African 670:Fall 2019
Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget it
Reviewed by Rebecca Meza, Fall 2019
Fluent Forever is both a fascinating book about the science of language learning and an accessible guide packed full of resources and practical strategies that have been perfected from the author’s personal experience learning languages. Roughly, the first half presents the strategies and tips that form the foundation of the book, often grounded by neuroscience research to give legitimacy to these strategies. However, the author craftily infuses these scientific studies so that they read more like a story rather than a jargon-cluttered report of the findings. If you’re a reader wanting to teach yourself a language, this book will give you a motivational boost and offer substantial resources and detailed examples for how to make it happen. The second half of the book is “The Toolbox” of how to make effective flashcards for learning vocabulary and grammar, with language learning resources to enhance your efficiency that I myself found useful. It’s important to note that the learning strategies presented in the book are flashcard heavy and as you progress through the sections in conjunction with your own language learning, the flashcards will get more detailed and complex. The book explores important components or strategies of language learning: learn pronunciation first; don’t translate, rather use holistic techniques presented in the book to help you organize and absorb a high volume of vocabulary and grammar rules; and you should use a spaced repetition system (SRS) to ensure words and rules stay in your memory while also incorporating new vocabulary.
Because the author’s position as an opera singer requires seemingly perfect pronunciation, he considers this an essential skill to nail down. By learning pronunciation first and well, you won’t be starting with bad habits that can wreck later interactions with native speakers. In his book he introduces the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and back-chaining, recall tests, and spaced repetition systems (SRS), among other strategies and resources. The flashcards aren’t just for learning the meaning of vocabulary words but also for learning phonetic spelling and correct pronunciation. One tool is the IPA, a free online resource that gives you a detailed system for correctly using your mouth and throat when encountering tricky or numerous spellings of a phoneme (unit of sound). For example, the “oo” sound comes in many shapes and sizes in the English alphabet, but in the International Phonetic Alphabet it is “u” all the time. However, IPA can be used for learning any language, even less commonly taught languages. Be advised though, the IPA can be intimidating if you’re not used to the system. A flash card could incorporate a phonetic translation along with the correct spelling and you would learn it in tandem with the meaning of the vocabulary word. Back-chaining is a simple and useful strategy. If you have a long word you’re trying to pronounce, you will start at the back of the word and work your way to the front by incorporating each new letter or phoneme. This means that you’re reviewing the same word several times.
An important aspect of using flashcards is the spaced repetition system. It can be found online or created with flashcards from scratch. SRS is a way to space out your learning of each flashcard through specific intervals that align with the science of long-term memory consolidation. For the paper flashcard version for example, you will have dozens of flashcards that sit in a box with divided sections that represent levels. All cards start at level one. The card that you can successfully recall moves up a level, and those you forget stay or move back in the box. Cards that get to level 7 represent their place in your long-term memory. There’s a schedule that goes along with your flashcard box and it will tell you which levels to study each day for up to 64 days (included in the book and the book’s website). But learning the system doesn’t take as much time and effort as creating the flashcards that will fill the box (or digital space). These aren’t just simple flashcards with one word in the back and one in the front. Since the author encourages you not to write translations in your native language, you will be finding or drawing images (and/or sound recordings) and attempting to make a personal connection with the word through the imagery you create. This tedious activity of creating personalized flashcards is meant to ingrain the lesson of each card in your brain, thereby being more efficient in the long run. Even though your carefully constructed flashcards are vital to your learning, you still risk forgetting, so the author explains the difference between reviewing words through flashcards and recalling words. Recall can best be accomplished through testing yourself on what you know. A simple recall test could be you writing down the words you remember from a previous review rather than going back and reviewing the flashcards. In chapter 5 (remember the chapters advance as your learning does) you’ll be writing essays about whatever interests you. From this activity you’ll quickly realize what you don’t yet know, and you can submit your writings online (e.g. italki; Lang-8) to a tutor or native speaker to get it checked.
Limitations and Conclusion
Forever Fluent is a good book for anyone wanting to learn a language or for those who are already in the process. While I’ll be using some aspects of it for my own practice, there are important limitations to keep in mind. The author relies on flashcards as a technique for learning vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, and focuses primarily on these three aspects of language learning. At the start of the book using flashcards with an SRS seems like a useful technique, and in some regards it is, but as you work your way through the book you realize that the flashcards are the crux of the practice. While this strategy has worked for the author, it might not work for you. Successful language learning, particularly if you are not receiving formal instruction, rests on having multiple activities that satisfy your unique personality and interests, activities that keep your learning fun and challenging (Leaver, Ehrman, Shekthman, 2005; Peace Corps, 2000). As you are planning your learning, your job is to give yourself lots of activities that you find motivating and that tap into relevant skills such as oral comprehension, speaking ability, listening comprehension, writing, and cultural knowledge. Motivation is a crucial factor in your language learning success and having multiple activities keeps you from neglecting certain skills, getting bored and falling behind (Leaver, Ehrman, Shekthman, 2005). While this book is useful because it offers a variety of strategies and resources, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to language learning. You will ultimately need to sit down with yourself first and set your objectives and goals, devise a plan, and decide on what strategies best serve your learning style and work habits (Carver, 1984; Peace Corps, 2000).
