What is the Neurolinguistic Approach?

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 setting. It is based on recent research in neurosciences, including 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 (usually written ones), which eventually lead the students to being able to speak spontaneously. Basically, in this approach, knowledge learned about the language, with practice, becomes the ability to speak the language. Recent research in neuroscience 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 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 quickly link together 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 one’s 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 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 of programs based on the Neurolinguistic Approach:

1. the use of teaching strategies and the creation of classroom conditions that favour the development of an internal or non-conscious grammar;
2. the use of a literacy-based approach to teaching second language, to change the focus from learning about the language to learning how to use the language;
3. the use of projects to direct learning so that students concentrate on the message they wish to express rather than on learning language forms;
4. the use of authentic, conversational language exchanges rather than memorized, inauthentic dialogues; and
5. the application of interactive teaching strategies so that the students use the language to express authentic 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

Other NLA-related articles, written by Joan Netten, Claude Germain and others may be found at www.academia.edu.

The Neurolinguistic Approach (NLA) for Learning and Teaching Foreign Languages (2018) can be purchased from Cambridge Scholars Publishing (http://cambridgescholars.com/) and from www.cifran.org.

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