A language is not just a system of rules – people use language to do things with other people. It’s a social skill – like dancing: you have to practice the steps until they become natural.
People-Places-Things’ praxis is that language skills are cultural skills – very specific and precise cultural skills.
You’ll hear people say “Learn the Language” – but there really isn’t one language; plus, it’s changing all the time.
As a result, language teachers will say “you should learn it *the right way*.” When they say that, what they usually mean is that learning a language for academic purposes is the correct way to learn it.
An academic approach to learning starts from the way the world “should” be, and hopes to end up where you are at someday. It’s about understanding.
Academic purposes are very important real-world applications – but there are so many non-academic applications for language too:
- Helping a Customer
- Putting Gas in Your Car
- Ordering From a Menu
- Using Public Transit
- Baking a Pie
- Sorting Your Recycling
- Making an Appointment
- Leaving a Voice Mail Message
- Telling a Doctor What’s Wrong
- Using a Coupon
- Enrolling Your Children At School
- Applying for a Loan
- Making Small Talk
- Choosing a Cell Phone Plan
- Going To The Emergency Room
- Paying Your Electric Bill
And a million other things that you have to do. Our approach prioritizes capability and competence over pure understanding. We start from where you are at, practicing the language & cultural skills that are important to you right now – we hope you’ll learn “The Language” someday – but at least, if you don’t, you’ll still know how to bake a pie.
Sometimes, Doing it Well is Better Than Doing it Right
Imagine that you ask a physicist how to turn on the television, and he says to you:
“Standard TVs use an interlacing technique when painting the screen. In this technique, the screen is painted 60 times per second but only half of the lines are painted per frame. The beam paints every other line as it moves down the screen — for example, every odd-numbered line. Then, the next time it moves down the screen it paints the even-numbered lines, alternating back and forth between even-numbered and odd-numbered lines on each pass. The entire screen, in two passes, is painted 30 times every second. The alternative to interlacing is called progressive scanning, which paints every line on the screen 60 times per second. Most computer monitors use progressive scanning because it significantly reduces flicker.”
–How Stuff Works – How Television Works
This is certainly very interesting, but more information than you want to know. You want to know how to turn on the TV, not how the TV works.
This is the reason why we have such haphazard success in language skills development in the US and throughout the world – we’re spending too much time explaining how language works, instead of practicing how it’s used in specific situations.
And you know what: This applies to any language. It applies to teaching languages. It applies to any skill.