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Q&A on Language Learning

Language learning is what I really enjoy doing and writing about. And, whereas Critical Infrastructure for Children is an utterly practical book designed to boost job creation and opportunity, any language program has the opportunity to elevate the experiences of all students. After teaching and studying languages with total intensity for seven years, and casually for fourteen years, I know that every language learner can experience success and a great deal of joy. Below are a few questions and answers on the subject.

What’s the first tactic for maximizing language programs? Students can benefit from a more systematic approach to building vocabulary, combined with daily writing of simple sentences and easy reading. As opposed to learning random lists of words, they should begin by learning the 100 highest frequency words, and then learn to form simple sentences with them.

Why is it best to form simple sentences? As I learned in my first year teaching high school, schools often emphasize complicated grammar before students have even mastered the basics. This approach is in sharp contrast to the language schools, where I spent my first two years teaching. In a language school, customers pay money to acquire language skills, and my relationship as a teacher to the student was simple. The books the language schools provided were really good, and every student made progress.

I like my students to learn to write sentences like “the table is big” or “The table is small”, over and and over. They need the building blocks first. Five or so sentences per class and maybe five for homework is good enough.

Why are easy readers so important? Reading is the absolute best way to reinforce what has been learned, as it allows for the kind of repetition students need. The problem is that most students never get the vocabulary to read books effectively, which is the reason for easy readers. However, with the books of Blaine Ray, it’s possible for students to begin reading at a vocabulary of 300 words. This is in contrast to what is needed to read normal books, which is around 1500 or so.

How strong is the effect of reading on student learning? Huge; once students can begin to read, they get the huge number of repetitions they need to truly know the language.

What questions in Critical Infrastructure for Children are related to language learning? Questions 47 to 85 are strictly about language learning. If those questions were all responded to in an effective manner, students throughout New England would benefit in a huge way. This is especially true for recent arrivals to this country.

What is a great gift that students can give themselves? To find a study routine that they truly enjoy. Myself, I’m a flash card learner; I can flip flash cards for six or seven hours and enjoy every minute. That said, students that find a way they love to learn can always go to that. Once a good base of vocabulary is established, then daily readings can be a great way to enjoy and better learn the language.

How can the right language programs be great for mental health? They can relax students and help them feel great.

More to come.