I recently finished a nice book entitled, How Languages are Learned. The answer of course is, “Often poorly, and always with great difficulty.”
But there was an interesting remark in the book about the way that language learners receive feedback, but usually fail to make use of it. (This was in the context of classroom , but I think it’s applicable to everyday learning as well.)
The researchers found that most people correct language learners by repeating their sentence back, but fixing the errors. So if someone said to me, “He eat cookies,” I might say back, “He eats cookies.” Or if someone said, “He smashed his finger,” I might echo back, “He smashed his thumb,” if that was the more correct statement. I know I do this all the time as a parent, and with non-native English speakers, and I know that Afghans do it a lot as well.
The problem is, language learners don’t often pay attention to it! Apparently this is because echoing somebody’s statement is something that we do fairly routinely in everyday conversation—active listening, as it’s sometimes called.
So this week’s encouragement is to develop the habit of paying attention this feedback. When people repeat your sentence back to you, try to learn the better way to say it. It may take a while to develop the habit, but it’s a great source of instant feedback for your production skills—people even do it without noticing!