There are five basic approaches to learning a language. Let's take a look at these five different approaches and the methods they entail, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each approach:
1. The Immersion ApproachTrue to its name, the immersion approach plunges you into a foreign language and culture. It involves traveling to a foreign country, spending an extended period of time there, and living your day-to-day life in the language. An often-mentioned alternative to the travel immersion approach is the personal immersion approach, when you learn a language by dating or becoming close friends with someone who speaks that language.
- For those who don't like formal study, have some time and money to spare, want to learn a language in its natural environment and are outgoing and ambitious, this is the language learning method for you! Immersion forces language learners to use the language on a daily basis, helps them connect with native speakers, and teaches them valuable cultural knowledge.
- For those of us with less time and money on our hands, learning a language by immersion isn't the best option. This method is expensive, time-consuming, and not to mention stressful. The initial communication barriers and culture shock can be very stressful and even frightening, and many long-term stays in foreign countries involve lots of headache-causing paperwork.
2. The Translation ApproachAnyone who studied a language before 1900 or has studied an extinct language (like Latin) has used this approach. In the translation approach, language learners find a book in their target language and use a bilingual dictionary to translate between the language they are learning and their native language.
- If reading Latin or understanding written Egyptian Hieroglyphics is your goal, the translation approach is the one for you. This language learning approach is very useful to study real texts written in languages that aren't commonly spoken. It's also a very cost-effective way to learn.
- If actually communicating is you goal, then the translation approach is not for you. It is a very difficult and tedious way to learn a language, and it doesn't teach speaking, listening, or writing. The accuracy of your dictionary is crucial, and there are very few ways to check your progress.
3. The Grammar-Based ApproachThe grammar-based approach is the language learning method typically used in most textbooks and "teach yourself" language books. These books usually are divided into several chapters that contain a small amount of vocabulary followed by a large dose of grammar rules, and students incorporate the vocabulary into the grammar throughout the chapter. The emphasis is placed on learning the grammatical rules of the language and being able to read and write in that language.
- Learning the grammatical rules of a language makes it easier to integrate and correctly use new vocabulary. For learners who like to know the rules of a language and want to be able to write well in a language, this is a great and cost-effective method.
- Once again, students learning a language with the grammar-based method do not get many opportunities to actually speak or listen to their target language. Students must memorize a lot of grammar rules, which can be very frustrating and--as we all know--boring. In addition, the vocabulary learned is often not the most practical vocabulary, so students may not be able to use their knowledge right away. This can be frustrating and lead to a lack of motivation.
4. The Communicative ApproachThe communicative approach is used by almost every modern language school today. If you've learned a language in a classroom, odds are that you're familiar with this method. The communicative approach involves a teacher who gives lessons to a small group of students. Lessons are usually divided into reading, writing, listening or speaking activities to help students learn a language quickly.
- Students who learn a language with the communicative approach are given a well-rounded education. If the class is planned and taught well, students can learn quickly and have the benefit of live, face-to-face interactions with their teacher and other students in their target language.
- Language classes can be very expensive, and it's difficult to predict their quality. The teacher can often make-or-break the students' language learning success. Classes are usually designed with a generic student in mind, and students who learn more slowly or more quickly are not give the extra help they need or are not challenged enough. In addition, it's difficult to make progress after a certain level, so more advanced students make much slower progress.
5. The Vocabulary-Based ApproachMost language-learning software and applications (like Rosetta Stone, Babbel, and Busuu) use a vocabulary-based approach. In this approach, students learn a language by associating words in the language they are learning with pictures of the objects they represent. Traditional grammar rules are not taught, but are naturally learned by students as they progress.
- Students can learn vocabulary very quickly with this method because of the use of repetition and images. Students can save travel time and money by using this method instead of a traditional class, and can progress at their own rate.
- While students do learn lots of vocabulary, the vocabulary that is taught is often not useful for travelers or people who want to learn a language and be able to communicate quickly. Since grammar is not directly taught, students risk sounding a bit like Tarzan when they try to speak ("I Tarzan, you Jane..."). Finding a good program that also helps students with practical grammar, speaking, and writing can be expensive, and a lot of language learning software neglects these areas.
The VerdictSo what is the best way to learn a language?
The answer: All of them.
Every method has its own advantages and disadvantages, and every method has a slightly different focus. In order to chose the best language learning method, students must decide what they want. If used alone, a single method like the vocabulary-based approach or the communicative approach can be very effective for most people to learn a language, but each method also has its drawbacks. The key to language learning success is incorporating as many different methods as possible.
If we take into consideration the two most common excuses not to learn a language (time and money), then one of the best options is to learn a language using an affordable language learning software program that incorporates as many aspects of all five of these methods as possible.
What would that program be like? The best language learning software program would include interactive lessons while teaching vocabulary and grammar, allow students to speak and listen, provide students with language learning tips, offer reinforcement testing and motivational incentives, and let students progress at their own pace. This may sound like a lot to ask for, but new programs like Rocket Languages :) can provide language learners with all of these features and more.
It's easier than ever to learn a language and find great language learning resources. So what are you waiting for? Go for it!
This is a guest post by Andrea Reisenauer. If you found this article interesting please share it!