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Belyanin Language Personality and Language Abilities 1995 in Spain In English

Valery Belianin


I am planning to speak about the problem of language personality in its connection with the problem of abilities to foreign languages.
The problem of language personality as a scientific problem has appeared only recently. But it became actual because it allows to describe many spheres connected with the person and the language he/she uses. Besides, this problem is multidisciplinary since it covers the areas traditionally studied not only by linguistics, but psychologists and certainly psycholinguistics.
The problem of abilities for foreign language is not new, but every time a teacher of a foreign language has to solve it for himself and for his students when preparing for a course or getting ready for a certain lesson with certain students. Thus the problem of abilities can also be considered as an actual one.
In my report I shall try to unite these two problems and to put forward some ways of solving them.
1.1. I shall not speak about semiotic models of Saussure and Ogden-Richards which relate to linguistics. I shall dwell upon the psycholinguistic models of speech activity spread in Russian psycholinguistics. One of the most well known of them is represented in the work of Soviet linguist Lev Scherba "On the Three Aspects of Language Phenomena and the Experiment in Linguistics". He thought that to speak about language as a system and speech as its realization is insufficient. To his opinion it is better to speak about language system which is the basis of language material and speech activity as the processes of speaking and hearing.
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Table 1.
Speech Activity
Language Material # # Language System
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1.2 Also in this work of Scherba there exists a wider understanding of speech activity than just the processes of speaking and hearing. In particular, he wrote that man has some language ability as an ability to produce and receive speech. In his opinion this ability functions on the basis of language mechanism as psychophisiological prerequisites of speech processes. <These ideas you can also meet in the works of A.A.Leontyev.>
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Table 2.
Speech Activity
Language Material # # Language Mechanism
Language System # # Language Ability
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1.3. Of late new concepts about language and speech has appeared.
Yury Karaulov writes in his book "Russian Language and Language Personality": "One can not cognize language as it is not leaving its borders, not addressing to its creator, bearer, user - to a man, to a certain language personality". That is the reason for appearance and scientific usage of the concept of language personality (which one can meet in the works of V.V.Vinogradov, A.A.Reformatsky, R.A.Budagov, Clod Ajej). And this is because when we try to build a model of speech activity we must put in the foundation of these configuration language personality who is the subject of speech activity.
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Table 3.
Language Personality
Speech Activity # # Language Mechanism
Language Material # # Language Ability
Language System
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1.4. Summing up different works on language personality, we can say that its configuration coincides in many ways with the traditional levels of language system.
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Table 4.
The levels of language personality:
the level of fonation
the level of lexicon
the level of thesaurus
the level of motives and pragmatics
the level of meanings and senses
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The level of fonation determines the character and the speed of pronouncing of sounds. It is connected with the existence of ability to repeat and imitate the sounds of a language.
The next level is the level of lexicon (or verbal and semantic one). Its dimension can be measured by the amount and the repertoire of language elements that a man uses in his speech. I should stress that despite wide-spread opinion their amount differs from person to person.
The existence of the level of grammar presupposes that a person can organize lexical units into cliches which bear certain semantic content.
On the level of thesaurus we can find categorical schemes, concepts and senses with which a person operates when depicting objects of reality. Also concepts and ideas reflecting cognitive dominants of personality are kept here. They are organized in a certain way not only for the representative of a national language but for every certain person.
The motivation and pragmatic level is the level of communicative intentions that a person traditionally uses in his sphere of activity. Their repertoire and key determine the speech style of a man, his speech behaviour as a whole.
On the level of meanings and senses there exist notions about reality. They are fixed in signs and their combinations.
These are the levels that exist and depict any language personality.

Let us determine language ability as a general predisposition for using a language. Language ability can be characterised at the minimum of three levels: language system, language mechanism, language activity.
1) Language ability is determined in a great degree by the characteristics of language as a system of signs.

