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Research vs. response: 2 language learning modes & how to use them better

Don’t let the title put you off. This post is actually about something that happens every day for every language learner. And getting some answers to the questions listed here will improve the way you teach, learn or use foreign languages. Let’s get started: it all begins in a portrait gallery.

Two ways to paint a portrait

The faces all look similar until you notice this room. Humphrey’s work occupies all walls and is definitely different from the rest. He tries to complete the whole portrait in a short period of time. The reason? He wants the portrait to be response, not research.
Think about it. A person walks into your studio one day. You could use all your skills, experience and knowledge to paint a thorough, exquisite and technically flawless portrait. Or you could respond to what she is wearing, what you talked about, how you both feel that day, and end up with something less perfect, but a lot more engaging to the relevant people.
Both of these approaches have a lot going for them. And both, I would argue, are needed in learning a foreign language. Here’s why.

The research

That, to many people, is what learning is all about. You meet a new fact. It gets examined. You recall all other facts that might be relevant. With the skills and knowledge you have, you make sense of the new fact. Then you practise until you feel comfortable with it. The fact is no longer new, it is now a tool at your disposal. You’re ready to face another fact.
It’s systematic, well supported and effective. It gives you security and makes you feel confident about your progress. That’s how tenses are learned, new words revised, challenging texts read and explained.
It’s great, but that’s not all.

The response

– The new phrase first appears as your workmate comments on something over lunch. You hear it a few more times and finally use it when you have the chance.
– The accent in this place is different to the one you are accustomed to. You begin to listen more carefully but stick to your way of speaking, after you discover that the locals fingers it quite cute!
– The job interview turns out to be a lot less formal than you expected. There’s nothing you can do about the shirt and tie, and swear words are out of the question. Still, you manage a slightly different intonation and choose a few informal phrases to fit in better.
These are just some of the possible scenarios. In each of them, the way you react is crucial, and your response makes learning and interaction possible.

Research or respond? A dummy guide

research vs response language learning

More often than not, this will appear obvious. But there aren’t many totally obvious things in language learning, and almost anything can be improved.
The visual guide above (click the image to enlarge) is a good place to start. There will be many more clues that could point you in the direction of research – or response – but these are some basic areas to bear in mind. If you’re a language learner, try thinking about the way you act, react and learn in these contexts. Teachers and trainers – when was the last time you reflected on how much research / response is needed for your students / clients?

I hope you find it useful – feel free to respond / link to research in comments below 🙂


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