Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

I shameless self-plug: As a successful Japanese learner (and since then, a Japanese teacher and recently a software engineer in a Japanese company), I was interviewed recently about learning Japanese: https://www.koipun.com/blog/learning-japanese-by-listening-a...

Why should you possibly be interested: because not only did I learn Japanese and taught it, I also did a fair part of reading about the research on language acquisition and neurolinguistics as a part of my master's studies, so I know what I'm talking about.

From what you say in that article about the importance of listening to language used in context, you might be interested in a method of language learning called TPR (Total Physical Response). I've written about it before here:


It's been super effective for me at learning vocabulary and grammar (in context), and I much prefer that method over things like flashcards, Anki, supermemmo, etc.

TPR has its strengths and weaknesses:

1. It requires a healthy ego. Some people feel like it's childish since it is more like playing games than language learning. Other folks don't like making mistakes all the time.

2. It is great for languages that do not already have documented grammars and/or dictionaries. I believe the Summer Institute of Linguistics uses this method in some areas.

3. It naturally caps out in utility at around CEFR A2 / ACTFL intermediate. While many Americans call this level of proficiency "fluent", it really just scratches the surface of a language.

Regardless, I'm glad you found this method and that it works for you. Congrats!

Yeah, I would certainly not characterize TPR as a magic bullet, claim that it would fulfill all your language learning needs, or that by using it alone you will achieve complete fluency.

I view it just a great way to jump start vocabulary and grammar learning and comprehension. TPR will need to be supplemented with other techniques, especially for production of spoken language, pronunciation, reading, writing, cultural sensitivity, social cues, etc. Also, in my experience, TPR has been most effective in one-on-one sessions with a tutor, while there's something to be said for classroom instruction where the student can interact with other students, and something to be said for interaction with native speakers of the languages outside any kind of formal instruction.

So, yeah, TPR is just another tool. A tool which I've found useful for certain purposes, but not the ultimate be-all-and-end-all of language learning. Is anything?

I know about Total Physical Response and I think that it has all the elements that good (beginner level) language teaching should have. Sadly, I haven't had a chance to participate any TPR sessions in any language.

Btw. there's another good teaching method, which has a confusingly similar acronym: TPRS – Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling.

Then there's "task-based teaching".

They all share some basic features: parsing input for meaning, context-dependence, concreteness, communicating to achieve some extralinguistic purpose instead of just "demonstrating/exemplifying this and that feature of the language", having a strong aural component and so on. This isn't by coincidence.

I think that language teachers should in general acquaint themselves more with the concurrent research results. Knowing the basic principles of how brain learns languages gives teacher the expertise to assess, tweak and choose teaching methods. Not to say that the researchers know everything about it either, but they certainly know a lot more than 50 years ago, yet I feel that much of the teachers' knowledge and preferred teaching methods are decades behind.

Fascinating read, thanks for sharing!

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact