Monday, 23 July 2012


...or the lack thereof. It's my last day in the college before the summer hols, and I'm now at a loose end. If truth be told, I've found myself with a lot of time on my hands over the past week and a half. And what have I done with this bounty of time on my hands? What exciting EFL articles have I perused, what research have I followed, which online debates have I participated in?

Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not a sausage. Not even a small pork chipolata on a cocktail stick.

Well, actually, I have in some ways done quite a lot, but it's all the little stuff - checking off records of work, trimming schemes of work for the coming academic year, updating course handbooks, completing records of achievement for the exams, writing reference letters - all the bread and butter stuff, and none of the exciting zingy contents that should be in the Grand Sandwich of Language Teaching. It is not, as you know, very motivating, yet it has to be done, because without all the planning and admin, there is simply no learning or teaching or all the parts that still make this job interesting.

Which leads me on to the point of this post: How do we keep learners motivated when they're doing the boring bits of learning a language? In fact, what parts of language learning do learners consider tedious? Going back into my own murky language learning past, I would say that, while learning French, I found learning all the irregular forms annoying, as well as gender agreement - but this in part was because these had not been sufficiently explained by the teacher(s). It was also hard work, being in a class of 30 other students, listening to a half-mad tutor rave on about the beauties of French, while being taught to say 'Where is my monkey? My monkey is in the tree' , or listening to a tinny little tape recorder say 'Ecoutez et repetez....'
However, when I was learning Turkish, I found it a challenging, but enjoyable experience, most probably because 1) I was teaching myself , 2) I found I could master a foreign language after years of hearing 'Oh, the British are useless at foreign languages' and 3) I felt a sense of competitiveness with other Turkish-speaking Brits - who could say something better, or find new words faster? I only found it hard work after reaching a high level of spoken and everyday written fluency, when I started trying to use more formal language and structure, and discovered that it was almost like learning a brand new language. It was very frustrating indeed, and still is. But, with practice and study, I'm sure I'll be able to master it entirely.
Sounds familiar? So it should. I think a lot of students just lose motivation when they realise that they have to get on with the slog of learning, simply because it feels like they're doing nothing and there are few immediate results. Remember, English is an easy language to speak basically (or, as my student and well-known Brazilian playwright Antonio Rocco said to me, 'English is the easiest language to speak badly'), meaning that even after a little work, a learner can perceive sudden leaps and bounds in their knowledge and use of the language. It's only later that everything seems to slow down, and the miracle of suddenly perceiving and using another tongue gets dragged down into the mundane. How do we keep students keeping on at it?
Well, that's my question for you. I'm off for the summer.

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