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Second Language Acquisition FAQs

Listed below are answers to some of the most common questions we’ve been asked about our online SLA for Beginning Learners course.

Who is this course for?

This course meets the needs of four groups of participants: (1) Most are pre-field individuals who are planning to learn one or more new languages in order to live in another culture and work or minister cross-culturally. Most will be learning these new languages while on the field, but some may be planning to take language courses before leaving North America. (2) Some take this course after arrival in their overseas location, frequently before or near the beginning of their language study. (3) A third group includes those who have been on the field for a year or longer but have not been as successful as they need to be in learning their new language. (4) We may also have a few individuals who are in cross-cultural ministry in North America or are exploring possibilities for cross-cultural service.

What about earning credit?

Most of our SLA participants take the course for non-credit. This means that the only required paperwork is the Beginning Learners Registration Form. But it is also possible to take the course for four semester hours of graduate credit. If you wish to earn credit and are not currently a Wheaton College student, please email us for more information.

Can I learn as much in this online course as I would in a traditional course?

We taught this course on-campus for 18 years. Since we moved to the online format in 2011, we have found that students learn more—and for some, much more—in each of the three major components than in our previous on-campus course. There are several reasons for this. For each of the foundations sessions, students have applications questions that require them to apply the insights gained in that lesson to themselves as learners or to their target language and/or learning situation, and they receive individual feedback on every response. For the phonetics sessions, we quickly found that 15-20 minutes of daily individual tutoring focused on the learner’s specific needs is more valuable than 50 minutes of small-group work. In addition, each student can progress through the lessons at his/her own pace. For the language-learning techniques sessions, each learner works with a language helper for about ten hours—far more one-on-one time than in our previous on-campus SLA course. For most students, an added bonus has been the fact that the language helper is a native speaker of the student’s target language. The total amount of one-on-one time for each student is about 15 - 17 hours. This includes time with an instructor via Skype and time with a language helper.

Aren't most online courses just a lot of reading and then more reading?

That’s true for many online courses, but we can assure you that this is not a reading course that happens to be online. In fact, it has no more reading than was in our previous on-campus SLA course, which is only a few pages of practical readings for each day.

Can you describe a typical day?

Most participants spend about three to four hours each day, Monday - Friday, on the various assignments. Most work is asynchronous—that is, you schedule your own work time. In addition, there are frequent Skype meetings with an instructor and assignments to submit each day for instructor feedback.

On a typical day, you work in three areas:

1. Foundations
The foundations sessions provide an overall framework for language and culture learning.

These sessions are taught using narrated PowerPoint presentations, podcasts, short videos, and short practical readings. At the end of each session, you complete applications questions that ask you to apply insights gained to your future learning, and you receive instructor feedback on each assignment.

2. Phonetics
Our phonetics sessions help you develop the skills needed for learning the pronunciation system of your new language.

Each session has three stages:

  • a short video introduction to the lesson (8-12 minutes), which allows you to hear and produce the new sounds, become acquainted with the new symbols, and receive advice about how to proceed with the lesson
  • approximately one hour of phonetics drills, done individually using mp3 audio files
  • an individual Skype meeting with an instructor, in which your perception and production of target sounds are evaluated and personalized help is offered (usually 20-30 minutes for each of the 15 modules, depending on individual needs)


3. Language Learning Techniques (LLT)
Our LLT sessions introduce you to a variety of techniques and procedures that you will use in your on-field learning and give you an opportunity to focus on your target language.

In addition to short readings and videos, you will have Skype meetings with an LLT instructor and submit assignments for feedback. This LLT work includes approximately ten hours with a language helper, either live or via Skype. We encourage you to find a helper who speaks your target language, but it is not essential to work with a speaker of the language you intend to learn, because the main goal is learning training — i.e., learning how to work effectively with an ordinary native speaker of another language. If necessary, we can assist you in finding a helper.

What course materials are used?