Another limitation of Fluent Forever is that many of the activities are detached from the context and lack cultural relevance. This is an understandable challenge with learning basic skills like grammar and pronunciation but for holistic learning you should put extra effort into linking these components with the bigger picture of the language, which is inseparable from culture and history. This could mean using culturally-relevant images with your flashcards, as well as bringing in other learning materials like role play, poetry, pop culture (e.g. movies, music), news, and other resources that build historical knowledge of the target language and country. An excellent way to achieve a deep understanding of the target language, to enrich your activities, and to monitor and assess your progress is to work with a native-speaking mentor (Marshall, 1989; Peace Corps, 2000). Unfortunately, Fluent Forever primarily presents activities that can be accomplished in isolation, except for checking your writing and practicing the language through online sites, which aren’t always free, like italki. Having at least one mentor is actually an integral component to the process. Mentors are important for language learning because you need someone skilled and fluent in the language who can consistently check your progress and be there to assist with your learning. It’s never too late to get a mentor, and the sooner the better! Lastly, I think the book offers a couple of very good ideas for evaluating your learning progress (e.g. recall tests and creative writing), yet I think the author fails to emphasize the importance of monitoring and evaluating your language learning on a consistent basis. Assessments are another form of learning, and routine check-ups, with yourself and with your mentor, can make sure that you’re meeting your broader learning goals (Marshall, 1989; Peace Corps, 2000).
No language learning resource is the “Rosetta Stone” for becoming fluent in another language. If you’re taking a class or learning primarily on your own, language learning is a long and challenging process that relies on motivation and determination. With that in mind, Fluent Forever is a good companion for getting ideas and inspiration. It offers several detailed strategies, a long list of resources, and gives you a brief background on the science of language learning. I believe it’s best for beginning language learners but is designed for all levels, as well as for both individuals learning on their own or those taking a language class. As long as you are cognizant of its limitations, Forever Fluent is worth your time and will diversify your language learning practice if nothing else.
Carver, D. (1984). “Plans, learner strategies and self-direction in language learning.” System, 12 (2), pp. 123-131.
Leaver, B. L., Ehrman, M., & Shekhtman, B. (2005). Achieving Success in Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge University Press.
Marshall, T. (1989). The Whole World Guide to Language Learning. Intercultural Press, PO Box 768, Yarmouth, ME 04096.
United States Peace Corps. (2000). Volunteer On-going Language Learning Manual.
International Collection and Exchange, Publication No. M0064. Washington, DC.
Wyner, G. (2014). Fluent Forever: How to Learn Any Language Fast and Never Forget it. Harmony: New York.
How to Learn a New Language with a Used Brain
Reviewed by Tanya Carney, Fall 2019
Language learning, whether your first, second, third, or beyond, is a complicated, dynamic, and lifelong process. As quoted by language instructor Professor Joe Daggett, “You can get an insight into the process when you realize that learning a second language proceeds the same way as learning your first language…only you’re older so it’s not as easy or natural” (McBride, 8). As such, language learning is unique to each individual depending on a variety of factors including a learners’ needs, goals, resource access, and learning style.
How to Learn a New Language with a Used Brain is an easy to digest book written for adult learners. While many of its examples focus on French (the author’s second language), the book is applicable to any language one may be trying to learn. The techniques laid out within the book are straightforward and easy to understand, and explain learning without the use of theory or academic language. This results in a refreshing book about a realistic language learning program. It provides ample encouragement and, as a bonus, carries a lighthearted sense of humor throughout. Additionally, it offers a wealth of resource suggestions that are accessible to all.
The author, Lynn McBride, is an American former educator and self-proclaimed language lover. She resides in France with her husband where they have lived since 2003.
McBride lays out a six-step process to language acquisition that she encourages learners to make a part of their everyday routine. The book effortlessly walks readers through each of these steps, offering firsthand accounts and anecdotes along the way. Each of the steps build off one another and work together to help learners develop confidence and skill in their target language. Each step, according to McBride, is laid out in detail below. Following laying out the program, the book also offers tips and tricks from other teachers and learners as well as a list of what the author considers to be the “best of” language resources, and tips for language acquisition when living abroad.
Step 1: Basics
If this is your first exposure to the language, before starting the program, the author states that it is necessary to learn the basics of grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary of your target language. If you have had exposure before, now is the time to brush up a little. Whether through a good textbook, an introductory course (audit a class?), a tutor, online resources (often free!), etc., once you have the basics down and have gathered a few learning resources, you are ready to jump into the rest of the program.
Step 2: Practice Comprehension
As the book states, conversations involve not only speaking, but also comprehension, which can be difficult and potentially overwhelming at first. To avoid this, it is suggested to start with passive listening, and to listen before attempting to speak. In particular, McBride suggests listening to audio resources (podcasts, movies, radio/news, apps), that allow you to slow down the audio to a speed you can understand. As an additional tip, the book discourages the use of sitcoms as they often are full of slang and jokes that may not be understandable to a beginning learner. Instead, McBride suggests that learners look for documentaries or movies that they are familiar with, or to read the synopsis ahead of time to be more familiar with the plot.
Step 3: Practice Speaking
The author claims that speaking is often the hardest, but also most essential, part of language learning. She emphasizes the need to not be afraid of making mistakes and gives comical firsthand accounts showing that no one is immune to embarrassing themselves. A few tips presented are to ask people to repeat things if you don’t understand, asking people to speak more slowly, not being ashamed of telling people that you are trying to learn, and to learn commonly used phrases first. Another point made by McBride is that it is not necessary to understand everything in order to have a conversation, so there is no need to get caught up in the small details and get frustrated. Those things, the author states, will come with time. Suggested ways to practice speaking include language group meet-ups, private tutors, and talking to yourself.
Step 4: Reading
The book emphasizes that listening and speaking are the foundation of language learning, and that reading and writing, while also important, should come second. However, it also states that reading could be a great way for visual learners to acquire language. The main strengths of reading according to the author are grammar reinforcement and vocabulary-building. It is suggested that more advanced readers read things that are similar to what they read in English (i.e. if you like reading plays in English, look for a play in your target language), and that if you are beginner, to try children’s books or stories that you are familiar with.
Step 5: Keep it going
The importance of motivation in language-learning cannot be overstated. As the book emphasizes, it is important to keep things interesting by incorporating different components of learning into your everyday life. Additionally, learning about the culture rather than solely the language, could add variety.
Step 6: Make it fun
Most importantly the book reminds new learners to have a good sense of humor and to be patient. To add some fun to language learning McBride suggests travelling to a country that speaks the language you are trying to learn, singing in your target language, cooking a recipe written in the language you are learning, and even dating someone who speaks the language (haha)!