1) The code character of language demands from a person sui generis referential abilities as abilities to bring into correlation in his conscience the sign of a language and the object, better to say the image of an object.
The basic function of a verbal sign is the substitution of an object. This symbolic function demands from a person the ability to operate with the images of objects and not the real objects. These actions are closely connected with reflection, abstract thinking and introversion.
That does not mean that people who are not reflective do not know their own language, but they use it more as an instrument of actions and influence on other people than instruments of cognition.
The ability to fix semantic links between concepts and objects really helps a person to learn a foreign language better. When learning a foreign language a person has to replace first the form of one word for another one. Second, the content of a native word by another content. Sometimes it is splitted into several parts (as "hand" and "arm" in English and "рук " in Russia). Sometimes it overlaps with another native word (as "blue" in English and "голубой" и "синий" in Russian). Here is where semiotic consciousness and a little bit of schizophrenic reflection are needed.
<The ability of comprehension also means that a person can fix semantic links between the words and the ideas they reflect.>
2) The language is submitted to certain rules of the combination of signs. Hence, person has to posses sui generis syntagmatic abilities of combining signs.
3) Language is not a rigid system. There are different signs for the same objects. That means that person must have so called paradigmatic abilities as skills to replace one sign for another on the basis of the context and latent features which determine combination of the words.
4) Language is pragmatic in the sense that every sign bears an evaluation of the object it reflects and have connotation. Person has to be able to see its evaluative power, its stylistic and emotional resources.
5) Any language sign has the form which has some kinesthetic meaning. For better usage of the language person must feel its form and must posses to a certain extent aesthetic abilities of verbal type.
Certainly, not all of the people do really posses these abilities. For example, the last ones are the prerogative of the specialists in the field of speech activity (journalists, writers, linguists, translators and interpreters).

To posses a language one must have developed articulating and listening apparatus, which allows to differ the sounds of human language from other sounds and the sounds of one language from another. In respect to graphics we should speak mostly about motorics of a person.
Besides what is important is the speed of psychic processes. We can also speak about the time of solving a language task especially.

A person who asks to repeat once and again can not be a good interlocutor. A person who speaks too slowly can not be a good speaker. A person who writes too slowly can not be a good student. A student who is slow in listening will not improve his pronunciation when listening to quick speech (for example on a tape-recorder).
The same we can say about professionals. For example, if a person is a written translator he can be busy with this any time he is given. But if a person is an oral interpreter, he has to extract the main information and give to it the shape of another language. And what is important, it should be done with the speed of real communication, that is not slower than 220-240 words a minute. The oral translation should not be longer than the speech of the speaker.
All this means that the speed of the mental processes plays the decisive role. The quicker it is, the better a foreign language activity will be realised.

Understanding of speech activity as communication presupposes that a person must have developed communicative abilities. Let us determine them as abilities to use the language for reaching nonverbal aims, the ability to address people, to communicate with them.
Speaking about speech activity we can not say a word about the mechanism of prediction. The ability to predict possible development of speech action is very important for successful communication. The mechanism of prediction plays special role for the interpreter when he must look a little bit forward in order not to be late. It is important to develop not only formal but sense prediction as well.

