Developing Foreign Language Skills through Social Interaction
By David Larbalestier
Anyone who has undertaken the challenge of learning a foreign language will tell you that completing the course is only half the journey to fluency. Informal friendships and social immersion are essential to lasting linguistic learning.
Should your children show an interest in learning or are already studying a foreign language, encourage their development by following this simple principle; get them to actively engage in the culture they are studying.
Encourage them to immerse themselves in the tastes, smells and sounds of the culture and community that speaks the language they are learning.
No language is easy. A long time ago when I learnt to speak Mandarin I quickly realised that Chinese presents a particular challenge - the written script is not alphabetic, but instead consists of thousands of pictograms, each one giving almost no clue of how it should be pronounced.
When I was a beginner I labelled household items with the written Chinese characters - fridge, table, chair, cupboard, door. I used to have Chinese tea ceremonies with friends and regularly ate in Chinese restaurants, where I battled to decipher the menu.
One of the great difficulties in learning any language is finding opportunities to develop spoken skills.
You cannot master any language by just thinking about it. You really have to make a concerted effort to "break out" of the prison of a dependence on your own mother tongue, and social interaction is the best way to do that.
Much of UTS: INSEARCH's new revised English curriculum was based on my real life experience of learning Chinese. This curriculum is both practical and interactive. International students in Australia have the opportunity to take this curriculum that prepares them for University, and the work place and, just as importantly for social life here in Australia.
Unlike other language courses, this curriculum offers students access to learning materials on any digital platform including laptops tablets and smartphones. It teaches language for social interactions, how to write emails and blogs.
When students interact with locals or people from other countries, the consequence of the relationships fostered open up a whole new world of possibilities.
By demonstrating an interest in the culture around you and attempting to communicate in the language you are studying with persons from other communities, you are likely to receive a reciprocal interest in you that could provide endless opportunities otherwise missed.
The world is becoming increasingly multicultural and Australia is one of the most multi-cultural societies. Now is your chance. Break out. Start a friendship with someone new and unexpected, someone who sounds, thinks, looks and believes differently from you.
- Meet & greet with native language speakers. Spark up a friendship & insist you only speak to each other in their language.
- Persistence & determination are key! Learn 10 to 20 essential words a day.
- Watch movies & TV shows in that language. Try to identify the words you know & study the context by which they are used.
About David Larbalestier
David is the President of University English Centres Australia (UECA) and Director of Studies, English Programs, UTS: INSEARCH
With over 30 years teaching experience in the UK, China and Australia, David has co-authored leading online publications and television programs including Study English and Passport to English. He also co-authored UTS: INSEARCH's IELTS Preparation course books and is Cambridge University accredited.
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