Other noteworthy tips:
· If possible, change the language of your cell phone, computer or tablet to be in your target language.
· Download a good dictionary on your cell phone.
· When reading, highlight words you don’t know and go back and look them up later rather than continuously interrupting your reading by looking up words. To make this activity more dynamic you could make flash cards out of the highlighted terms/phrases and quiz yourself on them later.
· Learn a phrase and add it to your calendar one month from the date you learned it. Then, on that day try to use the phrase in conversation or writing.
· Try to think in your target language.
McBride, unlike Marshall, does not include goal setting or evaluation as part of her process. By foregoing evaluation and goal setting, her approach is more relaxed and less structured. It also may, however, lead to slower progress and unfocused learning. She also does not include the assumption of the presence of a native-speaking community. Instead, she provides techniques for learners living within as well as apart from native-speaking communities.
Like other methods, including those of Marshall and the Peace Corps Manual, McBride puts a strong emphasis on speaking. For her, it is the most important component of language learning, and although she does not explicitly state that a mentor is needed, she does allude to the fact that it is important to have a native speaker to practice with, whether in person or remotely. As stated before, her focus on conversation is less structured and as such does not provide specific role-playing exercises or detailed suggestions as seen in Marshall. As seen within the Peace Corps Manual, she also encourages learners to not worry about making mistakes.
Similar to the Peace Corps Manual, McBride states the importance of listening before talking to build a base for developing speaking skills. Both methods also suggest that learners use approaches such as listening to recordings, tv shows, and conversations in public, if possible, and stress the importance of learning key phrases such as how to end a conversation or pose questions to check comprehension.
Regarding listening, McBride however strays from other programs such as National Association of Self-Instructional Language Programs (NASLIP). McBride encourages learners to slow recordings down in order to understand them and not become frustrated. This is contradicted in the NASLIP where learners are explicitly told not to slow down recordings or ask speakers to slow down so that they can understand them. Instead with NASLIP, learners are encouraged to listen repeatedly until the words are understood.
Additionally, since this book was published relatively recently, it includes many internet-based and technology-focused solutions to language learning obstacles, which are omitted from many of the other texts. McBride encourages the use of cell phone apps such as dictionaries for reference, quizlet for learning and review, and Evernote to organize and track studies. She also pulls in references such as podcasts, including Coffee Break and iTunesU, and ways to find people for conversation including verbling.com, the polygot club, and meet-up.com.
How to Learn a New Language with a Used Brain embodies the idea that second (or beyond) language acquisition as an adult is a lifelong process and is individual to each learner. There is no formula that will allow anyone to magically learn a new language, but there are activities that can be incorporated into everyday life that will increase acquisition. The book offers a six-step program that can be tailored to any language, and whose ideas are not necessarily novel, but are presented in a refreshing way with some tips and tricks one may have never considered. It also offers a wealth of resources, including reviews of those resources. The only downfall of the book is that some of the resources/techniques may not apply or be possible for individuals attempting to learn a less commonly taught language (LCTL). For example, many of the resources she points to do not contain material for LCTLs. Additionally, there are not groups such as the French Alliance for LCTLs, and they could be difficult to find classes for.
Overall the book offers some good insights and suggestions for in-situ and ex-situ language learning as an adult and presents this information in a light-hearted and easy to understand way. It is far less structured than many language learning programs, and therefore may be best suited for individuals who would like to learn a new language but do not have a great sense of urgency.
Marshall, Terry. The Whole World Guide to Language Learning. Nicholas Brealey International, 1989
McBride, Lynn. How to Learn a New Language with a Used Brain. Marshall & Gilbert, 2013
Peace Corps, On-going Language Learning Manual. Information Collection and Exchange, 2000
“Student Study Guide.” National Association of Self-Instructional Language Programs, www.nasilp.net
“How to Learn Languages: 7 Steps to Fluency” by Na’im Muhammad (2015)
Reviewed by: Monica Komer, Fall 2019
How to Learn Languages: 7 Steps to Fluency by Na’im Muhammad is a short, electronic book that focuses on the language learning process and is well suited for learners at the beginning of their language learning, but includes some helpful insights that are relevant to all language learners. Most importantly, the book is aimed at self-guided language study. It focuses on these seven steps of learning a second language: choose a language to learn, set goals for language learning, listen to the language, read in the language, speak in the language, write in the language, and mission accomplished!
The first chapter of the book is dedicated to picking a language to learn, which for many people is a straight forward part of the process, but still may be a harder task for others. This chapter offers practical guidance for learners that may be unsure which language is best for their goals and interests. Next, the book then delves into how to set language learning goals. This section discusses how to set a time frame for attaining fluency, emphasizes that language learning is a daily process, and encourages learners to take note of their interests and the online resources that may be appropriate for their learning goals. The next chapter (step 3 of 7) is about listening to the language. The author encourages the reader to listen to audio for one hour per day and to use the “shadowing” method. Shadowing requires the learner to listen to a native speaker and emulate their pronunciation.
The fourth chapter is focused on reading the language. In this section the author encourages learners to first study the alphabet or relevant writing system for their language and then read short articles and use spatial repetition software (SPS). This software is similar to websites like Quizlet where it shows the learner flashcards based on their difficulty level. Chapter five moves to speaking the language. Here, learners are told to improve their pronunciation, learn vocabulary and simple grammar patters, and seek out a language partner. The next chapter is about writing in the language. In this chapter the author outlines two primary goals: practice writing characters and sentences and join online communities and platforms. The final chapter, titled mission accomplished, is devoted to miscellaneous tips such as thinking in the target language, starting a blog, and additional online resources that may be helpful for language learners.
