We have seen before that rote memorization of single, detached items is hard to achieve after a certain age. So, is it possible to become fluent in a language if one starts learning during adulthood? Well, there are good news and bad news. The good news are that, in a word, yes, adults can all learn a foreign language to any degree, up to native-like fluency. The bad news is, though, that apparently it is extremely rare for an adult learner to be able to pick up a native-like accent (not correct pronunciation, which can be achieved, but accent, i.e. the overall “feel” of speech, cf. Flegea, 2006). We can live with that, can’t we?
The learning of a second language after childhood is a separate field of study in modern applied linguistics (termed “Second language acquisition”). It is an extremely interesting and thriving research field, and it includes such bizarre objects of study as the “inter-language” or “learner’s language”, which is halfway between a literal transposition of the learner’s mother tongue and the target language, and has reached very interesting hypothesis, as the one put forward by linguist Vivian Cook that all the languages a given person speaks are not simply interrelated, but are actually all one single system operating through different channels.
Of course in this field much research has been made about the methods most suited for learning a language. An interesting theory was put forward by the American linguist Stephen Krashen, the so-called “Input Hypothesis.” Krashen’s original formulation was that, if i represents previously acquired linguistic competence and extra-linguistic knowledge, the hypothesis claims that we move from i to i+1 by understanding input that contains i+1. Said more plainly, it means that if we want to learn new information, we have to see it integrated with our previously acquired knowledge (including knowledge of our mother tongue or all other general knowledge we might possess). Or, in other words, we can say that we need to have “comprehensible input”, which actually is another name for the same theory. In practice, this means that trying to learn a language by memorizing endless lists of vocabulary items with their meanings as the sole means of learning is an aimless waste of psychic energy. Although in the initial stages of second language learning a certain dose of such “brute memorization” is unavoidable, this method, if carried on when an elementary basis of vocabulary has been reached isn’t only extremely tiring and ineffective, but, more importantly, it forbids the learner from understanding the real usage of the word by seeing it “at work” in context and understanding its history and etymological derivation. The method we propose is based exactly on this assumption: that vocabulary should be presented, as far as we can explain it, as a meaningful whole, as a system whose elements are connected organically to each other according to an internal logic, instead of a bunch of separated, isolated items to be learned by repetition.
- Cook, Vivian, 2008, Second Language Learning and Language Teaching. London: Arnold
- Flegea J.E., et. al. 2006, Degree of foreign accent in English sentences produced by Korean children and adults Journal of Phonetics 34, pgs. 153–175 available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0095447005000355
- Ask A Linguist FAQ: http://linguistlist.org/ask-ling/accent.cfm#change
在现代应用语言学当中，童年后的第二语言学习是一个独立的研究领域（被称为“第二语言习得”，英Second language acquisition）。这是一个非常有趣并在蓬勃发展的研究领域，包括像“中间语言”或“学习者的语言”的问题，即学习者们所使用的母语和对象语的混杂形式，得出了非常有趣的理论。比如语言学家Vivian Cook提出，某个人会说的各种语言不仅有关系，而且是一个通过不同的轨道出现的统一系统。
当然在这一领域当中，人们针对哪些是最适合学习外语的方法做了大量研究。一个有趣的理论是美国语言学家Stephen Krashen所提出的“输入假定”（英“input hypothesis”）。Krashen的原始说法是，如果i代表先前获得的语言和普通知识，为了从i移动到i+1的状态，学习者不必获得包含