Speaking about abilities for foreign languages we should say that there is a little bit special picture if we compare it with the studying of a naive one.
The way of studying foreign language is in a way reverse to learning native language: the man gets second names for the objects which have already the names in his native language. And if the acquisition of native language is available for everybody, learning a foreign language needs special prerequisites.
This spring my post-graduate student at the Department of psycholinguistics of Moscow State Linguistic University Olga Bondarevskaya interviewed 50 teachers of foreign languages. She was asking about the nature of abilities for foreign languages. In the result of the interview 20 psychological and personal features were received. They were classified according to the frequency of their mentioning in the answers of the experts. They were arranged in the diminishing order as follows.
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quality number of mentioning
1. memory 80%
2. general erudition 70%
3.1. logical thinking 65%
3.2. abstract thinking 45%
4. humanitarian turn of mind 55%
5. feeling of language 40%
6.1. imitation 32%
6.2. good ear for music 20%
7.1. motivation 15%
7.2. interest 15%
8. sociability 12,5%
9. diligence 7,5%
10. flexibility 6%
abilities for foreign language exist 85%
abilities for foreign language are inborn 70%
3.1.1. 80% of the experts said that people gifted for foreign languages should posses good memory. Teachers who teach stylistics say that what is needed is verbal memory because it helps quickly and easily to form the necessary associations between words and their contextual meaning. It also helps to remember their connotations and stylistic differences.
Teachers of phonetics spoke mostly about mechanical memory. They said that mechanical memory is necessary for remembering tonal and intonation characteristics of the sounds.
3.1.2. Speaking about memory, the experts mentioned first of all short-term memory, because it allows to lessen the time of the fulfillment of class-room tasks actions up to optimum and it allows to pass to the solution of proper speech tasks.
3.2. Some 70% of respondents considered that the more a student is educated and developed, the higher is the level of his general culture, the larger are his foreign language abilities developed. Everybody will agree that broad knowledge and open-mindness helps to study languages.
3.3.1. The presence of a developed logical thinking was considered to be important by 65% of experts. Logical thinking presupposes the skill of using analogues, the skills of quick generalization on the basis of a restricted amount of facts. Also such persons are quick in determining regularities. And what is important - transferring these regularities to the structure of another language material.
3.3.2. 45% of experts spoke about the necessity of abstract thinking. For them it was connected with the ability to generalize and to see different classes of word that differ from the classes in their language.
For example, in an African language Swahili there are classes of persons, things and plants. To imagine a grammatical class of plants a person needs a little bit of abstract (logical) thinking as well. Every time he must go back to the abstract meaning of the word - to its classification in a certain language.
3.4. 55% of the experts spoke about propensity (inclination) to humanitarian disciplines: philosophy, history, linguistics. They viewed upon this as a humanitarian mind. In their opinion this helps to learn a foreign language better.
3.5. A substantial component of abilities for foreign language is what 40% of experts called metaphorically "the feeling of the language". Let us see what is it.
Under this notion they meant not only the ability to feel intuitively the righteousness of somebody's foreign speech, but also the righteousness and the appropriateness of one's own using of the means of alien language.
"The feeling of the language" can be considered as a special intellectual feeling as a means of cognition. Let us determine "the feeling of the language" as an ability of a man to speak correctly thanks to possessing a sum of knowledge about language that forms in the result of generalization of linguistic facts. Its characteristic features are unconsciousness and automatization.
In regard to a foreign language "the feeling of the language" - is first of all thinking in another language without attracting native one. This feeling can be developed in the course of practical activity and is special in regard to every type of language. Thus it is obvious that it will be different in regard of for example Arabic and Russian as languages of different types. (E.g. in Arabic one has to write only with consonants, ine must be ready to use flexes (as in Russian). All this differes these languages and different abilities will be developed.)
On the basis of "the feeling of the language" one can figure out two types of possessing the language. One is "artistic" or "intuitive". Such person learns the language rather quickly mostly by practice, he is rather productive; he can think and understand the language well; he is good in translating; often uses in his native speech, words and expressions of a foreign language.
The second type - "thinking type", or "rational and logical" - learns the language while getting theoretical knowledge; he possesses the language mostly receptively; he is not so good in translation; he doesn't use foreign words and expressions in his native speech; his "feeling of the language" is not well developed.
3.6.1. 32% of the experts spoke about the ability for imitation. They said that the person who studies foreign language needs a good phonematic ear, clear articulation, and also the presence of dramatic, theatrical abilities.
3.6.2. At the same time 20% spoke about musical ear as an ability to differ the tonality and frequency of sounds.
Certainly, the musical ear is not a very important quality, it only facilitates the acquisition of a foreign language. I mean that it plays an auxiliary role in the structure of foreign language abilities.
(But the things can change if a student has to study Vietnamese or Chinese languages.)
3.7.1. The necessity of motivation for foreign language study was stressed only by 15% of experts.
3.7.2. The necessity of interest was also mentioned by 15% of them.
Usually investigators give more consideration to these factors. I suppose that it can be explained by high motivation of the students of the teachers who were asked about this component. I mean that probably their students were highly motivated and that's why the experts did not consider this component being very important.
3.8. Communicativeness (sociability) was mentioned by 12,5% of the experts though it is obvious that those who are capable for foreign languages should be easy in contacting. It is particularly important for future oral interpreters.
3.9. The necessity of diligence (industriousness) was pointed out by 7,5% of experts. In psychological works this factor corresponds with the will. A person who starts learning a foreign language should be persistent in achieving the aims that are put before him and in fighting with differences between the native language and the foreign one.
3.10. Besides, professional possessing of a foreign language means that a person is not all the time understanding it through his own native language, but he is flexible and quick in adaptation to another "picture of the world".
I hope it is evidable that flexibility is also good for adopting another culture. The person shouldn't be nationalist, but cosmopolitan.
The way one language dissects the objects differs from the way of other language. The ability to change quickly (!) the usual way of thinking is also an indication of flexibility.
What is also connected with flexibility is the dynamics of nervous system, quickness in understanding new rules and exceptions from them.
This what was meant by "flexibility", of which some of the experts (6%) spoke.
In the end of interview there was a question: "Do You agree with the existence of special abilities for foreign language?" 85% of the experts agreed with this.
The second question was about the nature of foreign language abilities. 70% of those who answered were inclined to regard them as inborn. They considered them being connected with the biological nature of the person which (as we know) can hardly be changed.
Summing up the results of the poll, I should say that "the ability fo foreign language" is not a homogeneous formation but is an aggregation of psychological traits. Nevertheless we can assert that it exists and exists in a form of a certain configuration.
We can say that a capable student has brilliant memory, has good "feeling of a language", erudition, is a creative person in general.
Also the unity of opinions about an incapable student exist. The experts stress that such a student needs more time for learning the material in comparison with a capable. He feels difficulties when learning language transformations. And what is not so encouraging, most of the experts are sure that an incapable student has his own level of achievements, which he can not overcome.
The reasons named were: low level of general development of intellect and culture, bad memory, poor logics, lack of intuition and the feeling of language. All this is called the absence of abilities for foreign language.