Comparison to Other Methods
Like many other methods of language learning, such the University of Arizona’s Critical Language program and the use of the linguist informant (Nicholson 1944), the author emphasizes the need to communicate with a native speaker. However, this is not a main focus of the book. The author encourages learners to find a language partner when they reach “a really good level with regards to the phrases, vocabulary, and grammar” (Local Language Partners section, para. 1). It seems difficult to know what exactly “a really good level” entails. It is also unclear why learners should wait until they reach a “really good level” to seek out a language partner. In fact, language learners are likely to find language partners to be useful at any stage.
For Marshall (1989) and authors of the Peace Corps manual, community-based learning and cultural-embeddedness are important components of language learning. In line with this view, Muhammad (2015) advises learners to engage with native speakers as much as possible and through as many avenues as possible. For example, he lists opportunities to interact and engage with native speakers—from social media groups, to visiting certain communities or areas where native speakers frequent, to traveling abroad and even Skyping people from home. While this approach is less focused on community-based learning as the Peace Corp manual (since the author is primarily writing for learners that may not have access to communities of native speakers), the author is still advocating for a similar approach to learning and community engagement. From the authors standpoint, it is still possible to interact with community members, even in unconventional ways such as through the internet, which is a good reminder for students that may be learning our languages away from these native communities.
Evaluation and Conclusion
Overall, the advice in each chapter is concise and clear. This may be useful for learners at the very beginning stage of their language studies. However, it does not provide detailed advice or guidance on any topic in particular. For that reason, I see this book as a rough guide for learning about the important aspects of learning any language (such as listening, reading, and speaking) and how to get started in any of those areas. Although, learners may need to seek out additional materials and guidance. While I see the lack of detail as largely a drawback, the book certainly encourages the learner to take charge of their own learning and exposes them to a number of resources without dictating what their language learning process should look like.
Still, a useful component of the book is the degree to which it encourages the use of online resources that are widely available. The author mentions a number of websites for language learners to get resources, connect with native speakers, find language partners to speak with and ways to get feedback even on written work. These include websites such as iTalki, Shared Talk (which was created by Rosetta Stone), LingQ, and others that have resources for a variety of languages. These types of tips and resources are helpful to language learners at any stage and are an important part of developing long-term strategies for self-guided learners.
Marshall, Terry. The Whole World Guide to Language Learning. Intercultural Press, Yarmouth, ME, 1989.
Muhammad, Na’im. How to Learn Languages: 7 Steps to Fluency. Online Seiko, 2015.
Nicholson, Helen S. “Learning by the Linguist-Informant Method.” The Modern Language Journal, vol. 28, no. 7, 1994, pp. 615-619.
US Peace Corps. Volunteer Ongoing Language Learning Manual: Beyond Hello. Washington DC, Peace Corps, 2000.
Morrison, B. (Ed.). (2011). Independent Language Learning: Building on Experience, Seeking New Perspectives. Hong Kong University Press.
Reviewed by Laura Livingston, Fall 2019
Independent Language Learning: Building on Experience, Seeking New Perspectives edited by Bruce Morrison (2011) consists of a series of essays investigating different facets of independent language learning (ILL) inspired by the Independent Learning Association 2009 conference. The book is organized in three sections. Section one focuses on emerging perspectives in the field of language acquisition, section two narrows in on the independent learner, and the final section investigates how best to support independent learners. I chose this book, as I was interested in learning about ILL through the diverse perspectives of many authors. The authors of the essays range from directors of centers, institutes and schools on college campuses, graduate students and freelance language coaches. Some of the contributors have backgrounds in educational psychology, linguistics, advising, or in language and communication studies. I hoped that the variety of backgrounds could provide guidance in my new role as an independent learner. A secondary reason why chose this book is because I love teaching, and I would also like to learn ways to foster independent learning with future students.
The introduction to the text defines independent learning as the behavior or set of behaviors where the “learner takes active responsibility for the learning process” (pg. 4). The editor grounds the book’s theoretical framework in several foundational theorists including Dewey, Freire and Knowles. Although rooted in established theories, independent learning is a dynamic field. The essays that comprise the majority of this book broaden and deepen the understanding of the foundational theories in independent learning and are organized into three sections. Section one delves into the ways that the educational landscape of ILL is evolving.
Section two of the text narrows in how identity, motivation, and emotions of the independent learner shape language acquisition and learner autonomy. Section three highlights the importance of viewing independent learning as socially situated and focuses on the relational epistemology of learner autonomy.
Relation to course methods
I found many similarities between the collection of twelve essays and the resources and methodologies presented in our course thus far, it is clear that 670 and 671 are built on the new and dynamic theories of ILL! I will outline the most salient similarities in this section. Similar to how chapter one of Leaver et al. (2005), walks readers through the importance of defining why you are learning a secondary language, the text stresses that “independent learners define their learning needs, identify means to attain them, and make the decisions necessary to meet the learners own needs” (pg. 4). The emphasis on personalized learning plans in the introduction and chapter seven of the book mirrors the Independent Student Plan that we create in 671. Chapter four of the text argues that learner identity is central to language learning, similar to the discussion in chapter four of Leaver et al. (2005) but adds a discussion about inequitable power dynamics and social structures when working with immigrant populations.
The importance of learner self-assessment in chapter two mirrors chapter four in Volunteer on-Going Language Learning Manual: Beyond Hello. Additionally, the emphasis on goal setting and goal-oriented learning outlined in chapter seven is also quite similar to the discussion of goal setting in the Peace Corps Manual (2000) and Marshall (1989). In both examples, the theoretical underpinnings highlighted in Independent Language Learning: Building on Experience, Seeking New Perspectives, would be helpful for learners who want a deeper understanding than what the Peace Corps Manual (2000) provides.
