The goal of this paper is to examine the current context of experiential and service learning in the field of language education with an emphasis on the short-comings of the current model of language teaching vis-à-vis experiential and service learning. A model for the future consideration of experiential and service learning in language education will be posed and used to generate scenarios for language teaching future possibilities. Finally, the implications of this model and subsequent scenarios will be discussed.
The current state
Language learning has always been experiential learning, to some degree. The act of speaking another language itself can be experiential in that the student must actively participate in order to be successful. But experiential learning can be so much more than this. Experiential learning has been assumed to be a part of language education. Study abroad, for example, is a form of using the language in context, and study abroad has been a part of language learning before language instruction was formalized.
However, other popular approaches to language instruction have de-emphasized the role of experiential learning. The grammar translation method, popular in the 1950s and 1960s, emphasized learning languages from reading the “great texts” of that language. Language was learned through the process of reading and translating from the target language (L2) into the student’s native language (L1).
More recently, the communicative model of language instruction re-emphasizes experiential learning. The communicative model assumes that language use should be the central focus; the structure of the language can be learned later. While grammar translation emphasized language form (learning verb conjugations, for example), the communicative model suggests that when a student is motivated by the content, the structure of language can be more easily taught. Therefore, language materials following the communicative model focus on what the learner needs to do with the language: reserve a hotel room, buy groceries, go to the doctor, etc. The communicative model, by its nature, assumes that it is also experiential (Swain, 1985; Shafer, R.E., Staab, C., & Smith, K., 1985; Long, H.M. & Porter, P.A., 1983; Krashen, 1984; Cantoni-Harvey, 1987; Allen, J.P.B., 1983; Day, E.M. & Shapson, S., 2001). Communicative language learning came about in the early 1980s, and it continues to enjoy popularity today. Language learning has been resting on its laurels with regard to experiential learning.