It’s Just Like Riding a Bike

By Dr. Katharine B. Nielson –

Usually, when I tell people that learning a language is learning a skill, like cooking or surfing, I get nods of understanding. That seems to make sense, intuitively. And then when I go on to say that, because those are skills, they require copious amounts of practice and individualized instruction, I still get nods, and people are receptive when I go on to paint an even clearer picture. I usually say something like:

It wouldn’t work to take a whole classroom of people and try to teach them how to ride a bike by lecturing to them about balance or the mechanics of pedaling before handing them bikes. That lecture time would all be wasted, and they’d start from scratch the moment they actually tried to ride (and they’d all be terrible at it). And then, when they were starting getting the hang of it, you couldn’t teach them all the same thing at the same time. Some are going to have trouble with balance. Some are going to have trouble stopping. Some will have trouble steering. Skills require individualized instruction.

People are still with me here. They get it. Skills require individualized instruction. You don’t read a book on how to surf–you just practice until you can do it. And you need to continue to practice skills to get better. No problem.

And then, when I take the next step and explain how this works with language learning, people still get it. We know that you need lots of practice listening to the target language, and you have to pay attention to it. So you need to listen to things that are at the right level for you, and you need to listen to things that are interesting to you. Everyone is still with me, nodding along. Of course, you have to pay attention. Of course, you only really pay attention to things that are interesting to you.

Where this breaks down is when people try to actually apply this theory to setting up a language program. That’s when the brows furrow, and the concerned looks emerge. Wait, how do you do it? What does the teacher do? How do we assess people when they all need different things? How can I be sure students will learn the right thing? How do I write a test for that?

As it turns out, I am giving a webinar with Digital Promise on how to address these issues in adult education programs on Wednesday! This is a critical issue for workforce development programs because they are tasked with teaching more than just language; they need to prepare their students with job skills and language skills at the same time. Lucky for us, that’s actually the *best* way to approach setting up a language class.

To learn more about how to develop a strategy for offering effective individualized instruction in adult basic education programs, join me to explore ways to implement efficient language programs with clear, measurable outcomes. Drawing on recent research from the fields of second language acquisition and technology-mediated instruction, we will discuss how to establish a program appropriate for your own workplace context.

Wednesday March 21, 2018
12 pm ET / 9:00 am PT
Register HERE!

Katie is Voxy’s Chief Education Officer, which means she leads the teams ensuring that learners are getting the most efficient and effective educational experience possible.  She has a PhD in Second Language Acquisition and years of experience teaching languages, building language courses, and evaluating the effectiveness of language training as a research scientist.  She lectures and writes about all things related to language learning and educational technology.