The text brought a unique perspective in comparison to our readings thus far, stating that independent learning is not synonymous with learning alone. In chapter one, White discusses the part that learning communities play in the process of independent learning similar how we rely on our learning environment on Slack. She emphasizes the importance of classmate partnership and reciprocity in the context of online tandem language learning. Similar to our experience in 670, this chapter highlights how independent learners make decisions necessary to their own needs in conjunction with others. Support from teachers and peers can be valuable, with dependence waxing and waning during different stages of the learning process. Chapter ten builds on this discussion by discussing the complexity of online learning environments. Although we are practicing tandem language learning together, reading the theory behind the design changed my perspective on how I engage with the online component of the course. Specifically, I adjusted my feedback from being primarily supportive and observational to asking more reflective and probing questions that might elicit deeper responses about language learning.
The text lacked a discussion on the importance of mentors or the host language community. None of the essays emphasized the importance of working with a native speaker during the ILL process. The model of ILL is very different from what was modeled in the linguist informant model (Nicholson, 1944) or our 670/671 model which both rely on the expertise of native speakers. Unlike the chapters in Marshall (1989) and the Peace Corps Manual (2000) devoted to finding and working with a language learning community or partner, the book offers no mention of the importance of native language speakers in modeling speech, building cultural competencies, or facilitating conversation and role play. Additionally, both books articulate the importance of mentor assessment. I personally rely greatly on my mentor helping me shape my assessments and working with me to determine if I have met my goals.
Although I found this book to be incredibly interesting and theoretically relevant to our course, I felt that due to the structure of the book, the authors were not able to go in-depth in their essays or provide practical steps for language learners. While reading the various authors, I gained many insights to new research, frameworks, and ways to conceptualize ILL. The theories gained from this book can be applied in both learning and teaching settings, which I found valuable as a graduate student that often has to do both. As a teacher, I feel like I learned many new and exciting ways to structure a class to increase autonomous learning. However, I did not gain as many concrete ways of improving my own learning practice. Chapter five was the only chapter to provide concrete strategies for independent language learners. The various geographical and cultural contexts of the chapters provide nuance to ILL, but this again did not help provide tangible actions or activities to be explored by language learners.
I believe that the best audience for this book would be instructors of ILL courses or of any course that relies heavily on autonomous learning. The book includes examples syllabuses and learning models that would be extremely helpful for framing a new course or updated an existing one. For us learners, this book might be helpful to understand the theory behind and the future direction of ILL. Select chapters may be useful when first introducing the importance of autonomous learning or the online learning community. Additionally, this resource would be very valuable for those who are interested in conducting research about ILL. However, the Volunteer on-Going Language Learning Manual: Beyond Hello and Leaver et al. (2005) cover similar content with more insights for practical application.
Leaver, B., Ehrman, M., & Shekhtman, B. (2005). Achieving Success in Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Marshall, T. (1989). The Whole World Guide to Language Learning. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.
Morrison, B. (2011). Independent Language Learning. Hong Kong, China: Goodrich Int’l Printing Co.
Nicholson, H.S. (1944). “Learning by the Linguist-Informant Method,” The Modern Language Journal. 28(7), 615-619.
US Peace Corps. (2000). Volunteer Ongoing Language Learning Manual: Beyond Hello. Washington DC: Peace Corps.
Personalizing Language Learning, by Griff Griffiths and Kathy Keohane
Reviewed by Sam Meyerson, Fall 2019
Personalizing Language Learning, part of a series of books on language instruction published by Cambridge University Press, provides a unique approach to the pedagogy of language and serves as a useful compliment to the works on self-guided language study on which we have been focusing this semester. Initially, I was rather skeptical of the book’s utility for students engaged in the self-guided study of less commonly taught languages (LCTLs). Griffiths and Keohane are writing for an audience of language teachers seeking new approaches to classroom instruction. In addition, much of the content of the book seems to assume that the reader is an instructor for an English as a second language course. There are certainly sections of the book that will not be particularly useful to those seeking to independently learn regionally-specific African languages, especially those languages without a thriving written tradition. However, as I will demonstrate below, Personalizing Language Learning offers important perspectives on the deep connections between language and culture and on how we, as self-guided language learners, might be able to make up for the distance that separates us from the communities were our languages of interest are spoken.
The guiding principle that drives Personalizing Language Learning is the assertion that the pedagogy of language has become too detached from the individual lives, interests and concerns of language learners. Griffiths and Keohane seek to remedy this problem by proposing a variety of different language-learning exercises that center the emotions, interests and experiences of the learner. According to Griffiths and Keohane, designing classroom activities that are relevant to the personal lives of students builds trust between learners and instructors, facilitates deeper relationships among learners and creates a more welcoming classroom environment. Griffiths and Keohane contend that connecting language learning to the personal lives and experiences of students constitutes a “humanistic approach” to language pedagogy, which will ensure that students are more engaged in classroom activities and more likely to remember important vocabulary and grammatical concepts.
The book largely consists of exercises designed by the authors to further their humanistic approach to language learning and instruction, which are divided into eight thematically-arranged chapters. The first two chapters are composed of activities that encourage learners to introduce themselves to their instructors and fellow students by talking about their physical characteristics, personality traits and central life experiences. Chapter Three focuses on brief dialogues and skits intended to familiarize students with the more basic aspects of the language. Chapters Four and Five emphasize interpersonal interactions, with a particular focus on emotionally-charged interactions that language learners are likely to encounter on a day-to-day basis and the vocabulary and body language that are necessary to navigate such interactions. For instance, how should one make a polite exit from an awkward conversation, or be assertive without alienating or angering the other parties involved in the interaction? Chapters Six and Seven provide outlines for encouraging learners to discuss aspects of their personal lives, memories and experiences using descriptive vocabulary and narrative grammatical structures. Finally, Chapter Eight consists of activities that allow students to reflect on the material they have learned throughout the course and to provide their instructor with feedback on their learning experience.
