I have been an avid reader of The Psychologist since graduating in 1996, and I was both interested and excited to finally see an article on the subject of second language learning (‘Five ways to get better at a new language’, Emma Young, Digest, September 2019).
As well as an honours degree in psychology, a postgraduate certificate in group psychology and the DELTA certificate in TEFL, this year I’m celebrating 30 years as a second language teacher and 15 as the owner of two language schools in Barcelona. I have gathered a lot of real experience of what works and what does not, especially through learning Spanish and Catalan myself. I have brought up my 12-year-old son, born in Spain, to speak native level English and documented this process in a blog (From Nought to Native).
The studies Emma Young mentions are interesting to both psychologists and linguists. Having a few drinks is a method that many obviously enjoy, including the teachers! They also show how far we are from really finding the optimal and ‘no-effort’ method that many language students ask us for. AI and the instant translators offered by Google may win the race to the most effective way of communicating in a language before those of us involved in language teaching find a more attractive way, and consequently lose our jobs!
If any readers are trying to learn new vocabulary quickly, I’d recommend the Link or Keyword method. Popularised by Michael Gruneberg in the 1980s based on the original research by Michael Raugh and Richard Atkinson, it links or associates words in your language with words in the target language. During my degree I conducted a study using a list of 10 Spanish words, for example getting learners to think of ‘A king called Ray’ to remember the Spanish word for king, ‘rey’. Try it, it works!
There are thousands of language learning theories and studies to refer to in the area of Second Language Acquisition and even a Psychology for Language Teachers book by Marion Williams and Robert Burden. Psychology underpins it all: thousands of foreign language teachers around the world use group psychology on an informal basis every day, and those of us who teach private classes often find they become therapy sessions for the students. So I’d love to see more on this in The Psychologist; perhaps even an entire edition dedicated to the fascinating subject of second language acquisition.
Simon J. Brampton
Founder and Managing Director
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