Thoughts on Language Learning (Part 2 of ?)

I was writing an email today, to an alum who is part of a group of Chinese-learners, and it occurred to me that practicing a language conversationally not only helps one keep the phonemes/grammar/vocabulary in shape and readily accessible, it also helps to focus the direction of further acquisition in the language. Back in the day, MIT Medical organized a “cultural language exchange” program: you filled out a form indicating which language(s) you were proficient in and which language(s) you wanted to practice, and they paired you up with someone who was reasonably proficient in the language(s) you wanted to practice. My first pairing was with a native French speaker. As we talked, I realized what sorts of things I liked to talk about, what sorts of things I wanted to say about myself in casual conversation with a new acquaintance, and so on. As I realized what these topics were, I found myself wanting to learn richer vocabulary to talk about them, and thus, where I had been confused and overwhelmed by the vast body of French there was left to learn, I began to develop an idea of the direction for further studies in French (whenever I chose to continue them).

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