August 13, 2004

Charting a course

To some degree, experiential and service learning has always been a component of language education. To the degree that study abroad itself is experiential language learning, language education has emphasized learning from being in a context of application by encouraging language learners to study languages in a context of practice.

However, some methods of learning languages have been less focused on experiential and service learning than others. For example, the grammar translation method emphasizes learning languages by reading and translating the great texts from a language. This method was likely popularized by scholars of Latin and Greek; after all, it’s pretty hard to do much experiential learning with a dead language!

More recently, though, communicative language teaching/learning has emphasized learning the structure of the language in tandem with language use. This is sort of a structural/functional approach. Teachers ask, “what do my learners need to do with the language? What structures do they need to learn to accomplish their tasks?”

I think about my own experiences learning languages, and I know my most recent Spanish language learning was more communicative in nature. First year students (I didn’t need to refresh the first year) didn’t learn any grammar—they only learned how to communicate. They got tourist language, and the classes focused on being able to produce the language. The next year, the class continued to focus on production, but now adding the layer of “these are the grammatical structures you have been using. This is how these grammatical structures work.”

I think that language learning as a field is pretty content these days with the level of experiential and service learning built into pedagogy. But, I think that as language teachers, we shouldn’t be satisfied with where we’re at. There’s big changes ahead in terms of how we receive and send information, produce and use knowledge, and creatively adapt to changing circumstances around us. It’s time for language education to consider ways to adapt to future language use.

Posted by chri1010 at August 13, 2004 1:51 PM