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The Big Problem with Learning Languages in a Classroom

Recently, I was talking to a girl I know who decided to start learning a language to be able to travel comfortably later this year. She is studying to be a lawyer at a university already, so she decided to take the language course through the university. The previous week, I had recommended a website where she could find a native speaker to practice with, a service that is free, (www.conversationexchange.com.) This was her response,

No, not yet. The reason is that I am worried about saying something wrong. I am kind of nervous to try, It’s also very uncomfortable for me to talk to people for the first time especially by Skype. Sometimes when I am in my language class, my professor will ask me a question. Even if I think I know the answer, I don’t want to say it because I think I might be wrong or I think I might have misunderstood the question.”

Where does negative feeling of being ‘incorrect or wrong’ come from??? Well, I will tell you what I think…

Schools from all around the world use a similar method for teaching groups of people. They present the information to the students, they ask some questions to make sure the students understand, theembarrassed girl intermediate englishy do some exercises and then they give you a test to evaluate your performance. This is the system I know and see the most often in public schools since, I was a child. Of course, there are exceptions. So what is the problem with the system?

There is only one goal for the student: To try to be correct!

The education system values these ideas: it is bad to make errors, to be incorrect or to not know the answer. If you are not correct, you will receive a penalty such as a lower grades or marks, social humiliation and you will likely feel stupid for not knowing the answers.

We are not borne with this knowledge, which is why we are in school or a course. The only way to learn is to make mistakes until you figure out how to do it correctly. This teaching method is accepted and is used because it allows teachers to measure results. The issue with this style of teaching is very clear when you compare learning a subject like math to learning a language. Math requires practice of a method to learn how to find the right answer. Language is creative and there are dozens of ways of expressing the same thought. There is no single answer that is right or wrong, just lots of practice to figure out how to say it better.

Anyone who is learning a language knows that you need try to use it. What happens is: we make lots of mistakes, ask lots of questions (questions that feel like stupid questions) and we need to be corrected all the time! In order to learn ANYTHING you need to try you start by taking a few guesses or tries until you find the answer.

I want you to imagine you are in a classroom and the teacher decides to ask you a question. You aren’t sure of the answer. This isn’t your fault because the teacher has not taught you or given an environment where you can safely ask the question. Next, you are classroom learning a languageforced to respond with either a guess or to announce to the entire class that you do not know the answer. Then you feel like an idiot, you feel stupid, you feel that everyone else in the class must think you are stupid too and of course, the teacher thinks you don’t remember anything they have taught you. This is a perfect example of the social humiliation aspect of being incorrect. If you are correct and you know the answer – you are allowed to skip the penalty for not knowing something new.

Where is the encouragement to try even if you are incorrect? Why is there no system to reward students for trying? The harder you try, the more you should be rewarded. A person who tries all the time, without fear of being embarrassed, receiving poor grades or looking stupid will perform better, they will learn more. They will ask more questions too.

Unfortunately, after going through an educational system that values ‘being correct’ above everything else; we develop a mental attitude that makes us hate the feeling of ‘being incorrect’. It has created an ego inside of us and that ego has one goal: I must be correct so I can be reward by the education system. Making mistakes is an unavoidable part of learning, teachers know this fact but the method of teaching does not create the optimal environment for learning.

I cannot offer any solutions to the problems in the teaching methods I have talked about today, but I hope that by telling you my opinion, you will be aware of your natural desire to be ‘correct’ all the time and where it comes from. Please share your opinion in the comments below and let me know if you like the educational system or if you feel it could be improved.

Be sure to follow this blog if you liked this post. Visit my website at http://www.realenglishconversations.net/.

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Are you lacking discipline or motivation to learn English? Part 1

Where does our self-discipline come from? Why can some people operate in a way that allows them to accomplish anything, while others can hardly maintain their existence? How can we change the negative feeling of discipline into the positive feeling of motivation?

I was thinking about the difference between self-discipline and motivation. The word discipline, in general, has a negative sound to it. It is a word that makes you feel like you have to do something even though you do not want to.  Whether it is the type of discipline you receive for bad behaviour from someone else (example: being disciplined as a child from a parent). Or self-discipline which creates negative feeling about yourself when you do not complete a task you have decided to do. Therefore, you are disciplining yourself.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.
‒Nelson Mandela

The type of discipline I am speaking about in this article is self-discipline. We praise ourselves when we have self-disciple because it means you have the ability do something, even if you don’t want to do it. Discipline is also known as will-power. Everyone has a different amount of will-power within themselves and the amount of will-power within a person changes from day-to-day. It is also different from one person to the next.

