Excerpt from the Instructor Guide
In recent years language teaching has changed significantly as a result of teachers and researchers looking more closely at the effects of different approaches on real language acquisition by children and adults. One finding is an obvious one, confirmed by generations of students who learned languages in school by traditional step-by-step methods involving grammatical analysis and translation. For the average student, this type of learning, even over a period of years, didn't lead to any significant ability to communicate with speakers of the language. On the other hand, it was also clear that young people and adults who were forced into a language immersion experience in another culture usually "acquired" this ability just as children do. The rate at which it happened could vary considerably according to the individual's openness and willingness not to be self-conscious, but virtually everyone could do it.
Previous Emphasis on Spoken Language
In the 1960's, considerable emphasis was placed on teaching the spoken language. Students were drilled intensively on pronunciation, and memorized realistic-sounding dialogues related to everyday communication. Results seemed impressive compared to more traditional approaches. Students felt better prepared to communicate when visiting a culture where their language was spoken. Yet they still faced major problems, two in particular. They had been trained to master everything they had been exposed to, and to express themselves using this specific material. However, they had not developed the ability to understand native speakers of the language when in their natural context, nor did most find it easy to express themselves beyond the confines of the memorized material.
Benefits of Listening Comprehension
Subsequent research confirmed that natural language acquisition in both young people and adults usually takes place most effectively when listening comprehension is made the basis for developing all the language skills. Those most successful in communicating were the ones who learned most quickly to understand the essential gist of what they were hearing. They did not get hung up on individual words they did not recognize. They were the ones who worked at understanding what people were saying directly, without attempting to make a mental translation of everything they were hearing.
40% Increase in Learning by Using Video
A major advance in language teaching took place in the 1980's, when military academies and some major university language departments began experimenting with video instructions, including interactive videodisc programs. Studies showed a 40% increase in learning effectiveness. The principal reason for this was that video programs could provide both an authentic cultural context and a great deal of natural language spoken by a variety of people. Students could listen over and over again, as often as they needed to in order to understand. They were no longer learning isolated words based on their equivalent meaning in the native language, then attempting to build them up into meaningful sentences. They were hearing authentic conversations and learning to understand meaning in context, just as they would have had to do if immersed in the culture.
Excerpt from the Introduction to the text-workbook of Esperanto - Pasporto al la Tuta Mondo, by Duncan Charters, Ph.D, Professor and Chair of Foreign Languages, Principia College, Elsah, Illinois, USA, and President, International Association of Teachers of Esperanto (ILEI).