We provide a number of resources to use in the course and to draw upon in your on-field learning. These include (1) our 225-page ICCT Second Language Acquisition Handbook, (2) a flash drive with collection of about about 2,000 pages of resources for second language learners, (3) more than 75 language learning techniques (with detailed instructions), (4) phonetics exercises and accompanying mp3 sound files, and (5) information about your target language and for most participants, pronunciation exercises and/or other target language materials.

What is the length of the course? How many hours per day?

The course is six weeks in length, for half-time study (3 - 4 hours per day, five days per week).

When should I register?

We will accept registrations until we have reached our maximum capacity, but we suggest registration no later than one month before the course begins. 

What are the advantages of taking the ICCT online course vs. a traditional pre-field SLA course elsewhere?

For many learners, there are a number of advantages to our online SLA course. They can be summarized as convenience, cost, and content.

  • Location: While most traditional SLA courses require you to leave home and travel to another location for two weeks or longer, you can take our online course without leaving home. This can mean less disruption to your family routines. It also makes it easier if only one spouse is taking the SLA training.
  • Flexible study hours: Instead of fitting into a prearranged schedule that might not be convenient, you can do most of your work at any hour of the day or night.
  • Cost: With no plane tickets to buy and no room-and-board expenses away from home, for most participants our online course is considerably less expensive than two-week traditional (on-site) pre-field SLA courses. We encourage you to compare our costs with those of other programs with similar goals.
  • Individualized assignments: With learning experiences that are tailored more to individual student needs than is possible in most classroom settings, participants are more fully engaged in each component of the course. In addition, they can use their time more wisely when instruction is focused on individual needs rather than the broader needs of the class.
  • Focus on the target language: Most face-to-face courses give little, if any, attention to helping learners bridge the gap between the pre-field course and the on-field learning experience. Our online course gives learners daily opportunities to extend their more general learner training experiences to focus on their target language.
  • Five years of free email support: ICCT gives five years of unlimited, free email support to all those who go through our SLA program. Our goal is to "be there" through each step of the on-field language and culture learning process. While this is very labor-intensive on our part, it has proved to be a tremendous help to those who need ongoing guidance and encouragement, and so we have come to see this as a very important part of our ministry. We are also available to missions administrators who are dealing with issues related to the language and culture learning of their on-field personnel.

What are the advantages of taking a traditional SLA course?

  • Fewer interruptions and distractions: If you need to leave home and other responsibilities in order to focus on your studies, a traditional on-site course may provide the break you need.
  • Computer equipment and basic computer skills are not needed: Most traditional courses do not require that you have a computer with daily access to high-speed Internet. In fact, most do not require you to do even basic tasks on a computer. If you are not comfortable using a computer, we strongly recommend that you not take our ICCT online course.

Who is most likely to succeed in this online course?

Success in this course depends on your being motivated to get the most from this course (vs. doing the work only to meet a requirement) and being sufficiently self-disciplined to manage your time wisely. It also depends upon being free from other responsibilities that might keep you from your online work.

Who should not enroll?

Because success in this course depends on being able to do the required work each day, we have turned down a number of applicants. This is usually because they have too many other major time commitments, but any of the following can be reasons for postponing enrollment in this class or taking a pre-field SLA class offered elsewhere:

  • lack of time each day for the online work
  • lack of consistent access to a computer and high-speed Internet
  • lack of basic computer skills (e.g., cutting and pasting, saving files, sending emails and attachments, downloading files from the Internet, printing documents, using a search engine, using Skype)
  • lack of a quiet place to work, free from interruptions and other distractions

What have previous online students said about the course?

Read the testimonials from our alumni. 

Are there assignments to do before the course begins?

Yes, you should have all software installed (it’s free) and working properly before the course begins. You will also do some short activities to make sure you are ready to go on the first day of class, and you will have a get-acquainted session with your instructor via Skype.

Which software programs will I use?

For most of our online work we use Moodle. Other programs are Audacity, Skype, and Microsoft Word. You will be able to access the course a few days before it begins.