Learn Spanish : The great debate between formal and informal learning

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Learn Spanish : The great debate between formal and informal learning

Learning a new language is hard work – and for many a pretty uninspiring task one at that. After all, have you ever learned to chat someone up during your quest to master a language – what about your love life?And have you ever stumbled across a phrase to perfectly summaries just how wild that party was on Saturday? No, we thought not. Unfortunately, those textbooks, stacked upon other textbooks often cover everything asides from those one liners that would be SO helpful when you’re actually visiting a country. On the flip side however is the question as to whether pupils are typically capable of picking up a new language without those textbooks and repetitive exercises.

These issue are just two of many at the heart of the debate between the formal and informal learning of a language –and here we dig into the pros and cons for each style of studying.

First things first: what is informal and formal learning?

Let’s kick things off by defining what we mean when we talk about informal learning (also known as ‘street style’ learning) and ‘formal learning’.

Informal/street style learning – an overview

Informallearning is free from set objectives and goals. It’s relaxed and involved. Learners effectively study a language through experience – by immersing themselves in a culture, by playing games and undertaking creative activities to expand their knowledge. Much of informal learning is defined by listening to everyday conversations.

Formal learning – an overview

Formal learning is exactly how it sounds – formal, set and structured to a fault. Pupils follow a schedule and complete exercises as they progress. Formal learning is an approach adopted in schools and by the majority of online eLearning providers. There are core learning methods and resources – often defined by repetition, activities, text books and repetitive audio programs.

Informal/Street stylelearning – The pros and the cons

The pros

Street style Spanish learning perhaps provides for the best taster of a culture, as well as arguably helping a student learn about real life situations. What’s more whilst many educators argue that set objectives are a must when it comes to progression, there has been numerous studies which claim that only a limited amount of learnt knowledge in any area is gained through formal learning. Take Sally Anne Moore’s study for instance. In her research she found that only 25% of our knowledge emerges from formal learning, whilst the remainder is gained through experience.

Another plus to street learning is its versatility. It can be harnessed in ways that make learning a whole lot more engaging.

Informal learning may also be particularly useful for those who are audio learners. An interesting point to note at this stage so that an auditory learner can remember, on average, 75% of what they hear during a lesson. Research has found that auditory learners make up 30% of the school populous (Stats from what is My Learning Style?).

The cons

The primary drawback to informal learning is the lack of structure. However, here’s the point – there’s no reason why informal learning can’t be defined by objectives and schedules. The resources involved in this style of learning are rich and varied, consisting of games, media and first-hand experience. What’s more in this digital age of ours it seems that the bounds of informal learning are practically unlimited when it comes to merging this form of learning with more formal plans.

Formal Learning – The pros and the cons

The pros

As a true advocate of street style language learning, I am of course going to be biased in our opinion as to which is better, so let’s balance this out a bit.

Formal learning presents a leading benefit – and that’s its element of rigidorganization. Whilst street learning taps into conversations, formal learning may tackle topics in a far more broken down approach. This is then more suited to pupils who have a tendency to require a set structure – perfect for those who need to know exactly what they’re learning, when they’re learning it and how it fits in with a wider program of topics.

The cons

Formal learning can become tiresome – particularly when the resources are limited. The ultimate con to this approach can be disillusionment with a language and a loss in motivation. It can also lead to students becoming stuck at certain stages, unable to progress before a module is passed, or a topic is mastered.All in all, this can diminish a learner’s confidence in their ability.

Formal languagelearning has also been criticized for its lack of everyday focus – those socialinteractions that you may have in the pub or whilst meeting new people.

The final word – learning a language should be fun, shouldn’t it?

All over the world, language lessons get a pretty bad rap. Ask the average pupil what they think of their French, Spanish or German class, and the chances are that you’ll get a negative response with a potential proverbial thrown in for good measure. Through audio, learners are able to listen in on conversations, with background noises and music to help bring the scenario to life.

Seriously, is this the way that language learning is meant to be? Where’s the fun, the engagement and the mixing up of learning methods?

Ultimately learning a language is a challenge – but challenge doesn’t necessarily equate to dull, boring and de-motivating. When it comes down to the crunch formal learning often removes the soul out of language – and when you’re dealing with the most passionate language of all – Spanish, that’s nothing short of a tragedy.

Eldon Mirjah is the creator of Gritty Spanish, www.grittyspanish.com. Gritty Spanish is a course that’s entirely based on informal learning – where students get to grips with the language through urban stories – featuring the eccentric, the bizarre and the real-life. This is a form of learning that is defined by storytelling.

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