It has long been said that “practice makes perfect”. I don’t necessarily want to break that saying or disqualify it entirely. Nor do I want to propose a “rocket-science” method that would replace the vitality of practice. Rather, there is more to practice than meets the naked eye!
When talking about language acquisition, I can’t emphasize enough that no body would be able to achieve a decent level of fluency and efficiency without really indulging in getting his hands dirty (if that is an appropriate expression), and actually speak it or write it. However, I think that it doesn’t really matter how much you practice the target language if you aren’t consciously aware of the mistakes you make and/or how to correct your utterances!
As a matter of fact, I think that students need to be fully aware of what lies ahead for them as they decide (or as they’re required) to study second/foriegn language (i.e. English). Typically for me, on the first day of class, I go over the simple question of “why they are in this class learning a language”. Then I give them a basic overview of language skills they need to acquire and how they, according to my own concepts, approach the task at hand. This is actually done as an overview since most of students would be able to review this in class as they already learned such words as writing, reading, etc–regardless of the level of students. Ultimately, now the students are aware that if they want to improve their speaking skills, for example, they need to start practicing (working) on their listening skills. And if they want to improve writing, they need to work on their reading. To get them engaged actively, I typically narrate a simple story of how an old sailor is able to speak a forign language although he never went to school!
Interestingly, so far, students have been telling me that that small lesson made a lot of sense to themat the begining of class and gave them a sense of sureness. It actually established a rationale for them and important guidelines for learning–what follows next is nothing but a meaningful practice regime.
One similar grounds, what really ruins the students awareness of what they are learning is the inappropriate correction methods. It has long been debated on how to effectively, for instance, correct a student’s essay or writing task. Obviously, I won’t also give you a conclusive answer to that as approaches and rationales are still being debated on. A rule of thumb for me, however, is that it really depends on the level of students. As a teacher approaches a higher level of students, then pointing out the mistake would represent a challenge that is beneficial for them; now they need to figure out what exactly is wrong here. While for a bacsic level approach, pointing out the grammatical area of the error helps the students grasp a better understanding of linguistic rules. This is how practice can become fruitful and reinforcing students. Now more logical links can be established in their heads.
Overall, practice should also be modeled by the teacher in and out of the class. That is where teacher’s roles outside of the class makes a lot of sense. As an example, take the simple act of choral-repetition. If the teacher does not point out, as clearly as possible, the way to make an utterance, and paying closer attention to those who are having difficulty saying it; then that drill will be rendered worthless, and will cause more problems than it was supposed to solve. So I believe that teachers need to pay a closer attention to how their students are practicing the language they’re learning. Let us not forget that the more contextualized the drills are, the better they stick in students’ heads afterall!