Speaking about abilities we can not avoid the problem of measuring them and quantitive manifestation. The following can be said about this.
One of the methodics of measuring memory is called "short-term memory". It is used for evaluation of the short-term memory when it bears the main role. The test evaluates the volume of information that a man can keep in his memory, operating at the same time by this or that material.
The experimenter pronounces 10 rows of figures consisting of 5 numbers in each. The testee must remember all these numbers in that order and add in his mind the first number with the second, the second with the third and so forth.
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Table 6.
The experimenter says: 6 2 1 4 2
The testee writes: 8 3 5 6
The number of the sums that were counted right 18-21 22-25 26-30 31-34 35-36 37-38 39
The evaluation 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
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The four sums should be written down on the blank.
For example: 6,2,1,4,2. The testee sums 6 and 2 - and he gets 8 (which he puts down); 2 plus 1 equals 3 (he writes it down); 1 and 4 equals 5 (he writes it down); 4 and 2 equals 6 (he writes it down).
At the end of the experiment the number of right sums is counted. This figure is transferred into scores.
This method is convenient for individual and group testing, since it takes only 5 minutes.
There exists a universal division of people on the basis of professional orientation. They are divided into three groups: the people who prefer "person - person" system, people who prefer "person - object" system, people who prefer "person - sign" system. It is obvious that when a person is oriented to the system "person - object" he will do no good in learning a foreign language, since the main thing for him is not the name or the designation of an object (especially in different languages), but the way he can operate with these objects. More capable will be persons oriented to the system "person - person" since working with people needs communicative skills. But still more capable for foreign languages will be those who prefer system "person - sign" since their mind is more apt for operating with sign systems, which are languages.
Speaking about foreign languages we can also speak about humanitarian and technical minds (inclinations).
<It seems at the first glance that the chosen profession is determined by one's inclinations (all those who are interested, e.g. in construction of telephone apparats have technical mind, and all the historians are humanitarians). In most cases the chosing of the profession is determined by cognitive orientation of the student. But there are exclusions, and that's why we need some tests to know it for sure.>
It is very important to state what is the psychophysiological basis of the disposition to humanitarian knowledge, to the orientation to the system "man-sigh", to the ability of possessing a language. There exists one way of manifesting this trait. According to the investigations held in Estonia, there is a correlation between the choice of profession and the reactions to a verbal stimulus in an associative experiment.
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Table 7.
Type of association Stimulus reaction Mind
paradigmatic : man - hand technical
syntagmatic : man - is going humanitarian
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The division of associations into syntagmatic and paradigmatic is well known. What is less known is: if a man gives mostly paradigmatic and standard associations to the stimuli, they can be related to logical type, which is characteristic for the persons with technical mind. If he gives syntagmatic associations and different or rare answers he can be related to heterogenouos-individual type, typical for humanitarians and philologists.
It can be explained in such a way. Using a language (including foreign one) is connected with ability to combine words and express one and the same idea in different ways. This semiotic ability to nominate the non-verbal symbols of universal subjective code of the brain is an inherent ability of "homo loquens". But those who can not only nominate but combine signs have more developed semoitic ability.
This correlates with syntagmatic answers in associative experiment. It is considered that such persons are more capable in learning foreign languages.
It is not so difficult to measure the ability for imitation. It is enough to ask a person to repeat unknown words and phrases. Better to use a tape-recorder as in TOEFL. The number of correctly reproduced units of different levels will reflect the degree of his ability for imitation.
Speaking about communicativeness, we should mention that according to Vygotsky, mental actions of a person go back to external actions. Thus a person who acts successfully with objects and people will be successful in possessing the language. This assumption comes into contradicting with what I have said earlier, but we can find the difference. A communicative person will be speaking more fluently in a foreign language, he is easy to "catch" new expressions. But it is very difficult for him to learn the rules, to see the laws of a language. He is more "acquiring", getting, catching the language, than "learning" it. (I hope you can see the difference).

