Stages in learning a language
As we all know, learning is a long-lasting and demanding process of acquiring new means of communication like vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, etc. All of them are really essential for speaking a foreign language. As any other process, learning also can be divided into some stages that follow one another and none of them can be omitted to achieve success in learning.
According to linguists, we can distinguish three stages of learning any foreign language:
- survival understanding – that means using basic grammar and vocabulary. A student at this stage is able to go to the cinema and buy a ticket, write a postcard to a friend or manage at the airport.
- proficiency – at this level a student can express his/her views by means of wide range of advanced vocabulary, complex syntax, correct grammar structure and the use of phrasal verbs, proverbs, idioms, etc.
- fluency – the highest level allows a student to communicate freely and also grasp such language phenomena as metaphors, puns or language humor. It is essential especially when talking to native speakers. It helps to avoid misunderstandings and also enables to get the message across.
This is what linguists say about learning a language. But if we do not want a student to be “a linguistic unit,” what are the game’s–called learning–levels?
If we look at the students from more psychological point of view, we can see that there are actually four stages of acquiring a language. We all as learners went through these steps and now, as teachers, help our student to meet the challenge. It is said that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And, the step is taken into the first stage called willingness. Willingness is the very first point in the learning process. It may be short-lasting or growing in years. Its key element is making a decision about learning a language. It often happens that the decision is made spontaneously on the basis of fashion, friends’ recommendation or will to speak an exotic language (we can observe a huge increase in language schools off ering Arabic, Chinese or some of the African languages); but in the majority of cases, it is a well thought over choice.
Reasons for enrolling in a language course can be different. Many people are interested in travelling and need a language when going abroad. Also, foreign friends are a strong impetus. We want to stay in touch with them, so we have to speak any language they speak. It does not necessarily have to be their native language. The language you and your friends feel good about is appropriate.
The students that have just signed the contract with a language school rush to the bookshop to buy a dictionary and CD. Very often, they also buy some course book, just to work on their own at home. They see themselves in few years’ time as fluent speakers of the language, travelling to or living in the target country. So, their next purchase is a guide book.
This stage is strictly connected with its follower – an excitement stage. Having reached this phase, a student is always prepared for his/her classes, attends them regularly, and always has his/ her homework done on time. Early success like the first test passed in flying colours is a strong motivating factor. We can expect that such student will often stay after the classes and ask us to check his/her extra work he/she has done at home. He/She learns extra vocabulary just to be fluent as quickly as possible. Watching foreign programs–even without understanding them – is a part of excited learner’s life. The interest in the language is constantly growing and here, reaches its top moment.
Actually, there is nothing wrong in this “language-freak” stage; but from this high form, a student can easily drop to the next stage that is discouragement. In fact, this is the most dangerous phase of learning a language; and if something goes wrong at this level, there is a great probability that your student will not move any further. Here, the key to success is motivation and praising the student. At this stage, grammar gets complicated, there is a great amount of new vocabulary to get familiar with and the material gets more and more difficult. Sometimes, students are overwhelmed by the advancement level and quit the learning. That is why you as a teacher should make an effort to encourage your students not to resign. You need to pay extra attention to choosing the appropriate material for the classes. Too easy can be boring, and too difficult can be demotivating and pushing the students away. What you need to remember is that praising is exceptionally important here. Students always should be praised; but at this stage, saying how good a student is plays a significant role. By praising, we do not mean only good marks, stickers or whatever the system you have. It is enough to say “good job, well done,” etc. A student needs to feel that he/she is constantly making progress even if there were little failures in the meantime.
If a student managed to survive discouragement, he/she is lucky enough to move to balance phase. Here, a student gets used to the language and its traps. He/She also realizes the benefits resulting from knowing a language. His/Her motivation grows stronger if he/she could experience a successful conversation on the street with a foreigner asking for direction. Newly acquired language starts to be treated like a natural thing. It is nothing that is tiring or demanding. It is another way to communicate with people. This raising awareness helps a student to use the language in everyday life and not worry about mistakes that can be potentially made. A student wants to be a speaker of the target language and looks for every opportunity to improve his/her fluency.
All of the four stages are equally important for the learners, and all of them play a significant role in the learning process. To accomplish the task that is speaking a language fluently, we need to go through them all. For us, the teachers, it is worth remembering which stage our student is at and how to help him/her move further. Remember that a good, helpful and caring teacher is a part of success.