General principles of foreign language learning

For this second week, we are going to use the metaphor of painting. You can imagine yourself as an experienced painter who not only creates amazing works of art, but also seeks to share his expertise with a disciple and produce a certain effect in an audience. From this comparison with the art of painting we will extract powerful ideas about foreign language teaching and learning that can be viewed as principles.

There are a number of important principles that guide language learning as well as principles that illuminate language teaching. For this course, we will include some principles that we consider essential, but there are many more. First we will consider two general principles that deal with what a learner should be able to do with the foreign language and culture. As mentioned earlier, each principle will be introduced using the metaphor of the art of painting.

1. The goal of language learning is effective communication

Little boy looking at a map.

Consecrated painters have acquired a high level of competence in the affordances of their art and use even very subtle technical elements to effectively convey their message on the canvas. Similarly, effective communicators have acquired a whole array of the affordances of language as well as norms and strategies of language use. Communicative Competence is a well-established and important concept in the field of language learning. It refers to the overall ability to communicate effectively by not only using the system of the language correctly (sounds, spelling, vocabulary and grammar), being able to understand and produce texts that are appropriate to the social context (formal and informal) as well as employing strategies in order to achieve successful communication.

2. Effective communication in a foreign language requires knowledge of a foreign culture

A group of children in colorful clothing playing music and dancing.

It is impossible to completely dissociate a painting from the painter who made it and his or her circumstances and context. Learning a language is learning the behavior of a culture since language is the product of that culture. So, language and culture are inseparable. To interact in a language means to be able to use a sophisticated system of cultural customs, values and ways of thinking and acting.

In the next step, we will continue discussing principles that address more specifically how foreign languages should be taught in the classroom. They are based on research in the fields of applied linguistics, pedagogy and the experience of many teachers. Necessarily, these principles represent a subjective selection from many fundamental issues in foreign language teaching.

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This article is from the free online course:

The Art of Teaching Foreign Languages to Young Learners

Universidad Nacional de Córdoba