Production Practice During Language Learning Improves Comprehension

Elise W. M. Hopman, Maryellen C. MacDonald
  • Psychological Science, April 2018, SAGE Publications
  • DOI: 10.1177/0956797618754486

Talking can make you better at understanding foreign languages.

What is it about?

In order to investigate language learning mechanisms, we taught two groups of participants a made up language. Half of the participants learned the language in a traditional way, with comprehension-focused exercises. The other half of the participants was asked to speak the new language, not just repeating but actually generating phrases and sentences themselves right from the start. Tests at the end of the experiment show that the group who had talking practice scored better at comprehension tests than the other group who had had comprehension practice. This is really surprising, and it shows how powerful speaking is as a learning experience!

Why is it important?

Language learning is increasingly important in our globalizing society, but after childhood it is really hard for most people to learn a second language. We show that talking more during language learning can be an incredibly powerful learning experience, even though talking in a second language is hard and you might make errors. Our emphasis on talking as a learning method goes against current mainstream theories of second language teaching, which focus almost exclusively on the importance of comprehension practice for learning a language, and very much ignore the learning benefits of producing language. We are not saying classrooms should be all language production, but we do think there could be more balance and more appreciation for the usefulness of talking as a learning experience.

Perspectives

Elise Hopman
University of Wisconsin System

After we presented this research at a scientific conference last year, I was contacted by a researcher studying German and second language teaching. This led to a new collaboration in which we will test our paradigm in a German classroom with grammatical gender - one of the hardest aspects of German for students to learn to master! Our current study is a psychological experiment designed to test learning mechanisms, and I am incredibly excited to get to test it in an applied classroom setting.

Read Publication

http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0956797618754486

The following have contributed to this page: Elise Hopman and Dr Maryellen C MacDonald

In partnership with:

Resources