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>By Linell Davis

Asking foreign teachers to give lectures on how to learn English is an excruciatingly common thing to do. If you have been asked to do this, it is a sign that the organizers of the talk are not very familiar with English learning or that they are simply following some conventional formula for choosing topics for a speech.

Frustrated by such conventionality, on one occasion I decided to give the talk but tried to make it as sexy as possible. I started out with an anecdote about a friend who told me that she had learned Spanish “on the pillow,” that is she had fallen in love with and married a Spanish speaker. So the best way to learn English is to fall in love with an English speaker. Everything about that person becomes attractive to you and you have a high motivation to learn. No standardized tests, no grammar points, no classroom language, just intense and intimate communication.

My audience was laughing by this point. I went on to say that I do not actually recommend this method but think that English learners can take some inspiration from it. Try to make your English learning enjoyable, attractive. Use the language playfully in your daily life. For instance, make up English nicknames for your friends. Use English expressions for common daily activities. Let’s go, you look sharp today, etc. etc. Compete with your friends to come up with clever expressions.

The next advice was to learn English like a baby. Think about how babies learn language. First, they listen a lot even when they do not understand. Are they upset that they do not know what others are saying?

No, they delight in the sound of the language and then they start imitating it. They do not worry about making mistakes. The adults around them do not correct them. They encourage them, finding their first efforts extraordinary. The adults do not insist on perfectly formed sentences; they are more than satisfied with effective communication like “baby eat.” So, you should be like a baby. Use the little bits of language as you learn them and be pleased with yourself for it. Again, do it playfully.

Choose materials that you find attractive. If you are a basketball fan, read news articles on your favorite player or team. Don’t approach a foreigner to say you want to practice your English. Instead go to the basketball court and shoot some hoops. You will learn vocabularly and experience English in actual use.

Anyway, my lecture went on in this way with more specific advice. It was a challenge to take that tired old topic and have some fun with it.


>By P. Ilangovan, Freelance Teacher Trainer, Teacher & Materials writer, India

Quite a few people have now pointed out the fallibility of trying to learn a language by isolating its elements. And as one teacher pointed out in an earlier mail, even when a teacher is presenting a grammatical item to her class the Ss are most probably also learning bits of pronunciation, vocabulary and so on.

This means that they are not only focusing on what their teacher wants them to, but also “paying attention” to the other things that their SUBCONSCIOUS minds want them to attend to.

It is a fallacy of post-modern thinking (Outcome = or > Input) that Ss will only learn what teachers present

Many years ago Dick Allwright wrote a paper called, “Why don’t learners learn what teachers teach?” in which he answered in part the questions he raised

Why learners do not learn everything they are taught,
How learners manage to learn things they are not taught,
How learners manage to learn things they are taught — some learners learned bits of language that they had done in interactive work (comprehending…) for.

Visit this URL to read his paper: Dick Allwright – Language Learning in Formal and Informal Contexts

All said and done, Ss appear to learn (and acquire) languages when they are LEAST focused on any one single item during communal learning. In other words, the more focus teacher gives to an element of language, there is less likelihood of all Ss in class of learning it.

Consequently, the less focus that teacher gives to the items to be learnt (in other words, the more embedded in discourse context they are) the geater the chances of Ss picking them up! THAT INDEED IS THE POWER OF SUB-CONSCIOUS LANGUAGE LEARNING!