Learning a Language The Wrong Way: The Story of Francois Gouin

Focusing on Grammar, Translation and Vocabulary memorization did not work for Francois.

Francois Gouin, the story of success through failure.

Our story takes place in the 19th century when our friend Francois Gouin decided he wanted to learn Germn. He was a already a successful Latin teacher and wanted to give German a go.

Learning a language is always a story of discovery of wrong turns and outright mistakes, of learning, forgetting and re-remembering. There is of course not ONE correct method but there are various WRONG learning methods. Francois Gouin tried most of the bad methods. Learning from his mistakes will save you time and money.

The Grammar Method

He thought he had language learning worked out and started learning German as he had learned Latin, by memorizing a German grammar book and a table of 248 irregular verbs. He was great at memorizing so that was a breeze. However when he moved to Hamburg (Germany) to enroll in the academy he realized he could not understand a word.

The Vocabulary Method.

Realizing he needed to try a new method, he decided on a variation of the previous one. He memorized 800 words and re-memorized the grammar and verb forms he had by now forgotten. As you probably guessed the results were just as disappointing. He tried his best to communicate and use his carefully constructed sentences but the German speakers would just laugh.

The Translation Method.

Francois then tried another classical approach, translation. I actually learnt Latin (or tried to) using this method, with similar results to good old Gouin. Poor Francois even memorized an entire dictionary as he learned to translate, but no luck. He was starting to lose patience and enthusiasm so he returned home for a break.

The Direct Method

When he returned home he saw that his three year old nephew had learned to speak French since he had left. This as you might have guessed annoyed Francois a little. He decided to investigate how his snotty nephew had learnt a language while he had got nowhere.

He decided to investigate how his nephew had learned French in order to copy the method. He noticed his nephew was very curious and when visiting new places would ask the name of everything. After returning home he would talk about what he had learned to whoever would listen o him. The kid would use language as way of transforming perceptions into concepts, using language as a tool to describe life.

Francois Gouin discovered the hard way that you cannot learn a language by learning its rules or Grammar just like you can’t learn to drive by reading the highway code. He realized that you cannot detach language from life and that realistic interaction is required for effective learning.

Just learning vocabulary is not useful if you cannot link it to something in the real world. Many modern language learning methods have built on this idea and help you learn a language the direct way by linking settings, pictures or sounds to new words or expressions directly to your target language.

We have a lot to thank and learn from linguists like Francois. Many modern language linguists have applied the lessons pioneers like Francois and many others to provide effective learning tools.

By Wanderkarm
Adapted from: http://hubpages.com/hub/Language-Learning-Methods
Last modified: Monday, 22 March 2010, 3:11 PM