Theory of New Language Learning Part One

Learning a new language is very difficult. It can take a lot of time and it is characterized with so many frustrations and disappointments, especially when new language learning becomes a requirement for work and education. However, the question remains that there is a process that one could follow through for him to her to learn a new language. This will be tackled in a series of articles.

The information below were derived from experience and was not subject to any test. Nonetheless, I will be presenting my own personal theory of learning new language. Personally, I speak Cebuano, the second most spoken language in the Philippines. Throughout school, I was able to learn Filipino, the national language, but I encountered problems learning English even though the language was widely-used in the country. Slowly, I improved until I got C2 in listening in reading, while C1 in writing and speaking. The improvement is something I did not imagine before. Presently, I am struggling to maintain B1 in Norwegian from A1 and is starting to have interest in learning Spanish and French.

Everyone starts with the breakthrough level (A1). A person speaking A1 can use frequently-used phrases and greetings in simple and regular conversations. Studies indicate that it requires about 50 to 100 hours to achieve this level. What I observed for one to accomplish this language level, one must show interest as it is the first stepping stone for learning new  language. Without interest, a person will not attempt to use the language and continue learning it. Developing interest depends on the reasons why a person is taking it. It could be for work, friendships, education or merely for fun.

The second stage is the elementary level (A2), where a person can understand expressions about regular concrete topics and start to describe important aspects of his or her immediate environment. This step requires about 100 hours of exposure. Theoretically speaking, there are two requirements to reach this level. These are quantity of time and theoretical knowledge. With the first aspect, one must expose himself or herself on the language, regardless of the outcome. One can attempt to understand words by listening or by reading. The person is not expected to understand everything, but one must be familiar with the sounds of the words. In addition to time, one must have theoretical knowledge about grammatical rules of the new language. These rules must be learned and compared with the previously-learned languages. For example, the first time I learned Norwegian, I tried to see the difference in making sentences in both Norwegian and English. However, this is the time I felt difficulty and confusion. This confusion can even make the person learning the language frustrated that he or she does not want to learn the language anymore.

Personally speaking, it took me time to linger in the elementary level (A2) in learning language. My mind seems to reject new patterns in the way I construct sentences such that it resulted for me to feel less confident and not use the language consistently. I just remained patient and persistent with learning the language until I reached threshold or intermediate level (B1). In this level, one can understand main points of the conversations and is able not just to describe, but also explain and briefly give reasons to both concrete and abstract concepts. It is estimated that a person must take 400 hours of language training to reach this level.

In my observation, for one to be at B1 language, he or she must meet three things. These include quality of time, motivation and inspiration and vocabulary. Firstly, one must not just expose more himself or herself to the language in terms of time, but more than quantity is quality. One must engage in lengthy conversations with another, using words and expressions that describe, explain and reason out. Secondly, one must be able to motivate oneself in developing a habit. This is where hard work and patience are needed. If one fails to understand and appreciate the goal of learning new language, then he or she will definitely stop allocating time for it. Lastly, expansion of one’s vocabulary is essential. In my own case, since I have to get samples of my English written composition, so I do have a good overview of my vocabulary. Then, I translated every English word to Norwegian, and tried to remember and use it. My theory is that one can not use new words in the new language, if one did not use the word in the previous language.

These are steps I used to improve my language skills from A1 to B1. I am not saying I am expert in any language, but I find it useful for myself to have a guide on how I teach myself to speak the language independently. This is only the first part of the article. The second part explains how can one be proficient in a new language.

Click here for Part Two


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