produce speech in a foreign language more accurately or appropriately when they are aware of how this language conveys meanings.
In terms of pronunciations, it suggests that if the learners are more aware of how certain pronunciation or prosodic patterns work in conveying meanings, they can produce speech with better pronunciation.
The study of Kennedy and Trofimovich (2010) examined the relationship of learners’ second language awareness and the quality of their pronunciation.
They found a relationship between the students’ pronunciation ratings and the degree of qualitative language awareness. When the students were clear with the rules of pronunciation and prosodic patterns, they got better ratings regarding their speech production.
- Tip #14: Try to make clear and take notes about the pronunciation and prosodic features of your target language and practice accordingly. For example, tell yourself that Japanese does not allow a syllable to end with a consonant except a nasal. Even if you know certain words are loans from English, let your awareness of language knowledge guide you to produce it in the Japanese way but not the English way which you are more familiar with.
- Tip #15: Listen to the recordings by native speakers on LingoDeer and take notes about what the difficult parts are and what you need to be careful with when you try to speak.
Sometimes we spend more time researching how to learn a new language instead of actually just learning.
Success in second language acquisition is only partly down to what tools and methods you use, the key is maintaining consistency in learning, practicing and using the language every day.
- Pienemann, M. (1998). Language processing and second language development: Processability theory (Vol. 15). John Benjamins Publishing.
- Pienemann, M. (2005). An introduction to processability theory. Cross-linguistic aspects of processability theory, 30, 179-199.
- Dettori, G. (2011). Task-based language learning and teaching with technology. British Journal Of Educational Technology, 42(5), E114–E115.
- Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford University Press.
- Ruso, N. (1999). Influence of task based learning on EFL classrooms.
- Finkbeiner, M., & Nicol, J. (2003). Semantic category effects in second language word learning. Applied psycholinguistics, 24(3), 369-383.
- Sitompul, E. Y. (2013). Teaching vocabulary using flashcards and word list. Journal of English and Education, 1(1), 52-58.
- Cepeda, N. J., Pashler, H., Vul, E., Wixted, J. T., Rohrer, D. (2006). Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 354-380.
- Smolen, P., Zhang, Y., & Byrne, J. H. (2016). The right time to learn: mechanisms and optimization of spaced learning. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 17(2), 77.
- Brett, P. (1998). Using multimedia: A descriptive investigation of incidental language learning. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 11(2), 179-200.
- Miller, L. (2003). Developing listening skills with authentic materials.
- Meskill, C. (1996). Listening skills development through multimedia. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 5(2), 179-201.
- Sevik, M. (2012). Teaching Listening Skills to Young Learners through. In English teaching forum (Vol. 50, No. 3, pp. 10-17). US Department of State. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
- Hayati, A. (2010). The effect of speech rate on listening comprehension of EFL learners. Creative Education, 1(02), 107.
- Kara McBride (2011) The effect of rate of speech and distributed practice on the development of listening comprehension, Computer Assisted Language Learning, 24:2, 131-154, DOI: 10.1080/09588221.2010.528777
- Saito, K., & Lyster, R. (2012). Effects of form‐focused instruction and corrective feedback on L2 pronunciation development of/ɹ/by Japanese learners of English. Language Learning, 62(2), 595-633.
- Grant, L., & Brinton, D. (2014). Pronunciation myths: Applying second language research to classroom teaching. University of Michigan Press.
- Kennedy, S., & Trofimovich, P. (2010). Language awareness and second language pronunciation: A classroom study. Language Awareness, 19(3), 171-185.