Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Autonomous Language Learning

Autonomous language learning is the idea that learners are capable of learning a language on their own, outside the language classroom. Language programs that focus on incorporating autonomous language learning usually have some sort of self-access center with resources and guides, where the learner can go during his or her free time to study. In this model, the classroom is often seen as a place for learners to interact with an expert (the teacher) and with other learners. Instead of focusing entirely on grammar and vocabulary, classroom time is spent creating language learning goals and sharing positive and negative experiences of learning. As our teaching methodology moves towards a more student-centered model, and as internet technology becomes increasingly more available throughout the word, we are seeing that this model of language learning is a growing reality for students (and teachers) everywhere.

There are several reasons that I like this model of language learning.
  1. Motivation – Autonomous language learning utilizes the learner's motivation. For the communicative classroom to function properly, it is essential that the learners are all motivated to study, learn, and interact. When learners lack intrinsic motivation, the teacher is stuck trying to think of colorful circus tricks and rewards in order to get learners to talk to each other and to study outside of class. Autonomous language learning forces learners to take greater responsibility for motivation.
  2. Power – This model places the power in the hands of the learner. The learners make their own goals and plans to achieve these goals. The learners choose what they are going to learn. The teacher is available to guide the learner in the event that they don't know where to go or what to do, but the ultimate choice is in the hands of the learner. This will lead not only to more relevant language learning, but also to a greater sense of personal responsibility for the material. Moreover, giving learners the power over their own learning equips them for life-long learning.
  3. Authenticity – I have written before about authenticity in language learning, and about how I think it is one of the most important parts of language teaching. Autonomous language learning allows learners to take advantage of authentic materials that teachers cannot feasibly use in the classroom, due to time constraints, discrepancies in learner levels, and access, etc. In this model, learners have more exposure to native-speaker materials and less exposure to pedagogical texts and “classroom talk”.
In my own life, I am trying to learn German. As a supporter of this autonomous language learning, I feel that my own learning experience should reflect my teaching methodology. I am hesitant to sign up for a language course because I feel that, with a little guidance, I should be able to take advantage of the materials available to me while I am living in a German-speaking environment.

However, I have had some trouble identifying good materials for myself as a learner, which proves (to me, at least) that autonomous language learning does NOT reduce the need for a teacher. I will continue to develop my plan and see if I can create path for myself, and I will share my reflections along the way.

Along that line, several blog articles and websites stuck out to me as particularly helpful for and/or related to autonomous language learning this week.

The Telenovela Method of LanguageLearning. Very interesting article about the use of Mexican soap operas to learn Spanish, good tips for learning on your own with this method, and some resources.

The NEW Issue of the SiSAL (Studies in Self-Access Learning) Journal. I'll just say that I like this journal. I also like that it is completely open-access, so you can read it without a subscription. There are some good articles in this issue, and in past issues, for those of you who would like to know more about autonomous language learning (or self-access learning).

I found this website in an article from the new issue of the SiSAL. I haven't had a chance to test it yet, but wow! It looks like an amazing resouce. I wish they had it for other languages. Basically, it is a collection of video clips with transcripts, and learners can watch the videos, read the text, and record themselves saying the lines. Supposedly, they also compare the recording with the original to tell students how they are doing. I know that Google has something to do with the site, and I'm pretty sure it is free.

I regularly read this blog, and I saw this article about talking to native speakers of the target language. It struck a chord with me, and I think that following the advice that the author gives about “just talking” is instrumental in autonomous language learning. 

Does anyone have experience in autonomous language learning (or teaching) that they can share? What about some more good resources for independent learning?