Applicability to the Self-Guided Study of LCTLs
As noted above, the methodology outlined by Griffiths and Keohane does not initially seem to have much to do with the self-guided study of African languages, and it is true that certain segments of Personalizing Language Learning, such as the authors’ extensive discussion of classroom environments, are not particularly useful to most of us. In my opinion, however, the utility of this book lies in its emphasis on the cultural intricacies and complexities of everyday conversation. In Chapter Three, Griffiths and Keohane propose several dialogue exercises centered around particular emotions, such as shock, anger and sadness, as well as exercises that provide students with the opportunity to practice how to demonstrate disagreement or contrition in a culturally appropriate manner. Similarly, Chapter Four provides exercises that are designed to show students how to defuse or end awkward social interactions, establish common ground with other people, demonstrate sympathy and empathy and persuade and cajole other people, as well as how to ask a question in a culturally sensitive manner. Although these exercises are designed for students studying English as a second language, the methodology that underlies them provides self-guided language learners with a blueprint for approaching one of the most difficult aspects of language study: learning the body language, tonal inflections and turns of phrase that are culturally appropriate in the many different social situations in which we will find ourselves in communities where our languages of interest are spoken.
Personal experience has taught me that no matter how perfectly one has memorized vocabulary and grammar, a failure to use the appropriate body language or tone of voice can completely undermine efforts to communicate a certain message or sentiment. Similarly, an inability to comprehend how body language and vocal tone are used in a certain cultural context can make it very difficult to understand the explicit meanings and implicit implications of another person’s statement. For instance, among the Acholi people of northern Uganda, men are expected to remain stoic, and even cheerful, in the face of adversity. Early on in my stay in northern Uganda, a male friend of mine lost his brother in a motorcycle accident, and when I offered him my condolences, he chuckled and replied, “Pe rac gire,” or, “It’s not so bad,” leaving me rather shocked and confused. Such a response to a tragedy would have been highly inappropriate in my own culture, and I was simply not aware of the culturally appropriate ways for Acholi men to handle grief. If I had had a more nuanced understanding of the appropriate language, inflection and body language to use in such an emotionally fraught situation, I would have been able to better understand my friend’s strategy for coping with his loss.
As Terry Marshall emphasizes, community-based learning is essential for students seeking to learn LCTLs and to familiarize themselves with the cultural contexts where their languages of interest are spoken. However, as many of us have lamented in our class discussions on Slack, finding Twi, Hausa or Ngakarimojong-speaking communities in Madison, Wisconsin, in which to immerse our selves is easier said than done and, in many cases, virtually impossible. In Marshall’s The Whole World Guide to Language Learning, he underscores the centrality of day-to-day interactions with community members to acquiring the instincts necessary to successfully navigate culturally complex situations. However, for language learners who are unable to access communities where their language of interest is spoken, I believe that Personalizing Language Learning can serve as a valuable source of new ideas for approaching some of the cultural complexities of language. For instance, we, as learners, might brainstorm particularly complex interpersonal situations in which we might find ourselves, and then work collaboratively with our mentors to identify and practice the vocabulary, inflection and body language necessary to navigate these situations. Since much of my research focuses on intercommunal and political violence, I am particularly interested in learning culturally sensitive ways of expressing empathy with my future interviewees and of defusing tension in emotionally-charged situations.
Personalizing Language Learning serves as a useful addition to the readings we have encountered thus far in the course. Marshall, Nicholson and the NASILP all outline slightly different approaches to learner-mentor collaboration, none of which emphasize the role that a mentor can play in familiarizing the learner with the complexities of the culture where their language of interest is spoken. For Marshall, as noted above, community-based learning should be the primary avenue for learners to acquaint themselves with the culturally-embedded nuances of language. Similarly, the Peace Corps manual assumes that its readers are Peace Corps volunteers embedded in communities where their language of interest is the lingua franca, and it therefore highlights the importance of community-based learning. Nicholson, on the other hand, makes little mention of culture at all in her discussion of language informant-learner collaboration, focusing instead on rote memorization of vocabulary, turns of phrase and prepared dialogues. The NASILP lies somewhere in between the approaches outlined by Nicholson and Marshall, highlighting the importance of practicing dialogues and vocabulary with audio recordings. Personalizing Language Learning provides methodological guidance on how to emphasize the centrality of cultural understanding to language study, even when the learner does not have access to communities where their language of interest is spoken.
Many of the exercises designed by Griffiths and Keohane can be modified to fit a self-guided model of language study. For instance, one exercise seeks to teach students how to express sympathy in a culturally appropriate manner. In the first step of the exercise, students brainstorm words, phrases and body language useful for expressing sympathy. Then, students break off into pairs to design and practice dialogues based on possible real-life situations that incorporate the words, phrases and body language they had brainstormed. I think this exercise can easily be adapted to our sessions with our mentors. We can brainstorm the body language, words and phrases and prepare the dialogues prior to meeting with our mentors. Then, we can practice orally with our mentors, who can provide us with tips and corrections regarding tone of voice, body language, vocabulary and other factors crucial to navigating emotionally fraught situations in the cultures where our languages of interest are spoken.
Another exercise focuses on starting and maintaining casual conversations with people of different social positions and walks of life, such as elders, children, friends or professional acquaintances. Students are divided into pairs and assigned roles randomly. Then, based on their respective roles, they must agree upon a topic of casual conversation that would be appropriate given the social disparity between their assigned roles. For instance, in the American cultural context, an adolescent and an older person might have a polite conversation about the weather, whereas two friends of the same age might converse more genially about their romantic lives. Finally, each pair prepares and presents a dialogue based on these roles and their chosen topics of conversation. This is another exercise that we can replicate with our mentors, and which would be a useful replacement for the ‘wokabaot’ strategy that Terry Marshall suggests to learners immersed in foreign-language environments, allowing us to practice culturally appropriate vocabulary, body language and topics of conversation in a variety of different conversations.
