When it comes to foreign languages, blended learning—combining technology with human instruction—is better than computer learning or human instruction alone. Here at Transparent Language, we design products for schools and institutions not to replace teachers, but to leverage face-to-face instruction. Our research and experience has led us to becoming firm believers in a blended learning method called “declarative acceleration.”
Why declarative acceleration?
As you may know, our customers include some of the most stringent foreign language training programs in the world. For reasons of both economics and mission, they need to train language faster, more reliably, and in a way that seamlessly transitions to lifelong success in the language. Our technologies are designed to support any pedagogy or methodology used by our customers, but of all those methodologies, the one that consistently works best is what we call declaratively accelerated blended learning.
What is declarative acceleration?
Basically, declarative acceleration is a way of using technology to do what technology does best, using teachers to do what teachers do best, and skillfully merging the two to produce a learning result that is captivating and feels like a rocket ride compared to traditional language learning.
There are two big aspects of language that ultimately need to work together for successful language acquisition. We call them declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge, but in less geeky terminology, we’re just talking about vocabulary and phrases on the one hand, and language skills on the other.
Declarative and skills
A big part of language capability is learning lots of words, phrases and various other small chunks of the language. The Korean word for “apple” is different than the English word, and to speak or understand Korean you need to learn a lot of Korean words, phrases and little chunks of Korean. Learning them can be interesting, even game-like, but at the end of the day, you can’t do language without having memorized the words to work with.
Using a few words and phrases, such as hello and thank you, in another person’s language can sometimes have an almost magical effect. Of course, language is much more than just vocabulary. “Fluency” is a rubbery term, but we know it when we hear it. Native-like word order, words that naturally go with each other, the right word, the right form of the word, the right level of formality, the right style for the group and setting and so on, all spoken, heard, written or read at “normal” native speed—these are the necessary, artful and beautiful skills of language.
What we all want—learners and teachers alike—is to produce language skill, complete with a robust lexical foundation of mastered words and phrases, as quickly and successfully as possible. Declarative acceleration is the best way we know to do that.
How it works
Unsurprisingly we “start at the end and work backwards.” Picture a teacher and learner, and let’s think about just one “lesson.” Maybe it’s thirty minutes, maybe an hour. It might be at the beginner level, advanced or in between. In any case, we know we want the time to be exciting, uplifting and useful. We are going to plan a trip to the countryside using materials on the web, role-play talking to the station master after missing the last train, and so on. A good teacher will set up a variety of interesting, challenging, enjoyable, pedagogically valuable tasks, peer activities, communicative activities, etc.
We can picture a successful learner enjoying, engaging and succeeding in this situation. We then ask ourselves, what declarative knowledge (words, phrases and small chunks of language) would that successful learner employ? We then collect and strategically organize that declarative material, injecting it into computer-delivered activities, games and sequences.
It turns out that if you want to, for instance, memorize the table of chemical elements, a good computer program can help you do that much faster and more reliably than even the best chemistry teacher. The computer can quickly build mental associations between, for instance “H” and “hydrogen” or “W” and “tungsten” with displays, games and learning activities of all kinds. The computer can present dozens of learning encounters per minute, watch what is done right and what is a problem and continually adjust. A teacher couldn’t easily do that as quickly, in a fast-paced, fully individualized way with even one student, never mind five or ten.
The same is true for vocabulary, words, phrases and other memorized language chunks. So we use the computer to do what the computer does best. If this type of declarative pre-loading is available for every lesson, the learner will likely build a robust “lexical reservoir” that is two or three times larger than in a traditional course.
The teacher then has the pleasure of guiding these declaratively prepared and empowered learners through a suite of challenging and useful contextual language activities, coaching and encouraging all the while.
It turns out that not only does knowing more words and phrases at the end of a course help you communicate or understand better in the obvious way—of course it’s good to know the word “flour” if you want to ask what store sells flour—it also significantly strengthens the process of skills building. Conversations, role playing, task performance, morphology, syntax, noticing, digesting and practicing grammar, are all easier, more satisfying and more effective.
Research suggests what might be worth trying, but putting ideas into practice is how you find out what works and what doesn’t. Declarative acceleration works. Check it out for yourself: http://www.transparent.com/personal/transparent-language-online.html