What does learning a foreign language have in common with a playground?
As I stated in a previous post, there are three approaches to learning a foreign language: academic, practical and cultural.
In school, we have the academic approach, which is correct if the purpose of learning the foreign language is to speak it perfectly; that is correct grammar, accepted vocabulary, idioms used properly, etc. That is definitely the end goal. It is, in my opinion, not the primary purpose.
The primary purpose of learning a foreign language is to communicate with others. Two definitions (Merriam-Webster) of “communicate” are: “convey knowledge of or information about;” “to transmit information, thought, or feelings so that it is satisfactorily received or understood.” “Satisfactorily” is the operative word here. At no point does perfect grammar come into the definition of communicate.
The practical approach is different. It is the way we learn our own language. As a child, we learn the vocabulary, verbs and expressions we hear in our immediate surroundings. We learn the language of the playground.
When adults learn foreign languages for their career or other reason, they first need to analyze their personal playground, to figure out what words, idioms, verbs, etc. are essential in their particular playground. They can be technical terms, or what is needed to sell their product or just what is needed to be able to socialize with one’s business counterparts in another country. Perfect grammar is not required.
The more one who is learning a foreign language listens to everyday conversations and practices the words from their own playground, the more quickly the grammar will improve. Practice is very important.
Unfortunately, stressing the academic approach to learning a foreign language scares away many adults from taking up another language. Communication should come first, grammar second.
Learning a foreign language is an out of classroom experience. You have to focus first on what you specifically need to communicate in your personal and or business playground and then work on improving your skills. You will find it will come naturally. Yes, you will make mistakes, and people will laugh. That happens to those learning in the classroom as well. It is part of learning a foreign language. It is not all that difficult. Some are much better at it than others; that will never change. But everyone can learn enough to communicate.
I look forward to your comments. I just want to point out that I am not saying speaking perfectly or correctly is not important. I am saying that the primary purpose of learning a foreign language is communication. Correct grammar, and everything that goes with it, is the end goal.