Interactive learning

The most difficult part of learning a foreign language may be trying to actually use it.  

We often meet children who have been studying Mandarin for several years, who can easily name many objects, recite rhymes, "freeze up" when someone asks their name in Mandarin.  

"Oh, you mean that!"

What happened?

What happened is a demonstration of how distinct the set of skills we acquire to learn a language in a classroom are from the set of skills we use to communicate in them.  

Think about a language class where students learn through memorizing lists of vocabulary and rules of grammar, then think about what's going on when we have a conversation.  

In the classroom, we approach language as blocks stacked up in neat columns that follow a certain order determined by the curriculum designers.

In "real life" language is driven by a desire to express ourselves and learn about others:

I like this, not that.  I like that...but only if it's on a rainy afternoon--with my friends--what about you?

 

In that simple exchange, something is going beyond the words you see on the page.  

In fact the rhythm and flow of words are continuously being shaped and reshaped by the person in front of us: their facial and body cues, the stress they place on certain words, the pauses.

All these are part of the "package" of communicating in a language.

The conundrum of language education is recreating this interactive element.  Unless you're lucky enough to live for a while in a foreign country, how can you transform the organized library of information conveyed in a classroom to the dynamic dance of language?

The good news is that with technology there's several tools developed over recent years that are accessible and appealing to young learners who have a natural attraction to interactive spaces: apps, games, and for older learners, exchange forums.