Language Learning

My experience of Ab Initio at university

In my post last week, I looked at the uptake of ab initio languages in universities.

This link covers responses from 26 institutions on their beginners language courses in 2006. Actual figures are likely to have changed in the last ten years. For more specific information about ab initio and what it generally entails, please visit the University of York’s website.

In September 2011, I began a university course at Cardiff in German and Spanish.

In first year, I had four Spanish classes a week – two grammar, one vocabulary, and one speaking and reading. In second year, I still had the two grammar classes and a vocabulary/speaking lesson, but my last lesson changed to a reading lesson of Spanish literature alternating with translation. On top of this, we had compulsory speaking classes once a week with native students.

I’ll be honest in saying that ab initio Spanish did not suit me particularly. Although it’s listed as beginners, many students already had a GCSE. For me, this is a marked difference in language ability, and was something that made me feel quite intimidated and offputting. How could I compete in a class where many already understood the basics?

Similarly, I think that although the separated style did help me to learn quicker, I found it harder to put all the pieces together.

By the end of my second year, ex-beginners and ex-advanced students sat the same Spanish paper – this was not the case for ex-beginners German or Italian students.

In total each university term is 11 weeks long on average, which gives 22 weeks of teaching time, which is roughly 88 hours a year. In total, I only studied Spanish for a total of 44 weeks or 176 hours!

I recently took a GCSE exam in Spanish myself after a two year break.

In all honesty, my condensed, fast track learning did work. It only took we a few weeks/month to catch up on what I’d forgotten for the exam.

Similarly, many students who took ab initio without previous knowledge did as well as their more advanced counterparts – some even switched to single honours for their new language during their year.

Ultimately it’s a person choice. I don’t feel like I could keep up with it – but what I’ve learned is invaluable and is something I use nearly every day in the Spanish classes I support.

Have you ever taken an ab initio course? How did it work for you?

Tweet me at @amjscorr.

Alex

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