What I am speaking about is extraversion. Extrovert is sociable, like parties, has many friends, craves excitement, takes chances, is generally an impulsive person, likes changes and looses his temper quickly (Eysenck 1985). And what it very important, being communicative, an extravert does not like reading and studying by himself (Reza 1995).
Extroversion and communucativeness go together.
Psychologists use for the measurement of extroversion the test of Hans Eysenck for extraversion / introversion and neurotism. The standard questionnaire consists of 57 questions. Using the key one can easily see to what group the testee belongs, to what extend his qualities are developed.
Naturally it is necessary to take into account the national character, since different nations differ in their openness for communication (Russian are more introvertive than Americans, but more extravertive than Chinese).
Speaking about intensive methods of teaching a foreign language I should say that game methods for example for Scandinavians are not successful: non-communicative students resist playing, singing songs and active verbal contacts. I am sure that such methods invented by G.Lozanov and reproduced by G.Kitaygorodskaya are very productive mostly for extravertive students.

It is well known that the past experience plays not only positive role in mental activity of a man, but in can be a brake on his way to solving new tasks. When a man in the process of education implies a restricted number of ways of solving different by their structure tasks, it is the manifestation of his rigidity.
Rigidity can be defined as some difficulty in the change of the plan in the conditions that by objective reasons need it's changing. It is considered, that rigidity is an integral characteristics of a personality, its definite cognitive style. The rigidity is opposed to flexibility, plasticity. Sometimes affective (emotional) and cognitive rigidity are differed.
For determining the level of rigidity methodics invented by A.Lachins can be used. 8 (eight) tasks are given to a testee. One half of them can be solved only in one way and the other by two ways - the previous one, and by another, more efficient. The exclusions is made for the 8-th task which can be solved only in one way - the new one. The time of it's solving is the index of rigidity.

