The Neurolinguistic Approach (NLA) to second language learning is a new way to teach and acquire a second language for the purposes of communication, in a regular classroom situation. It is based on recent research in neurolinguistics that has provided a better understanding of how we learn to speak a second language.
Traditionally, it has been assumed that, to learn a second language in school, students must first learn vocabulary and grammar rules, then practice using these in various exercises, before being able to participate in communicative activities, eventually speaking spontaneously. Basically, in this approach, knowledge learned about the language, with practice, becomes the ability to speak the language. Recent research shows that this is not the case.
In order to learn to speak a language, two separate aspects have to be developed. Knowledge of verb forms, and some rules, is necessary in order to write a second language accurately. This is the grammar that we associate with learning a second language in school. However, this is only a small part of the process of learning to communicate in a second language. In order to speak a second language, it is necessary to develop pathways in the brain, called neuronal connections, which link together quickly all the aspects necessary to carry on a conversation.
Neurolinguistic research tells us that these pathways can only be developed by using the second language for extended periods of time in real communication. The connections develop automatically, or non-consciously, while using the language to express our thoughts. Without this internal, or mental, grammar, students cannot speak with spontaneity in the second language (M. Paradis, McGill University; N. Ellis, Michigan University). The video below (available only in French) explains this.
The Neurolinguistic Approach to second language teaching, developed by Joan Netten and Claude Germain, creates the necessary classroom conditions for students to acquire an internal grammar (implicit competence) for speaking, as well as teaching the grammar (explicit knowledge) necessary to write correctly.
The five fundamental characteristics that are present in all programs based on the Neurolinguistic Approach are:
- creation of conditions in the classroom and use of teaching strategies to develop an internal (mental) or non-conscious grammar, as well as those necessary to learn the forms and rules necessary to write correctly;
- use of a literacy-based approach in the teaching of the second language, to change the focus from learning about the language to learning how to use the language;
- use of projects to direct learning so that students are concentrating on the message they wish to express rather than the learning of language forms;
- use of authentic language exchanges rather than those based on learning grammar rules and forms;
- use of interactive teaching strategies so that the students use the language to express messages to the teacher and to the other members of the class.
More information can be found in the article by Joan Netten and Claude Germain; A New Paradigm for the Learning of a Second or Foreign Language: The Neurolinguistic Approach.