Sustained learning is what counts for foreign languages

Professor Warren Midgley's article, (Kids not always better at picking up languages; March 13), may not have told us the whole story.

Most of the research into learning languages suggests that it is not the effort or the age when one starts to learn that is crucial, but that these lessons are sustained.

When I was around eight to 10 years old, I had to attend weekly Italian and Japanese lessons for a period of six months.

However, today, I am only able to remember the words "avanti" and "pikuniku".

This is in stark contrast to my French, which I am fluent in because I had weekly lessons from the age of seven to 17.

What made the difference was the sustained effort in attending classes over the years.

Furthermore, for adults, self-directed learning will only be effective for those who are passionate linguists.

The majority of language learners are not necessarily avid language learners.

Rather, they are extrinsically motivated to learn a language for their work, for daily life, or to pass an exam.

For these people, there are just too many distractions to allow for easy success in the self-directed environment.

At the British Council, we know that self-directed (or online) learning makes learning accessible to those who might not otherwise be able to attend classes.

However, we believe that the ideal learning scenario is one where this learning is integrated with face-to-face lessons.

Face-to-face classes motivate students because the students have a fixed time when they are expected to study and, most importantly, they have a group of fellow students to empathise with them and support them as they work together to negotiate meaning and communicate.

This is what sustains the adult learner's interest in mastering the language.

Claire Firat (Ms)

Head

Adult Learners

British Council Singapore