What Language Learning is All About: Become a Growing Member of a New Community
“Language learning” is a phrase I find myself using less and less because it has such a fixed meaning in most readers’ minds and does not readily expand to accommodate the full complexity of the processes involved in gaining fluency in a new language and culture. The more I learn about these processes the more evident this conflict between the common understanding of language learning and the reality becomes.
When I talk about “language-growth” and “language-development”, most people think of these terms as only referring to processes occurring inside the individual “learner.” Indeed many essential changes are going on inside the individual who is growing, but the more basic developmental picture, I believe (following the Soviet psychologist Vygotsky, and a variety of others) is something bigger than the individual. The more accurate picture is one which includes two or more individuals and the dynamic that is happening between them as they interact. What happens inside the individual is only what it is because of the place it has in that person’s joint life with others.
Humans are primarily social! Listening and talking are the primary way humans relate together socially. Thus, social interaction plays a central role as a language learner learns to listen with understanding, and learns to talk so as to be understood. Because of this, learning a language has been defined as growth in participation in an ethno-linguistic community.