For twenty years I designed and implemented language and culture learning programs in various countries of Africa.  In the 1990s, we commonly referred to these programs as Entry Orientation programs, because their purpose was to enable entry of foreigners into the host cultures of various African peoples and countries.
How long does it take for an adult to learn a new language, and the culture of a people who speak it? How long should an Entry Orientation program be? This was a common question as I traveled over Africa.
Time Not the Determining Factor
In designing a program of language learning and cultural acquisition, time is a reference factor. Time, however, is not the determining factor.
In the past it was common to define the program by time. You got six months or maybe one year to learn your target language. When people had "done their time," they were presumed ready to start "their work."
An Intentional Approach
But this is not very intentional. An effective program design will include activities with specific goals, materials to master, skills to demonstrate, activities to participate in, sites to visit, topics to discuss and appropriate time frames for gaining competence. In short, expectations are stated, and opportunities are provided to enable the participant to meet these expectations.
Expectations and goals are stated in terms of the ultimate effectiveness in the job or living situation. Thus expectations will vary for different participants. Many of my clients were Christian agencies. For Christian workers, the expectations were related to effectiveness in Christian witness and ministry.
To Facilitate Effectiveness
In the cross-cultural context this effectiveness entails skills in cross-cultural communication. Thus the expectations for the life and job assignment are stated in terms of communication effectiveness. The entry orientation program is designed to facilitate this communication effectiveness. The entry orientation program will include evaluation of communication effectiveness attained.
The design of a cultural orientation and language learning program must start with the expectations for participation in the culture and society of the people. So how long should the entry orientation program be? Long enough to provide an adequate opportunity to prepare for the stated expectations. Thus time is a function of the opportunities and resources available for learning, as well as the learning capabilities of the participant.
Experiences and Relationships
The time it takes is only a general reference, but serves as an important guide in evaluating progress. The focus should be on the experiences and components. And the learning never ends. The entry Orientation program is the training program and launch pad for relationship and communication with the people.
For more about designing language learning programs and activities see How to Learn and Language and Culture and other articles in the Techniques series.
An early version of this article was first published as the lead article in Focus on Communication Effectiveness, November 1993
This version written and posted in the Techniques series on Thoughts and Resources 21 July 2001
Last edited 29 May 2006
Orville Boyd Jenkins, Ed.D., Ph.D.
Copyright © Orville Boyd Jenkins 1993, 2002
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.
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