I would like you to think about your will-power as a bank account. Your will-power (or discipline) will run out each day if you are not careful how you use it. Everyday activities are taking withdrawals from you will-power account, or in other words, taking away from the amount of will-power you have left for the day. Going to work, taking care of kids, doing some exercise, eating healthy and learning a second language are great examples that typically require discipline and will power.

Where does motivation come from? How is it different than will-power or discipline? Unlike discipline, the word motivation has a positive energy. Motivation comes an idea to improve something. Motivation also creates action. When you take action towards a goal, you will have results, which can create more motivation.

Motivation starts with a great idea. One that is really going to help you to improve you life in some way. The motivation comes when you decide to take action on this great idea. At the beginning, you will see progress and some results. The idea is new, interesting and exciting, so you naturally have a high level of motivation to do the activity every day.

But then… something becomes difficult or it is not as intereMotivational quote to learn englishsting anymore and the natural motivation dies.

This is the point in time where you need to decide: Am I going to use my will-power every day until this goal is complete? Or am I going to figure out how to stay motivated? When you are motivated about an activity, you do not need to withdrawal or deduct from your will-power account to complete that activity.

Find the second part of this article by clicking here. This is part one of a four part series. Follow this blog to receive updates when I post a new article! Thanks for reading :)

-Amy

How to get over feeling stupid speaking in a new language

Audio Blog Learn English(Audio will open in a separate window)

I’m certain that everyone learning a language feels uncomfortable most of the time when they are trying to express themselves, especially at the start. How can we build up our confidence and stop

Learn English Intermediate feeling like we are less intelligent because we are not able to express ourselves as well as we can in our native language?

I am currently learning Spanish and feel as though I am at an intermediate level at the moment; however, I still feel very frustrated and still feel embarrassment when I am trying to communicate in Spanish instead of English. It is not the fact that I have a limited vocabulary or that I have a hard time fluidly speaking a thought… it is more the fact that I am unable to appear at my usual intelligence level when I am speaking in Spanish.

I know I am speaking like a caveman, like an uneducated person, mispronouncing words, mixing up grammar, speaking in the wrong tenses etc. etc. However, this is part of the process of learning how to use the language that you have learned and deliver it to the person you are speaking with. It is so different speaking a new language compared to writing, reading or hearing it!

During a chat with one of my favorite language exchange partners, I expressed the emotions I was experiencing when I try to communicate in my target language, particularly about feeling ‘stupid’ so often. Feeling like I was a 3 year old child again that could not understand what is being said to me or being able to speak what I am thinking with ease.

My friend said he also felt very stupid speaking in English. He was not confident that people could understand what he was saying and was not always able to understand what is being said to him all of the time. Furthermore, he believed other people viewed him as being stupid while he spoke English.

This is when I realized my perception of his English skills versus his view of his own English skills were completely different!

  1. I know my friend is extremely intelligent, capable of a level of thinking most of us can only aspire to have for brief moments of time.
  2. I am impressed with how well he can speak in English about complicated topics. Even though it is still slower than a native, the vocabulary is impressive.
  3. I can usually understand everything he says to me the first time. The grammar or conjugations of the verbs might be in the wrong form but I can hear the root of the word and know exactly what he is trying to say.
  4. If anyone sees him as being stupid because he cannot speak a new second language quickly, the person making that judgement is stupid!
  5. If the person that he is speaking with cannot understand what he is saying, the other person is simply not trying to understand.

After I stated these points to my friend, he naturally felt more confident for the moment. He also gave a piece of advice to me which was to enjoy the entire process of the journey while learning a new language.

The truth is you cannot appreciate how far you have come in your journey without experiencing the frustrations and challenges along the way. You will feel much more pride and success from your accomplishments after experiencing the challenges along the way to your final goal.

Feeling stupid speaking English

I have noticed that most people I meet who have decided to learn a new language are generally very smart and skilled people. For this group of people, learning English is just one of the elements they are improving in their lives as part of many different goals and dreams they have. Look at the other people around you and see how many are content with only existing day to day…work, eat, sleep, visit with friends etc. Welcome to the club of awesome people in this world! The ones that aspire to be better and live an amazing life.

We all have an ego. For me, the belief of having a high intelligence level is my most valued asset. Learning a language is like a kick to the ego every time I try to use it. Rather than letting my ego protect itself from being beat up everyday and stop my progression, I take every moment I feel stupid and turn it to motivation to be better next time I speak my new language!

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