How do you learn best? Are you a visual learner? An auditory learner? Do you like grammar, or not? Are you a risk taker when you learn? Or are you more traditional? It's probably worth your while to track down the answer. Piece by piece, and deliberately. Being aware of HOW we learn makes learning so much more interesting and effective.
Research on left brain (logical, verbal, auditory, sequential) and right brain functions (creative, visual, spatial, emotional) has been ongoing for decades, and new imaging techniques have greatly enhanced our knowledge of how the brain works. See, for example, David A. Sousa's How the Brain Learns.
Though the left brain is the “seat of language and processes in a logical and sequential order” (Dr. Carolyn Hopper) language learning is best done when both the left brain and right brain are involved.
We don't learn a language just by listening (a left brain activity) and speaking, and kids don't do that either. Small children don't yet know how to read and write. Still, they pick up a lot of visual and other clues from people (facial expressions, gestures), their surroundings (objects, movement), the context of a conversation (asking for something, looking for a toy), etc. Once kids have learned to read and write, a mental “text image” may start to play along. Because we live in a text-based world, wanting to know how a word “looks” (is spelled) is part of language learning.
In any case, when I was learning Chinese strictly through listening, I found myself imagining how the word would be spelled with western letters. Without thinking about it, I used the “regular” German sound-letter system for this. The pronunciation of almost every [German word] can be derived from its spelling. When not too long ago, I was learning Italian by just listening, I spontaneously (and erroneously) used French spelling to imagine how the Italian words are written. I've come to realize that I best learn when I both hear and see a word or phrase.
Digital games are a perfect vehicle for individualized language learning. They have auditory (spoken language, sounds) and visual features (text, colors, images, design), as well as kinesthetic elements (typing against the clock, clicking on moving images, etc). If you want to focus on the sound, you can close your eyes or look away from the text. If you want to focus on a text, you can click on it several times to absorb it visually. You can rush through a game to simulate a rapid-fire conversation. Or you can linger on specific individual phrases or sentences. You can skip the writing games, or spend extra time with them. You can puzzle over grammar structures – and to follow up, google the best free dictionary and grammar site that I know, select your language, and type in the word. Or you can let your brain figure out the grammar intuitively. Don't we all have an innate capacity to decode basic grammar?
It's a mistake to think that you have to learn in any prescribed way. Go ahead and learn a language the way it best fits your learning style and personality. Language learning is made more fun that way!
In the last few years, Digital Learning Games have become an increasingly powerful presence on the Internet. No doubt, it's been that trend, which has encouraged us to create and develop our platform for foreign language learning: GamesForLanguage.com
The landscape of Digital Learning through games is full of innovative energy and diversity. Recently, Jasmine Hall at www.onlinecolleges.net alerted me to her blog “10 Gaming Trends that are Transforming Higher Ed.” The blog focuses on the learning potential of video games for the academic setting and lists trends that include location-based games, Wii games for PE (physical education) credits, the use of XP (experience points) instead of grading, game-centered classrooms, and more.
Keeping those trends in mind, I looked what else I could find on the web. A digital learning site that caught my special attention is www.scholastic.com “Level Up” which provides STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and Language Arts standard-based lessons that use video game design as a teaching tool. In other words, students gain the “knowledge and tools to design their own video games” and learn in the process. That's cool. How I wish this kind of learning had existed when I went to college!
There's also plenty of gamified digital learning going on outside of the strict educational setting. And the spectrum is wide.
At one end stand the “serious games,” which refer to games that are not just pure entertainment. One noteworthy example is G4C (Games For Change), an organization that supports games for social change and “provides a platform for the exchange of ideas and resources.” Another, different example would be the Danish company “Serious Games Interactive” which has developed and sells educational games for “Corporate, Social, Educational, Health, or Market Education.”
At the other end of the spectrum stand “trivia games,” which despite their name, have a lot of educational potential. A site that immediately comes to mind is the trivia games site Sporcle, which was featured in a Boston Globe article last year: “On top of the world: Thanks to Sporcle, young people are learning about geography, and other subjects.” Another popular trivia site is Trivia Plaza which has been online since 2001 and continues the interest in trivia, sparked by the board games of that name.
