ELT, Language Learning

Do we ever tell them the truth? Are we ever completely honest with them?

It’s a question that there has always been at the back of my mind.

Let’s face it, we all know that not all our students have the same abilities and skills. Not all of them are made for learning languages and the reasons they do it vary accordingly. So, what do we do when we just know that learning English – or any language –is not their cup of tea?

Recently I’ve had this student in my class. A newcomer at the school, aged 15, a very kind person that would never cause the slightest problem. However, he is not a very bright kid (I’m not being negative or anything – just mentioning the facts) and I know there is something there. I can feel it.

So when this new student joined us, I realized that he had been learning English – let’s put it that way – “the wrong way” for the last 5 years. He knows some things, he can answer basic grammar and vocabulary questions, he can identify grammatical structures, tenses, forms, etc., but he cannot process all this information and use it in a proper sentence.  It seemed like he was never taught proper skills, be it reading, writing, call it what you like, the guy doesn’t know what to do with the whole bunch of information he gets in class.

At some point, after talking to his parents and the DoS of the school – let me just mention here that there is very strong parent interference and persistence on their side that he take the B2 level exam and they won’t take NO for an answer – we decided that he needed extra help in form of private tuition for 1 h/w and at the same time he would still attend the other class. However, there was one restriction. At that time we had about 5 months to make up for everything that he could catch up with and sort out the information that he had in his brain until the exams. Five months to go from zero, to hero!

So, in these lessons I have to explain to him everything from the beginning – or at least as much as we can cover from what he has been learning all these years. At first and after realizing that he would just look at me without really understanding what I was talking about most of the time, I decided to use the Grammar-translation method. I also did this because we have the same mother tongue so I would be able to help him carry out the tasks quite easily. Then, when that didn’t quite work, I started using other methods, simple communicative approaches or activities that can help him feel relaxed and make him realize that he CAN use the language and communicate through it. I even tried to use the Silent Way, which I most dislike.  We also go online and try to do different sort of exercises and activities that will make the lesson and the whole process more motivating, fun and enjoyable for him.

So, right now we are at the point that this guy really enjoys our private lessons and has started learning his skills and how to do work properly. I managed, in a way, to convince his parents that they should stay away from this and let him do things on his own. But the question still lingers on my mind…..

At some point during a laid back chat, I asked him why he is learning English and if he likes it. He had this smile on his face, the one that says “I’m embarrassed BUT I really want you to know this”. So he went on to tell me that no, he doesn’t like English at all, he thinks it’s very difficult, he never liked any of his teachers and the only reason he is learning it is because he has to, like all kids his age and he cannot say no to his parents.

I knew it. I could feel it. I could see from the beginning a rather shy and reserved young man struggling with something he hates. He doesn’t want to do it. He doesn’t like it. Yes, the fact that he is not a very bright kid is not helping him. On top of that, he has to take the exams and he has to deal with another source of pressure and negative feelings.

Isn’t this a bit too much for a 15-year-old young man?

Does he really have to be able to learn English?

Does he really have to learn it? Does he really have to take exams?

And if the answer is no….I’m thinking….

Don’t you think that we should just be honest…?

Language Learning

How and why I learned (and still learn) foreign languages…

Thanks to a blog challenge by a new friend – Brad Patterson  – it’s time for my first blog (and hopefully more will come!) which gives me the chance to answer two very interesting questions that I never aswered out loud myself but whose anwsers I know that are hiding somewhere at the back of a confused little brain!

So….how and why….?

Learning my first language will take me back in time, when I was 7. It was actually English. It’s the age that most Greek children start learning a foreign language –English again, so nothing innovative there on my side! However what I DO remember is the willpower I had to learn English. I remember begging my mom to take me to the English school (she always says that too – I begged her) and so she did. A beautiful journey had just began.

I started to discover a whole new world. What I also remember is that no matter how hard it seemed, I insisted and wanted to learn. I remember that I was the youngest student in the class – I was 7 and the others were 9-10. Back then we didn’t have any companions or any glossaries. The teacher would write any new vocabulary on the chalkboard until we got 20-30 words that we had to copy in out notebooks. I was 7 and could hardly write well in Greek, let alone English! So I remember everyone finishing and leaving the classroom and I would just stay there and try to copy this loooong list of words….but I made it….I learned it! You would never imagine how proud I felt when I had my first short talk with some American tourists on a Greek island….! The world was mine!

And then some years later it was time for German. New books, new words, new grammar, new pronunciation, new country, new culture, new friends.….another whole new world!

Later on it was time for Spanish….yes, again, new experiences were waiting for me… there are so many little moments that I remember, sipping and savoring every little piece of information that I would get from a book, from a native speaker…there are so many times in Spain that friends would tell me “Oh you sound like a Spanish person”…Well yes, I managed to do it again…the language was mine and I could feel the satisfaction running through my veins….

So why did I learn languages? Basically I think because it’s just a part of me. It has always been. It’s in my nature to learn languages. Of course it’s not only about grammar and lexis and structures. We all know that. It’s all about learning and discovering new cultures, new worlds and becoming a different and a better person through them.