Use the language
The key to learning a language to an advanced level is to use the language as much as possible at the advanced level. Like everything, language takes time and effort; one starts as a novice and gains proficiency through use (DeKeyser, 2020). Using a language to gain proficiency requires “specific activities in the second language engaged in systematically, deliberately, with the goal of developing knowledge of and skills in the second language” (DeKeyser, p. 8). DeKeyser explained that using the language across different advanced-level contexts supports the development of advanced proficiency by decreasing three things: (a) the amount of attention one needs to pay when producing; (b) the amount of time it takes to produce language; and (c) the number of overall errors.
What’s the best way to use language to promote advanced proficiency? First, the language production and use should be active. As Ortega wrote (2009), only through actively using the language do language learners fully process the syntax needed to express themselves. While the importance of active practice may seem obvious today, back in the 1990s, language researchers debated whether learners needed to produce language to improve, or whether they simply need to hear and read the language. The conclusion—which guides many languages in education today—is that active practice is essential for learning. Students learn by doing.
Language use should allow learners to employ multiple language skills simultaneously. To accomplish this, teachers must create tasks for students that have media components that are necessary to use to accomplish the task, and those media, whether digital or physical, should include listening, reading, speaking, and writing (González-Lloret, 2020). Moreover, feedback and learning should be integrated into an iterative process, with students revising and repeating their work based on the feedback they obtain from their teachers, their classroom peers, and their own self-evaluations (Bitchener, 2019).
Finally, learning should be cooperative and engaging, so that learners build an equitable community of learning (González-Lloret, 2020) and experience flow (Ibrahim & Al-Hoorie, 2019). This means that learners are so fully engaged and absorbed in their tasks that they lose a sense of time. Thus, a teacher’s main goal can be seen as encouraging production by establishing the right conditions for high-level practice, conditions that include not just hard work but task enjoyment (Lee, 2020).