Or like this:I agree that memorization if vital but studying under stress will harm the learning process. So, why torture yourself memorizing invidivual [sic] words in flash cards... filed in your wall. Exposure in English is just the key and there are lots of means to do that. Listening, watching, reading aloud, speaking beginning from simple to complex. As how you learn your first language.
All this recently got the Korean thinking -- aren't the ESL teachers in Korea ideally situated for the alternative theory? Are they not completely surrounded by Korean language, all the time? Couldn't they listen, watch, read aloud and speak Korean, as they would learn their first language?Learning languages well is NOT a simple matter of "memorizing grammar and vocabulary." Believe me, millions of learners have already tried and failed to learn languages this way (just look at how few English learners in East Asia emerge from a decade of formal study unable to understand or speak the language?) Memorizing grammar rules and vocabulary does little more than expand your declarative knowledge ABOUT the language, but does very little to help you actually ACQUIRE the language and be able to both understand and use it for communicative purposes. The key is getting lots and lots of interesting, comprehensible listening and reading input, and then doing lots of speaking and writing output once you're ready.
If "immersion" method works so well for language learning, shouldn't all ESL teachers in Korea leave Korea after one or two years, being completely fluent in Korean?
Something to think about.
Having read the (numerous and furious) comments, the Korean thinks he should clarify a few things.
1. The term "immersion" needs to be clarified. A lot of commenters understand "immersion" to mean "active engagement with the language." That is a fair understanding of the term. But that is not the way the Korean used the term "immersion." (Hence, the quotes around the term in the post.)
What the Korean wants to caution against is the attitude that as long as one surrounds oneself with the language, one would absorb the language to the level of fluency as if through osmosis -- "as how you learn the your first language." In other words, it is the attitude expressed by commenter Jo-Anna's friends: "Of course everyone said the same thing to me when I left for Korea. "wow! You'll be fluent in no time!"" That is just not true, and the comments seem to be near-unanimously in agreement with the Korean there.
So, to clarify, let's use the terms "active engagement" and "passive immersion." The Korean believes that active engagement is necessary to achieve fluency. But passive immersion will give you next to nothing, which is the point of the post. ESL teachers in Korea go through a huge degree of passive immersion in Korean, but they do not come out fluent in Korean unless they actually study. (A stark example from a reader email to the Korean about this post: "I knew an alcoholic who had been here six months who didn't know what 맥주 ("beer") meant.")
2. The way the commenters understand the word "fluency" is also different from the way the Korean is using the term. Commenter brutus got it exactly right: "I think the point tK makes about memorization is there is no shortcut to learning a language to a high level of fluency." (emphasis added).
The level of fluency that the Korean's "best method" seeks to achieve is very specific: it is the level of proficiency possessed by educated members of the society, i.e. college-level. It is the level at which one can comprehend and express complex concepts. That level is much higher than the ability to make small talk.
This, to the Korean, is a crucial distinction that determines the relative importance of rote memorization and active engagement. A method that largely relies on active engagement can get you to the level where you can make small talk. But only rote memorization will get you to the level at which complex ideas can be discussed. Even the most active engagement -- the kind advocated by commenter ohmygodimmike, i.e. cutting off everything in your native language -- will not get you the college level fluency. Think about it -- how often in your life do you discuss complex concepts with other people? Unless your job is the type that involves dealing with words and concepts (e.g. law, media, etc.), most of your conversation will be small talks.
And sure enough, available academic research bears this out: you only need about 4,000 words (listemes) to cover 95% of all words known in a text. Remember, a six-year-old child already knows 13,000 listemes. That means you can know LESS than a six-year-old, and still carry a conversation. This is not college level fluency.
Commenter Eugene precisely hit the point that the Korean wanted to make:
Immersion [TK: here, used for "active engagement"] will only get someone so far. There is a point where you will hit a wall and the amount of language you absorb from your surroundings will slowly decline. You'll start to notice that you're perfectly fine watching movies or TV shows, but still don't totally understand the news. And that's when it's time to break out the books. People can bitch all they want, but anyone educated in English has had to do plenty of rote memorization in English! Remember all those vocabulary and spelling tests in elementary school? Remember reading classes in middle school? Remember having to look stuff up in the dictionary in high school because you didn't understand what it meant, even though the book you were reading it in was in English?Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org