Traditional study versus plain ole fun

A few years ago I came across an academic study conducted by Harris Wentz of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The article, published in 1996 opened my eyes to what I had been feeling for some time.

When it comes to learning another language, plain ole fun trumps traditional study methods every time!

The Study
The study compares what Wintz terms “explicit instruction” and “implicit instruction” in a first year university Spanish program.

In the explicit instruction group, grammar was taught to the students in a traditional manor of explanation and the use of text books. The whole class was traditionally taught.

In the implicit instruction group, grammar was not taught at all. The teacher used Total Physical Response (TPR), storytelling, games and a textbook called The Learnables (see an example online). This seems similar to using Rosetta Stone or Livemocha where grammar is never explicitly explained. This group also spent one day just listening to Spanish stories on tape instead of going to class.

72 students were in the explicit instruction group and 67 were in the implicit group.

At the end of the semester each group of students took the same “grammaticality judgment test. The text consisted of 54 Spanish sentences and students were asked to say if each sentence was grammatically correct or incorrect. Wintz found that the “implicit instruction group (the fun and games group) achieved significantly higher average scores than the students in the explicit instruction group (the traditional group).”

Lessons For Independent Language Learners
These types of studies are most often written for instructors so that they can become better teachers. But the lesson is clear for independent language learners as well – fun and games rock. If you’re getting good comprehensible input in a rich language environment, you will learn the language. Those students who outscored their counterparts from the traditionally taught class probably couldn’t explain why a sentence was correct or incorrect, they just knew.

And you can too.

Intrerestingly, in another study cited by Winz, students from fun implicit instruction classes were signing up to take German 2 at a Texas University at much higher rates than students who had been in the explicit instruction class. (75% versus only 50% went on to German 2). They were staying in the game to become life long learners of language.

So if you had to choose between sitting down and grinding through another chapter of a grammar text book or watching a dubbed version of your favorite movie, which would you choose? It seems according to this study, that the movie would be the better choice. Both would help you learn of course, but there is one caveat: If you are having fun watching your favorite movie and it’s two hours long, you’ll spend two hours interacting with the language. Could you grind throgh two hours of a grammar text book? If you are having fun, you will most likely put in more time.

One More Minute
I know when my son is having fun when I get the “one more minute dad” response to my requests for him to come.

When was the last time you felt like saying “One more minute” about your language study?



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Traditional study versus plain ole fun