In Personalizing Language Learning, Griffiths and Keohane set out to offer guidance to teachers of English as a second language seeking to create a more personalized and intimate classroom environment for their students. In doing so, however, they also provide new methodologies for learners studying LCTLs interested in developing deeper understandings of the cultural nuances of language. With some slight changes, many of the exercises proposed by Griffiths and Keohane can be adapted to mentor-learner sessions, in order to provide students studying LCTLs with an opportunity to hone the cultural skills necessary to navigate complex social situations, even when they do not have access to communities where their languages of interest are spoken.
Griffiths, Griff and Kathy Keohane. Personalizing Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Marshall, Terry. The Whole World Guide to Language Learning. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, 1989.
National Association of Self-Instructional Language Programs Guide for Students.
Nicholson, Helen S. “Learning by the Linguist-Informant Method.” The Modern Language Journal 28, no. 7 (1944): 615-619.
US Peace Corps. Volunteer Ongoing Language Learning Manual: Beyond Hello. Washington, DC: Peace Corps, 2000.
 Griff Griffiths and Kathy Keohane, Personalizing Language Learning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 2.
 Griffiths and Keohane, Personalizing Language Learning, 48-62.
 Griffiths and Keohane, Personalizing Language Learning, 66-82.
 Terry Marshall, The Wole World Guide to Language Learning (Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, 1989), 49-66.
 US Peace Corps, Volunteer Ongoing Language Learning Manual: Beyond Hello (Washington, DC: Peace Corps, 2000), 42-48.
 Helen S. Nicholson, “Learning by the Linguist-Informant Method,” The Modern Language Journal 28, no. 7 (1944), 615-619.
 National Association of Self-Instructional Language Programs Guide for Students.
Second Language Learning Strategies: Current Research and Implications for Practice”
Reviewed by Hannah Belay, Fall 2019
Rebecca Oxford’s, Second Language Learning Strategies: Current Research and Implications for Practice is a useful source for acquiring effective second language learning techniques, but also useful to understand popularized analysis and research of the mentioned language learning methods. Oxford explicitly states the claims of her book in her introduction, “why second language learning strategies are important, how we know which second language learning strategies are effective, and how second language strategies are defined and categorized.” Within each section are subsections for further explanation of related topics. One can assume that Oxford does this to provide the reader with clarification as to what they should expect out of this book, but also to understand that the mentioned methods are ones backed with research, suggesting that these are effective learning practices accompanied with explanations for why they are so beneficial. The book references various researchers and studies. A critical aspect of this book that makes it so effective is that Oxford includes a variety of subjects and techniques that are highly influential to SLA (second language acquisition), but are not only applied to second language acquisition. For example, Oxford mentions the importance of applying general subject learning strategies to language acquisition, topics from cognitive psychology, individual internal factors, and many others.
Following the sequence of topics Rebecca Oxford initially laid out, the book begins with an explanation for the necessity of language learning strategies and explains the individual relationship between language learning strategies and whoever is involved in the learning process, e.g. the learner and a teacher. This chapter or section is divided into 4 subsections, “strong relationship to language performance,” “shifting responsibility to the learner,” “teachability of learning strategies,” and “an expanded role for teachers.” There is a strong emphasis for what entails a good language learning strategy and the benefits of using strategies that are appropriate for the learner. Stage of learning, purpose in learning, personality, and type of language are a few of the greatest takeaways from this section for what makes a strategy right for a learner. I appreciated that Oxford also acknowledged that there are still pros in using a learning strategy that is not exactly right for a learner. “Inappropriate learning strategies help explain the frequent failures of poor language learners and the occasional weaknesses of good language learners.” This optimistic approach to learning suggests that an individual can make progress in their language from all experiences related to their language and/or language’s culture. Oxford’s use of a topic in cognitive psychology is relevant in her, “shifting responsibility to the learner” section. She mentions that in order for one to genuinely apply what they’re learning, they must attempt to actively apply what they’re learning in their language to their “existing mental structures.” As well as, “identifying and dealing with one’s own language learning problems and seeking opportunities to use the language.” Further, suggesting that active language learners are often the most successful learners. In regards to the teachers role in one’s learning process, if possible they should try to assess what methodologies a learner is using and if the method/methods seem appropriate for the learner. For someone that is learning a language individually, but has a mentor, their mentor could attempt this type of inquiry. The teacher or mentor’s role is to encourage the use of strategies that seem most appropriate for the learner.
Now working to assess which learning strategies are most effective, Oxford categorizes her learning strategy section by having sub sections on research for general learning strategies, research for second language strategies, and studies that utilize observation or self-report surveys to assess methods of second learning strategies. Oxford (1986) finds relatability between general learning strategies and ones that are specifically used for learning a second language. Mentioned previously, active learning can be determined as one of the most effective approaches to learning, both in second language learning and other topics. “Second Language Learning Strategies: Current Research and Implications for Practice,” mentions various learning strategies from separate research studies that focus on language learning techniques. A few selected strategies from Stern (1975), “a tolerant and outgoing approach to the target language and empathy with its speakers, a constant search for meaning, and development of the target language more and more as a reference system and medium of thought. A few strategies from Rubin and Thompson (1982) are, “Learn formalized routines, use varying styles of speech, and learn to live with uncertainty.” These approaches to learning are both similar, but also differ in their formality. Approaches by Stern (1975) seem to be more about immersing your language into your daily life and maintaining a forward-looking attitude towards your language, while Rubin and Thompson (1982) approaches seem to be more technical. For Oxford’s subsections on studies that use either observation or self-report surveys, self-report surveys that were conducted with structured criteria were more effective in providing perspective into what are genuinely effective learning strategies, compared to observations and interviews of those studying their language. General observations of students practicing their language was not effective, but interviews asking learners about their specific strategies gave researchers insight. Additionally, a portion where a learner was asked to, “think aloud as they performed second language tasks,” showed how learners were able to work through specific learning difficulties – a significant indicator of how successful a strategy is. The conducted self-report surveys focused on strategy and functional practice which provided statistically reliable information that could be compared across studies and individual learners. Hence, making the self-report surveys a more effective way in identifying what are the best learning strategies. Additionally, Oxford included a few studies that focused on the approaches of teachers and the educational impacts of having a teacher understand a student’s learning methods.
