So you booked a conversational class with a native speaker teacher.
They ask you why you want to learn a second language and you have this really good motivation behind it to share. But maybe you don’t feel eloquent enough to say more than a couple of words. You really do want to talk but you catch yourself just pronouncing a few phrases and letting your teacher speak more during the time. But this does not happen to you only when taking classes. It is worse when you have the chance to talk with native speakers in a social context. Your mind is filled with thoughts of: will they understand me? Will I say something wrong? Will I sound stupid? And, due to this, you miss the chance to make some friends while practicing your second language.
This is when learning as a kid could really help you to improve not only your language learning but also the way you experience this journey. I have observed that some of my little students develop certain things, like the “rr” sound, faster than some of my adult students. And this is because kids have a different mindset that allows then to approach languages in a curious and shame-free way.
What can you learn from kids that could benefit you in your learning journey?
(1) Be Shameless.
This is the first feature that you should try to incorporate to your adulthood, not only with languages, but with life in general. I have known so many people who tell me that they feel embarrassed to talk with native speakers out a classroom environment because they do not want to be judged. The truth is that it shouldn't matter what another person thinks about your speaking skills, let alone a person who does speak the idiom because they grew up with it, because we all learn in our own way and pace.
How many times have you lost an opportunity because you were afraid of criticism? And what does criticism actually does to you? It does not physically harm you. What can you lose for taking the chance of speaking to people in the idiom you are learning? The answer is nothing.
What does kids do? Kids just talk. And they talk and keep talking till they are tired of it. They get a rest and then they continue talking. If you do not interrupt them, they will keep talking. They do not feel embarrassed to talk because they do not have a very good filter to determine what could be acceptable and what could be not. Whatever they have in their minds, they say it. And that is probably another great thing about kids: that they are very transparent. Allow yourself to be transparent.
How to do it?
Start introducing some common sense whenever you start feeling a little embarrassed. Fear is not a logic process but a process full of emotions and emotions are pretty unpredictable. So the first step is to identify the moment you are starting to feel you cannot do something because you are afraid people might judge you.
Then, stop. Ask for a little pause if you can, excuse yourself to grab some water or simply address the situation.
Addressing the situation is a very refreshing act: it will not only make you skip all the trouble of hiding how afraid you are but will also make the people around you way more empathetic and supportive. The last step is to think what you would do if you were on the other side of the fence. Very few people respond with a “I would bully this foreigner until they cry”. Most people think it's very nice that the other person is trying to speak their language and they make the extra effort to understand them. If you would not laugh from a foreigner trying to speak your language, why would any other person laugh or judge you?
(2) Have a better opinion of yourself.
We are not born with a low self-esteem, it shrinks as we grow up. If you are afraid of criticism it could be because you have being exposed to it since you were little. I meet a lot of people whose Spanish is very good but they are still self-conscious about it. I have met very few who have told me: “Oh, I know my Spanish is awesome, but there is always something to improve and that is why I keep taking classes”. When I ask what level do they think they are, most people answer me they are probably in an intermediate one but, when I hear them talking, I can clearly notice they are beyond that.
Kids have a good perception about themselves, hence why they think they can be anything. People stop thinking they are capable of accomplishing everything they propose to themselves through time. The more you believe in yourself and you are able to recognize how far you have come in your journey, the easier it will be to keep moving forward.
How to do it?
Celebrate your little victories. We live in a world that is very competitive. Most of the time, no one is going to tell you that you did a good job, even if they think you did. So be good to yourself and pay attention to all the good things you achieve in a day. If you were able to remember how to conjugate a verb you have being having trouble with before, make yourself aware of it. Maybe you could do a brief list of little things you want to accomplish, like little steps to take into the right direction. Once you have taken one step, mark it off your list and tell yourself something nice like “I knew that I could do it”.
(3) Live life like it's a big playground.
This is the third characteristic I think will benefit you, again, not only in your language learning but also in life. As we grow older, we tend to underestimate the power of games. We sign in for all this “adult” type things that have strict rules and very rigid measurement methods, which does not allow us to relax and having a stress free mind actually boost our learning ability.
Little games as flip cards, scrabble and trabalenguas (which are great for tongue training to reproduce specific sounds) can help you review everything you have learned and make it stick in your memory much better. Make flashcards where the vocabulary is in categories with colours to make your experience way more pleasurable. Since you will learn while having fun, which also helps your memory to absorb the information better.
How to do it?
Bring your own little games to lessons! Most adults miss their childhood games and the freedom they used to have to enjoy them. You can also design your own games according to your own specific needs. An idea is to make pieces of papers with random words written on them and make a drawing of what you think they mean. A combination between images and writing will really make concepts stick to your mind better. Involve your 5 senses through games.
Try to incorporate this 3 characteristic of kids to your own way of learning and to your life. If anything, you will see that you speak way more and make friends more easily, realize that you have actually accomplished quite some very good things in all this time of studying and that anything can be way more bearable if you make it fun. Thanks for reading and I wish you all a good language journey!