What does language learning mean to you?
Today, I write as a teacher and a student of languages. Recently, I have started learning French online. I have looked for group lessons in a school, as well as a private teacher from where I live, but for many reasons, learning online is much more practical for me, and I ended up choosing to stay at home to learn over the Internet.
I started learning French for pleasure. I do not need French to work. I do not have plans to take tests in French. It is not necessary to speak French to travel to French speaking countries (although I believe you will enjoy travel more if you speak the local language). I want to say that I did not have any obligation to learn a new language. Rather, I simply just wanted to include a new activity in my routine.
I am only taking one 45 minute lesson a week. But, I really enjoy these 45 minutes and there is no pressure to learn. I am relaxed and, after the lesson and during the days that follow, I review what was learned. I constantly remember the lessons, the sounds and the activities. When I have some time, I redo the activities and listen to the audio.
These lessons are also important to me as a teacher. It reminds me of what it is like to be a student, to have difficulties listening and pronouncing words, making sentences, and remembering a word. As such, it becomes easier for me to put myself in the students' shoes when they are trying to pronounce the hard ão sound of Portuguese, which comes so easily to Portuguese speakers.
Now here is my rant
What makes me sad about language learning is the rush that people have to learn. If we look closely, the schools’ advertisements on language courses only talk about the structure of the place, the tailor-made services in small groups, the speed of the course, and the technology that they have in the classroom. Sometimes, they even imply that if people do not speak English (in Brazil), they have no future.
Many times, the students are lost when they get into a language classroom; all they have in mind is the technology and not the language itself.
Learning a language is much more than the structure that the school offers, the tailor-made services, small groups or speed. Learning a language is, above all, learning a new culture and discovering new ways of seeing the world. For example, picking up new books to read, choosing new songs to listen to, watching foreign movies, tasting exotic food, and maybe even making new friends. These are only a few examples of the new world that unfolds with a new language.
A language goes beyond new words in someone's head. It is necessary to be educated in the new language. For example, a situation that is informal in Brazil may not be in another country; a trivial matter in one culture may be taboo in another. When we learn new words, it is also important to learn when to use them.
Ok, but what about those who need to learn urgently?
My advice as a teacher, beside lessons, is to try to take a more meaningful interest in the language. If you like to dance, you can look for songs and dance videos in the language you are learning. If you like crafts, cooking, TV series, drawing, travelling, sports, whatever the subject, nowadays it is possible to find everything on the Internet.
The idea is, if you like a certain subject a lot, and studying a new language is an obligation, try to learn more of what you like in the new language. Use the new language to your advantage to learn more about what you like.
Try to research the country or countries where the language is spoken, the history, food, tourism, landscapes, etc. Look for people online to talk to.
English is an important language, but not the only one. If you think English is hard, but you like Spanish, try Spanish and who knows? Perhaps, you may feel more pleasure in learning English because you will know what it feels like to speak another language.
When I arrived in Spain, I did not know much Spanish, and I also did not know what to cook. Many common dishes in Brazil were either not so common in Spain or too expensive. I did discover some new ingredients, however, I did not know what to do with them at first. So, I watched many videos of cooking classes in Spanish, eventually learning the language and also learned what to cook.
So today, I am writing not only as a teacher and a student, but also as someone who likes languages and wants to show that it is possible to learn them without being bored and getting tired.
It does not only depend on the teacher, but also it depends on the way the student is confronting the learning process. It is necessary to be aware that when learning a language, it is not about enrolling in a school or starting lessons because the structure is excellent. Even more so, it is not about enrolling simply to avoid having “no future”.
Rather, it is to enroll in a school, to start lessons with a private teacher, or to study alone knowing that you are going to become part of another culture, and that you are not just simply learning to translate words.