Oxford (1986) classifies language learning strategies by using the sequential procedure of, “revising the research and developing the preliminary taxonomy, developing and field testing the strategy survey, and revising and expanding the taxonomy.” These strategies are categorized based on how the strategy applies to a specific skill, whether being, listening, reading, speaking, or writing and general approaches to learning the skills, for example, learning outside of class or memory building.
Relationship to Course Methods:
I found both resemblances and similarities between Oxford’s book and a few of the resources that we’ve read in 670/671. Suggestions referenced by Oxford and made by Stern (1975) and Rubin and Thompson (1982) to essentially develop a formalized, but flexible approach to one’s learning plan resemble suggestions made in Marshall’s, “The Multi Language Seminar: An approach to Offering More of the “Less Commonly Taught Languages.” Marshall states that a learner must describe in performance terms what they expect of themselves and create an ongoing goal setting & monitoring process that allows that to reflect and redefine their goals. Oxford’s learning methodology focuses on providing learners with approaches that can improve one’s skill through internal goals and motivation. Both, Oxford and Marshall share perspective on the importance of responsibility within a learner, an individual is in charge of their objectives and how successful of a learner they will become. Another Marshall text that has similarities with Oxford’s, is “The Whole World Wide Guide to Learning Language.” Both Marshall and Oxford suggest the need to implement your language into your thought system or process. Marshall says an effective way of incorporating your language into your daily life is to “use life necessities as language practice and engage in a social life that fits your style and reinforces your language practice.” This suggestion very much so follows the advice of attempting to build your language into your mind’s thought process.
On the other hand, “Second Language Learning Strategies: Current Research and Implications for Practice,” does not assume that a learner is within the borders of a language’s native country. This perspective differs very much from books like the Peace Corps Manual and Marshall’s, “The Whole World Wide Guide to Language Learning.” The Peace Corps Manuel presents very effective learning strategies that focus on immersion and how to learn from individuals that are around you, for example, “attending social events, adopting a family, or finding a senior member of the community.” Unfortunately, these methods only work if you’re in a community that is filled with native speakers. Rebecca Oxford’s book never makes the assumption that a learner has explicit access to native speakers, which is a significant factor that makes this book so accessible and useful to a learner of a LCTL (Less Commonly Taught Language). If Oxford were to mention learning strategies related to utilizing native speakers or learning approaches for being in a native setting, she would have to alter and expand the focus of her book.
An expected similarity between Oxford’s book and the majority of the resources we have used is that they all don’t mention the use of the internet and how to incorporate the internet into your language learning. The cause of this can clearly be sourced to non-modern publication dates. In modern day, the internet is one of the most useful tools in learning any topic, but particularly for language learning because of its vastness. The internet can be used for drilling activities, listening/pronunciation, and to get in contact with a native language speaker. The lack of mentioning the benefits of the internet was an unavoidable downfall of these resources.
Overall, I enjoyed reading Rebecca Oxford’s, “Second Language Learning Strategies: Current Research and Implications for Practice,” because it was an extremely accessible text. In all of the method’s that Oxford mentions I found either familiarity in using them or felt that I could apply them to my own language learning. Having a book that presents various techniques towards language learning, with additional writing on how studies have tested their usability brings a bit of confidence and further understanding to the reader. I believe that this book differs from other language strategy books, as it’s a book that explains conducted research presented in a way that supports usability. A reader does not need to be of a certain language level, in a certain setting, or have a language teacher/mentor to apply these methods to their language learning practices. Despite these successes, Oxford’s book falls short in the realm of providing actual suggestions relating to typical language learning guidance. For example there are no suggestions for how to compare and improve your pronunciation, vocabulary memorization strategies, or how to further your syntax understanding. While I view the limited mention of these components as shortcomings, it may have been Oxford’s intention to leave out explicit suggestions and to present more ambiguous advice. If this is the case, I’m curious to know who Oxford’s target audience is for this book. If Oxford (1986) was written for a learner of a less commonly taught language, someone like myself, I feel that this book would be very useful for developing a long term learning plan or goal system. Something like an ISP (individualized study plan). What comes across as most beneficial in using this resource towards developing a study plan is that Oxford emphasizes the importance of being active in the learning process and trying to incorporate your target language into your mental process. This emphasis influences one’s metacognition as they are most significant in altering or influencing your thought processes. I see myself applying Oxford’s suggestions to my overall perspective of second language acquisition. This text effects my learning as it is a reminder for what the most critical aspects of language learning are, immersion and active processing.
Marshall, Terry. “The Multi Language Seminar: An Approach to Offering More of the “Less Commonly Taught” Languages. Denver, Foreign Language Annals, 1987
Marshall, Terry. The Whole World Guide to Language Learning. Yarmouth, Intercultural Press Inc., 1989
Oxford, Rebecca. Second Language Learning Strategies: Current Research and Implications for Practice. UCLA Center for Language Education and Research, 1986
Peace Corps, Ongoing Language Learning Manuel-Beyond Hello. Washington D.C., Center for Field Assistance and Applied Research, 2000
 Oxford, Rebecca. Second Language Learning Strategies: Current Research and Implications for Practice, (UCLA. Center for Language Education and Research), 1986, 7.
 Ibid, 7,8,9
 Ibid, 11
 Ibid, 11, 12
 Ibid, 12
 Ibid, 13, 14
 Terry L Marshall, The Multi Language Seminar: An Approach to Offering More of the “Less Commonly Taught” Languages (Denver, Foreign Language Annals), 158
 Ibid, 159
Terry L Marshall, The Whole World Wide Guide to Learning Language (Yarmouth, Intercultural Press), 109, 110
 Peace Corps, Ongoing Language Learning Manuel-Beyond Hello (Washington D.C., Center for Field Assistance and Applied Research, 2000), 5