Thursday, December 17, 2009

Your Spanish Grade: Midyear Checkpoint

It's that time between one quarter or semester and the next. You're waiting for your grades. You studied a foreign language this past term as a total beginner, or at least you started from the beginning (again) as an entering college freshman. Naturally, you want to know how you performed. You may have a gnawing feeling that you didn't do too well or you may feel you "aced" the final. However, if you began the term with vague or incorrect ideas about how progress in foreign-language study is measured -- and experienced -- you could be surprised no matter what the grade turns out to be.

The links in this blog will lead you to some interesting, and brief articles relating to this process. Some are written to students, others to teachers and professors, but they all contain valuable insights into the nature of the language learning process.

First, the bad news not many schools or teachers are comfortable talking about: The learning curve for language acquisition is much longer than the academic calendar. Unless you're a whiz and are enrolled in a program that (1) preselects students with a demonstrable talent for language acquisition, (2) is intensive, (3) is total immersion -- 24/7 and (4) lasts for about six months, it is tough to learn a foreign language in college. That's right. It's tough. Going to class isn't nearly enough. Studying a couple of hours every day from the book will probably get you the grade, but not the mastery of the skill.

Next, the good news: It's not impossible. It takes discipline and strategy.

Here are three articles that examine (1) what you should be able to do and (2) what success feels like in your first year of language study.

1. Milestones, Part I.
2. Milestones, Part II.
3. Milestones, Part III.

I encourage students to go abroad for as long as they can afford it -- provided they understand what it means to be in an immersion program. Just because you go abroad does not mean you will be immersed in a language. There are a lot of ways that students -- and even, inadvertently, programs themselves -- can subvert, undermine or undo the immersion process. Read what the differences are between study abroad and immersion.

Learning a foreign language makes a lot of sense, especially right now. There is an old adage that says that the best time to get education is when the job market is poor. It makes sense. You'll be poised for better salaries when the tide turns. Read how foreign-language study is especially good during hard economic times.

If you love the language, you have to love the process of becoming good, no... become excellent at speaking it!

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