As I'm browsing around on the web, I learn that there exists a Gamify Network that calls itself “Destination for all Things Gamification,” and a site called “Gamifying Education” (a research project of the Games Research Lab at Teachers College, Columbia University). The word “gamification” is fairly new, but the trend itself goes back a few years. It seems to be one with good educational potential – provided the “products” are done thoughtfully and with pedagogic expertise.
Play is a great vehicle for learning. It can transform any difficult learning task into something fun – if packaged in the right way. Games, can be that package. With their specific rules and controlled processes, games provide an excellent platform for play and learning.
When I was 5 years old, I spent two weeks in the Netherlands with my family. Highlights of this visit were days spent at the magnificent North Sea beach at Zandvoort near Haarlem. My father often told the story that I had quickly found a group of kids to play with in the sand, and within hours I was fully engaged, playing and speaking Dutch (for me a new language).
Playing at the beach: building a sand city, digging ditches around it, getting the water from the ocean, decorating our streets and buildings, all of this required skills of cooperation, strategy, and negotiation. Apparently, within hours I had learned the basics for doing this kind of “team work” in Dutch, playfully. I wasn't aware of “learning Dutch” at that time, but I do remember feeling good about being able to communicate in a new language. I wonder sometimes, if that early experience set me on my path to become a linguist and language teacher.
Sports games, such as tennis, golf, baseball, etc. - which many of us love to play - are complex and complicated activities. They are fun to do, especially because they challenge a player to focus, to figure out the rules, and to play at his or her highest skill level. Usually, the more we play these games, the more comfortable we become with the intrinsic skill activities. Besides, there's a wonderful social aspect to playing such games. We are part of a team, we learn from each other, and of course, we compete with each other.
In Mark Anderson's article entitled “Play,” Kevin Carroll (author and speaker on sports and play for social change) is quoted as saying “[sports and play activities] we remember from childhood … were also exercises in resourcefulness, planning, strategy, design, decision making, creativity and risk taking.”
In the same article, founder of the National Institute for Play, Dr. Stuart Brown states: “Humans are designed by biology to play throughout their entire life cycle.” He describes our state of mind during play as “... not cognitive, linear thinking. And it's not sleep and dreams. It's kind of a bridge between.”
In the last couple of years “Games for Learning” have become popular, and such sites have mushroomed. Games for language learning are no exception. Multi-sensory games for language learning - using sound, colors, text, images, movement, etc. put the learner on the “bridge” between “linear thinking” and and the rich world of "imagination and memory." Good games make language learning fun, and yes, effective!
Latin American Spanish Level 1 Unit 2, Core Lesson (30 minutes)
Unless your goal is to decipher old texts, you're probably learning a language so you can speak with others. Like, have a conversation, talk about things, find things out...
I've now done six RS lessons. So, what am I learning?
In this lesson I learned the words for immediate family members ("mother, father, son, daughter brother"), as well as "friend" and "wife." Those are useful. But the endless sequences of having to identify the pictures for sentences such as "a man and a dog, a woman and her dog"; "a girl and a horse, a man and his cat" [to learn the difference between "a" and "her/his" etc.] This was followed by such sequences as: "this is my son, this is my brother, this is my bicycle, these are my brothers" etc, etc," [to learn the difference between between the different forms of "this" and "these." The whole Core Lesson is made up of similar grammar driven material. For those who own the course, you can check out the rest of the grammar drills.
I see an interesting dilemma opening up: On the one hand, grammar is the organizing factor for the words and sentences that I'm learning; on the other hand, all this grammar practice is not tied to any meaningful communication. For example, near the end of the lesson, I see a picture, and I learn "You are my friend." The next pictures teach: "You are my doctor" and "You are my wife." How often will I be saying that?!
Grammar has its place in language learning, for sure. Some people really want to understand how sentences are put together and what makes a language tick. It's a fun puzzle for them.
But others may suffer from (school related) grammar burn-out. They want to let their brain figure things out intuitively. Either way, if a meaningful context is missing, grammar driven learning doesn't cut it.
I've spent a full 3 hours (and more) learning Spanish. I have mastered a number of sentences describing what other people are doing ("the boys are eating, the women are reading"), but I can't yet have a simple, meaningful conversation with a Spanish-speaking friend. Well, I can tell her "You are my friend." At least that's a start.
Back to Blog #1: How Useful is the Vocab?
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