Failure to identify the stumbling block

On an npr interview with Michael Long, a renowned SLA researcher, the president of the MLA, and Richard Brecht, none of the three mentioned the major stumbling block to learning a foreign language in the U.S., the topic of the discussion.

This stumbling block is clearly the fact that the vast majority of learners walk into a classroom where the grammar of the TL will be explained in excruciating detail and their progress will be based on how well they can manipulate that grammar. Only by dint of the greatest perseverance and motivation will those learners go on to engage in activities which will actually teach them the TL, viz. travel to the society which the language bears, immersion in the literature of the language, association with speakers of the language.

One poster many years ago spoke bitterly of the cowboy kids who flunked high school Spanish routinely but went on to speak it well when they married Hispanic girls and worked with Spanish speakers on the farms and ranches. And I will guarantee you that their teachers will snort with indignation, labeling the local Spanish as inferior.

THIS is the major problem in learning languages in this country. One caller said his daughter remarked on the difference in attitude toward languages between foreign students at her college and the American students; for the Americans, the language was an intellectual exercise or a requirement to leap over, while for the foreigners, the language was something they would be using.

If languages in this country were taught for use rather than for academic study, we might produce more speakers of other languages.

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