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Quick Write 110511 “Practice compensates aptitude”

Dr. Robert DeKeyser is the lecturer for the weekend seminar that I’m attending. We can tell that English is the second language for him by a slight Dutch or Flemish German accent, but he speaks flawless English with a very good tempo (I wouldn’t say he speaks “fast”), and makes good jokes as well. Research findings in the field of Second Language Acquisition he introduced during the six-hour lecture were informative, one of which made me want to give further thoughts to. The research conducted by DeKeyser, Alfi-Shabtay, and Ravid (2010) shows that adult and adolescent language learners draw on aptitude more than children, meaning they learn the language through different mechanisms. More specifically, the research suggests that for adult and adolescent learners, “aptitude” for language learning and “salience (being noticeable)” of the target language items count more than for young learners.

“Aptitude” refers to innate ability to do something, including the capacity of working memory or the memory span. Isn’t it rather discouraging to know that our innate ability determines how well we can learn the language? Isn’t it rather demotivating to know that learners born with greater aptitude can learn the language faster and better than those with mediocre aptitude? How can we possibly compensate the aptitude that we were born with in terms of language learning? Dr. Dekeyser is the scholar who puts strong emphasis on the importance of practice which the academia tends to underestimate the value and importance thereof, and he has the answer: explicit learning (i.e. learning consciously) and systematic practice (the practice is well-planned) are the key. Yeah, we still have hope!

My interpretation for the aforementioned research finding can be put like this: anyone with any level of language learning aptitude can be proficient in English if, only if they practice appropriately. The appropriateness of the practice includes the frequency, duration, quality, and quantity of language learning, and of course, individual differences come into play. What is important to be reminded here is that the research doesn’t negate the possibility that adults can be extremely fluent in English, but it leaves us the “practice-makes-perfect” kind of hope. Yeah, we can rigorously practice our craft like a skilled, devoted craftsman, and reach out for perfection. Isn’t that just great?

(40 minutes / 373 words)

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Aya

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