Case Studies: Successful Language Learners

Another formative experience for me was reading Stevick’s Successful Language Learning. For those of you not familiar with Stevick, he was a cult leader of the 1980s, which was the one decade that clearly defined language teaching as a profession, and the role of language teacher as part sage, part magician… Sure, Stevick had his critics – he was trying to create a ‘spiritual mission’ within the profession, and of course many with a scientific orientation toward the field shrugged him off as a looney…

Here’s a Stevick quote, from one of his more obscure papers:

(1) Whatever we do in this life, we do through use of fleshly equipment that has been issued to us by our Creator. The part of that equipment most conspicuous in language learning is the brain. We make things easier for ourselves when we conduct our learning and teaching in ways consistent with how the equipment works.
(2) In taking on flesh for our sakes, Christ made Himself vulnerable to disrespect, disgrace and death which He might otherwise have avoided. In pale imitation of that Incarnation it behooves us, both as Christians and as learners or teachers of languages, to abandon some common kinds of self-protection.

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…Okaaaay…. I too resist people who ‘front’ their religiosity in their professional work: to me, it’s condescending (though I know most of those espousing these things don’t see it that way, certainly not Mr. Stevick, one of the most unassuming figures I’ve ever met.)

Earl Stevick, Successful language learning. Prentice-Hall International, 1989.

This book presents varied case studies of successful language learners. In each learner profile it is possible to see the relative importance of the role of listening development in the learner’s overall language development and to learn firsthand — from the learners themselves — viable long-term approaches to listening development. Readers will be encouraged to set up their own case studies of individual language learners.

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