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Wed 05, 2024

Learning Languages via Inquiry

BY : darshan

Humans have communicated with one another in some shape or form ever since time immemorial. However, to understand the history of communication, all we have to go by are written records dating back to ancient Mesopotamia. And while every sentence starts with a letter, people began with a picture back then.

Ancient hieroglyphics show an Egyptian man making an offering to the god.


Even though we have now transitioned to more verbal/textual communication, the crux of the matter has remained the same. It has always been INQUIRY. Either to exchange ideas or to investigate real-world problems. Hence, inquiry-based learning has been deeply ingrained in us. Inquiry-based learning is a learning process that engages students by making real-world connections through exploration and high-level questioning.


But how does it translate into the current ecosystem to learn a new language?

This teaching approach is student-centred. It pushes the individual to engage their critical thinking by creating connections between the information gathered in the classroom and their daily reality experiences. 


Following the assumption that curiosity is a powerful boost for thought, inquiry-based learning aims at captivating students. This way, teachers do not merely deliver knowledge but allow students to process and absorb it, making complex educational goals much more attainable. However, students need to master a certain level of independent learning skills to access the benefits of this method.


There are four different approaches to this method:

Confirmation Inquiry

Method: The student is supplied with a question, a method, and an already-known result. This teaching method provides a solid structure with established logical paths, helping students to practise their investigating skills and reinforce existing knowledge.  

Instance: Grammar for each language is set in stone. It can be taught through this method. The teacher can lay out an example of nouns & their usage. The students then name a noun & its usage.


Structured Inquiry

Method: The student is supplied with a question & a method, not the result. So, the structured inquiry still provides students with high guidance, but it adds a challenging component by pushing them to formulate the conclusion independently. 

Instance: An activity where the teacher gives a sentence in the past tense & the student has to tell the same in the present tense.


Guided Inquiry

Method: Guided inquiry elevates the difficulty by subtracting the method from the equation. This teaching method expects students to master critical thinking and to be able to navigate their thought path independently. The starting question is provided but also opens a space of infinite possibilities.

Instance: An activity like pick and speak falls under this method.


Open Inquiry

Method: The open inquiry asks students to pose questions and select the focus of their investigation. Then, they can design a method and a conclusion only trusting the solidity of their problem-solving skills. This inquiry-learning method provides students with a freedom that is stimulating but also very challenging.

Instance: Debates are the best example of this method in action.


When these methods are used sequentially, a student can be trained to think & question independently.


Any inquiry-based teaching progresses in phases.

Orientation (Inputs that spark the student’s curiosity)

> Conceptualisation (Student uses one or more concepts they have learned to hypothesise)

> Investigation (Students use critical thinking & problem-solving skills to explore, experiment, and interpret data)

> Conclusion (Learners answer the initial question & conclude their investigation)

> Discussion (An opportunity for feedback and knowledge exchange)


What forms could this method take in a classroom?

  • Debates
  • Projects
  • Plays
  • Recreating a real-world scenario
  • Gamification

The ups & downsides of this method

Inquiry-based language learning fosters critical thinking, problem-solving, curious questioning & real-life connections. But, this too is riddled with problems – students may have that initial friction & it is very demanding on a teacher, especially when the teachers are undertrained. So, adequate teacher training & access to the right teaching-learning material becomes paramount.


Inquiry-based learning techniques aren’t just for learning language; they can be applied across all subjects. Let’s make the classroom learning experience great again.