Hassled teachers, giggling back rows, noisy common rooms… many would-be learners will have memories of school that are not encouraging future learning. If you are above the age of 13 and you attended school, you are very likely to have come into contact with language learning. The common scenario is that your tuition was in a larger group of your peers, involved homework and regular tests, and was structured around a curriculum set by people who don’t know you. And for some learners, it wasn’t right. The amount of people who mention this scenario to me when they talk about language learning is staggering!
But let’s get real: You’re not a teenager anymore. You are not herded into a classroom anymore. You can learn like an adult, go at your own pace and feel free from constraint. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you ever learnt with a goal in mind?
A goal is not something imposed on you that you don’t believe in. Some find themselves motivated by the desire to score an A on the next exam, but others do not. So if you have never had a goal that was relevant for you, it might be time to put a value on why you want to learn.
- In past learning environments, did you feel proud of your successes?
You should be able to look at your achievements with a good, satisfied glow. I’m new to indoor climbing and I cannot tell you how pleased I was with myself last week when I put a new move into practice for the first time. The same goes for language learning. Be pleased with yourself when you achieve something, otherwise you won’t be going for long.
- Was the pace right for you?
Pace is usually an issue with group learning in a set curriculum environment. The goalposts are set by people who don’t know you as an individual. They may be making assumptions about your general age group, or even worse, they might just have counted backwards from the exam content and guessed at how to squeeze that content into an academic year. Just consider this teacher’s view of how far the reality in UK schools is from the ideal language school.
Don’t let others tell you how fast or slow you are supposed to be. If you want to understand an issue in depth before moving on to the next, do it. If you want to skim many lessons and get a big picture view, do it. It’s important to be consistent. Pace is secondary.
- Did you get answers to all your questions?
Some learning systems make assumptions about what learners want to know and what they don’t want to know. If you felt that learning a tense stoked your curiosity, just to be left clueless about where to find out more, you may have taken away the belief that your way of learning wasn’t right. The way to address this is to investigate who will give you that information and how you want it to be delivered to you.
If the answer to any of these questions is no, your misconception shaped by past experience may be holding you back. Think about what you like and didn’t like in past experiences, what worked for you and what made you feel like you’re achieving and progressing well. Consider different methods: group tuition, e-learning, individual lessons or language exchanges. It might be time rearrange your learning landscape for productivity and motivation. Take a break from what others say (yes, even we on Fairlanguages) and have a good old session with yourself, your questions and a piece of paper.
Good luck shaking it up!