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A Revolutionary Approach to Learning Languages

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A January article from the Victoria News, published by the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, shares some research by Paul Sulzberger, PhD into the teaching of languages:

Dr Sulzberger has found that the best way to learn a language is through frequent exposure to its sound patterns – even if you haven’t a clue what it all means.

“However crazy it might sound, just listening to the language, even though you don’t understand it, is critical. A lot of language teachers may not accept that,” he says.

Now, people who are good at learning languages have long said that immersion makes a massive difference, but they’ve never talked about why that’s the case. Dr. Sulzberger asserts that aural exposure to the language actually changes the brain, re-wiring it to understand what is being said:

Dr Sulzberger’s research challenges existing language learning theory. His main hypothesis is that simply listening to a new language sets up the structures in the brain required to learn the words.

“Neural tissue required to learn and understand a new language will develop automatically from simple exposure to the language—which is how babies learn their first language,” Dr Sulzberger says.

It’s an interesting idea, and it makes a lot of sense to me. You can read the rest of the article here.

And in the spirit of this snippet from the article:

“Teachers should recognise the importance of extensive aural exposure to a language. One hour a day of studying French text in a classroom is not enough—but an extra hour listening to it on the iPod would make a huge difference,” Dr Sulzberger says.

…by way of Lifehacker, here is a master list of free online language lessons.

Written by Michael DeBusk

April 5th, 2009 at 2:45 pm

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