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Yesterday, Mallory wrote, “I want to find the largest sponge filled with French Knowledge and literally just soak in it….” This makes sense. After all, we know that this is how everyone learns their first language, and language immersion is a commonly used model, especially for younger children. Much of the preference for using language immersion with young children stems from the long held belief in what Noam Chomsky called a “language acquisition device” , an innate ability of children to learn language (read or listen to Chomsky on language acquisition) . More recent research has called this belief into question. However, many people, especially immigrants, do in fact learn language that way, by “plunging in” and listening until things start make sense. So, why isn’t all of this in French?
The biggest reason is content. For an immersion approach to work best, you should surround yourself with the language you’re trying to learn. Doing so in French in Arkansas is difficult. Second, even when that sort of immersion is possible, learners often report spending a significant amount of time frustrated until they have a “lightbulb moment” and everything just starts to make sense. Getting to that moment takes listening — lots of listening. Thanks to the Internet, that’s easier than ever before. Later this week, I’ll post some links to listening resources, but, since this class is on a set schedule, we’ll be more structured.
Several students have mentioned having previously studied other languages. By learning about language, it becomes easier to learn language. You can start asking , “How does _______ do comparisons/future tense/etc.” This metalinguistic awareness requires us to talk about genders and tenses and the like. So in addition to being sponges, soaking up as much language as one can, we also need be like vacuum cleaners, seeking out language in a systematic way.
After the wild and crazy ride that was ds106, I decided to walk the talk and encourage my students to reflect about their learning somewhere other than Blackboard. After all, the writing belongs to them, and I can’t see a good reason that they should lose access to it at the end of the semester. Since this is new to many of my students, I tweeted, asking how to succinctly explain the idea. Gardner Campbell from Virgina Tech, who coined the term “personal cyberinfrastructure” , replied, and I was encouraged to just put all the theory and thinking out there. That’s why my students found, embedded in a Blackboard announcement, Campbell’s presentation from OpenEd 2009. At some level, this was like putting a Pepsi bumper sticker on a Coca-Cola delivery truck, but it seemed the most straightforward way to explain what I was up to.