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Are you ‘stuck’ in your language learning?

As a language teacher, I need to do a lot more than pass on information about the language.  If we could become confident and fluent from simply knowing the words and structure, a good grammar book and a dictionary would be all we needed!

What makes the difference between a successful and unsuccessful learner?  It is often down to motivation, which comes from – our reason for learning in the first place, and our feelings about our learning so far.  To stay excited and enthusiastic about something we are doing we like to see that we’re making progress.  Feeling that you are ‘no good’, that ‘everyone else is loads better than me’, or that ‘it all goes in one ear and out the other’ is likely to make you give up.  We can choose what we do with our time and we don’t often choose to put ourselves in a situation that makes us feel uncomfortable.

Getting back into language learning is a challenge, and you want to make sure that you learn what you need to this time.  So, think back, what were your reasons for not being successful and giving up last time?  Were you overly optimistic about how much you would learn?  Did you drop into the odd class but not do anything between classes?  Have you got a pile of books you ordered in a rush of enthusiasm that haven’t been touched?

And as I mentioned earlier, motivation is key.  First, what is your reason for learning? Why you want to learn the language?  Would you like to live more independently in a foreign country and be able to live your day to day life; do you want to be able to speak to a friend or family member who speaks that language…  Then, the key to success is to feel you are progressing, that you are spending your time in a worthwhile and productive way.  It is immensely satisfying to look back at something that you had been completely puzzled over and now find it easy, familiar and something you are confident with.  This makes you want to keep going.

To make good progress, you need to start well and put a structure in place.  Decide how you’re going to study, what materials you’re going to use.  Just because Fred loves ‘Portuguese in 3 months’ doesn’t mean you will too; the CD set that Carol is raving about may be mumbo jumbo to you.  Have a think about how you like to learn and what you are comfortable with, and do the research – look at the books, CDs, software, interactive online material, classes etc available and decide what looks good to you.  See if you can trial it to check you like it and then stick with it.  Remember, free doesn’t always mean good… you are going to spend your valuable time and effort here and it may well be worth investing a little money as well as your time to get the result you want.

Then it’s a question of putting in the study time.  Make a plan.  The more often you study, the better the results, but it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) be a chore.  10 mins a day is good, better than an hour once a week.  10 mins three times a day would be better, can you squeeze that in?  Add a weekly class and a CD to listen to in the car, maybe listen to an internet radio station you like in the language, watch a TV programme (for Portuguese, Preço Certo is a great gameshow on at 7pm most nights RTP1, a lovely insight into Portuguese culture).  Make yourself some flashcards, but crib charts up on the fridge, post it notes on the wall, whatever, it all works.

It may also really help if you involve other people in your learning.  We generally don’t like to let other people down, do we?  So, arranging to meet someone for a chat, going to a class or having a study partner may well keep us on track.  Setting goals and deadlines (as long as it’s not creating a big stress for ourselves) is also a good way to keep the pace up.  Remember, by feeling that progress is being made we will stay motivated and want to carry on.  It’s once we start to feel like we’re getting behind that giving up seems like a good idea.

So, back to the teacher…  a BIG part of my job is to help my students feel good about their learning and stay motivated.  Whether that’s reminding them of how much they’ve learnt so far; giving them tips about materials and study methods that would suit them best; or encouraging them to bring some homework to class, it’s all part of being a language teacher.  Good luck!  Boa sorte!