Saturday, January 07, 2006


One often hears that an important quality of good language learners is risk-taking. Because the language learner will inevitably make mistakes, and suffer for them, it is necessary to take the risk of making these mistakes in order to achieve the goal, fluency in the language.

This is important when studying the idea of turnover (a term I am coining here), which refers to the willingness of the language learner to take knowlege of the new language and put it into practice, incorporate it into his/her own production. It could be a new grammatical form, new vocabulary, or new cultural style. But there is a gap between just knowing something, and beginning the process of using it correctly which generally must start with some overuse, misuse, or uncertainty; here is the risk. The language learner can either be cautious, thus have a low turnover ability, or daring, with good turnover.

Turnover for any given word or form has an important variable. Say you have just learned a new vocabulary word, an idiom for example. A genuine opportunity to use this idiom may not come up for days after you learn it, even if you know it thoroughly and are waiting for an opportunity to use it. If you are willing to overuse it or misuse it, you might construct an opportunity, but that's not the same. And, if you don't get many opportunities to speak, you may have to wait so long for the appropriate opportunity that it's too late: your memory of it is gone, and it is now lost due to non-use.

A good language learner will thus notice that acquiring the language requires not only using and maximizing every opportunity to speak or write; then, consciously incorporating new words and new grammatical forms so that the process can begin by which you figure out which have been used appropriately. Having a good turnover rate will ensure faster fluency: though many variables influence this rate, it is one of the key mechanisms that determines one's success.

(this is one of a series of writings about language learning...feel free to comment either here or wherever you purpose is 1) to start conversation about these topics, 2) to clarify my own thoughts for future writing, 3) to draw out expertise of other people who can help me clarify and understand the process of language learning. I encourage your input; write me or leave a comment!


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