Language acquisition in a difficult place

Tonight I was talking with someone who was holding his own quite well in a lively conversation with 3 Mexicans who do not speak English. When we were talking afterwards, he told me how when he was in prison, he wanted to learn Spanish and was studying a grammar book. Another convict grabbed the book and threw it across the room. He asked what he knew about Sp grammar… o on the end of the verb, etc. OK, when you talk to someone, are you thinking about how to say it, about the grammar. No, of course not. What you have to do is take the 2 or 3 words of Spanish you do know and go out and talk to these guys. You won’t understand their responses at first but you’ll pick up another word. Next day, do the same, this time you’ll pick up maybe 2 words. Then you’ll begin picking up more words. Use what you do know to learn more.
Wow! I said. Who is this guy? Did he read Krashen? He didn’t know but said he had a huge IQ and had taught himself programming and developed education programs that are used now throughout the state prison system. So whoever this was, even incarcerated, he understood what it takes to learn a language. So the question is, how is it that so many of our teachers, free to explore to their hearts’ content, do not grasp this?
BTW, the guys we were talking to are from Michoacan and the elide a lot of vowels, so empresas sounds like empresss, a long s.

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