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breakthrough distinction: acquisition and study

A 19th century language educator, M. Gouin, was obsessed with the language of German. His effort to learn German was herculean, people said: He knew everybody’s ‘Method’ of language study, and he learned the whole dictionary through and through. But shockingly, Gouin found at the end that he did not know one word of German ‘as his nephew spoke.’

So here’s the background story: after a ten months’ of studying German at an academy at Hamburg (Germany), Gouin returned to France and met his little nephew—whom, when he left, was about two and a half years old, and not yet able to talk. What Gouin found was that his little nephew had now made a tremendous language development, which is what he had failed to do just in such short of time.

“What!” M. Gouin said, “this child and I have been working for the same time, each at a language (he, in French, and I, in German). What he does is just playing round his mother, running after flowers, butterflies and birds, without learning, without apparent effort, without even being conscious of his work. But now he is able to say all he thinks, express all he sees, understand all he hears! … But I, with all my knowledge of the grammar, … armed with a powerful will, gifted with a powerful memorizing thousands of vocabularies . . . . have arrived at nothing, or at practically nothing!'”

(Home Education, 305, Charlotte Mason).

Language acquisition is basically what M. Gouin’s nephew and all children in the world naturally do everyday: playing and being fully immersed in day-to-day encounters with others and things in the world. Children abundantly acquire the language embedded in their daily activities in subconscious way.

So, when they are acquiring the language, they are usually unaware they are doing it, because its process activates their subconscious capacity.

On the other hand, language study is similar to what Gouin did two centuries ago (and what many children do in school today!). They heavily focus to the study of grammatical rules and vocabulary memorizations.

While acquisition appreciates and empowers human subconscious and intuitive capacity, language study is emphasizing conscious and analytic process in language development.

Therefore, when we are studying about a language, we are aware that we are studying about a language. In language study, we are responsible to understand how language works in analytical way and memorizing vocabulary, and so on. Only then we are trained to apply those rules and vocabulary into sentences in deductive (conscious) method.

Krashen, Stephen D. (2003). Explorations in Language Acquisition and Use. Portsmouth: Heinemann


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