For acquisition of a language it is necessary to draw a rule using uncertain indication.
In is not necessary to invent always new tests, we can take some tasks from the test by H.Eysenk if we use his book "Test Your I.Q.".
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Table 8.
1. Solve the anagram and exclude unnecessary word:
agto veraeb homsepaer esohr
goat beaver semaphore horse
бобр (semaphore - should be cancelled)
2. Find the word synonymous to the given:
sound (....) text (the answer: note)
3. Find the beginning (or the ending) for different words: word
(....) father (the answer: fore)
4. Find the word which is the end of one and the beginning of another:
out (....) walk (the answer: side).
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It is obvious that in order to solve such a test one must posses abilities for combining and finding the better combination of elements which have verbal and nonverbal sense. These semiotic abilities help to deduce (draw) language rules on the basis of the semantic indications that can not be formalised.
The other example could be a little test, the results of which also indicate the abilities for foreign language.
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Table 9
He aqui unas palabras en el idioma artificial:
Rade - padre; shi - hermano; wo - tu; le - ver.
He aqui dos frases en el idioma artificial:
Rade shir le - El padre ve al hermano;
Rade shir la - El padre vio al hermano;
Traduzcan por favor estas 5 frases al idioma artificial:
(1) Tu viste al padre (Wo rader la);
(2) El padre ve a ti (Rade wor le);
(3) El hermano vio a ti (Shi wor la);
(4) Tu ves al hermano (Wo shir le);
(5) El padre vio a ti (Rade wor la).
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The testee has to discover the features of an unknown language and generalise the regularities in morphology and syntax.
This test is checking the ability to see such particularities that exist in many languages including Russian. They are: time (le, la), transitivity (the final -r), word order. Besides grammar and syntax the accuracy of a student connected with the finding of equivalents in different languages, is also tested. Thus, one can make 4 (four) mistakes in every of the 5 (five) sentences. The general evaluation is 20 points (scores).
I suppose that such test can be considered as a test for the feeling of a language. In any case I have been using it for several years and it showed good correlation with the marks which students got at their exams.
Summing up, let us try to draw the last model of language personality and language abilities for foreign language.
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Table 10
Language Personality (+ foreign language)
general intellectual abilities
Speech Activity # # Language Mechanism
extraversion imitation
Language Material # # Language Ability
memory # language feeling
Language Systems (foreign/native)
humanitarian mind
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Still above all language personality with its general intellectual abilities should be put. Speech activity is closely connected with communicativeness, or extraversion. Operating with the language material needs good memory (short-term and long-term). Language mechanisms are formed with the help of abilities to imitate. The adoption of any language system (either foreign or native) is connected with humanitarian mind. Flexibility helps to use different strategies of choosing the proper word combination with proper semantics. The language ability is still a general model, bases on such a metaphor as language feeling.
But what we know now, is the system itself and the possibility to test almost all these components.

Since there is no definite solution for the problem of abilities and probably it will not be solved in the nearest future let's put some tasks for future investigators.
6.1. The most important task is the construction of a compact test. This test should allow the teacher in a short time (not more than in a half an hour) to determine in a quantitive way the degree of a student's ability for a foreign language.
6.2. The second problem is to persuade the teacher to take this data as a basis for teaching the student. And what is more important - to implement certain strategies of teaching to certain (and different) students. I mean different exercises and different home tasks appropriate for students with different abilities which will help them to develop their abilities.
This is really very important and not too idealistic. Computer programs can be constructed with the consideration of students abilities and peculiarities.
6.3. What is in particular difficult is when there are students with different abilities in one group. And unfortunately this is what usually is practiced. To my mind it is better for everybody - for the teacher and for the students - when the group is homogeneous in many respects. It is easier for the students to communicate with those who look alike, who speak and write with the same speed, who have the same degree of extraversion etc. Shortly speaking, it is better to learn a foreign language in compliance with the proverb "Birds of a feather flock together". This is what can be called a concordance between the teacher and the student and between different students.
6.3. A lot of problems are connected with the methods of teaching of a not capable and almost incapable student. In other words what shall we do with a "slow student" (Skinner 1958)? From one side speech mechanism is formed under the influence of speech communication. And the more a student studies the more he moves forward. But from the other side this mechanism is mainly inborn and thus is difficult to be corrected. I am sure that Thus special programs and methods of teaching should be elaborated (and not only more time should be devoted to him).
Still a lot of questions exist. Is it really impossible to develop students' abilities? Should these tasks be put forward before a teacher of a foreign language or before a psychologist? These questions I am ready to discuss at future lectures of our future congresses.
Y con esto permitanme concluir mi interveci'on. Muchas gracias por su attencion.

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