How is it that little children are so intelligent and men so stupid? It must be education that does it. - Alexandre Dumas
¿Cómo es que, siendo tan inteligentes los niños, son tan estúpidos la mayor parte de los hombres? Debe ser fruto de la educación. - Alejandro Dumas
One of my students once told me about Gunter Pauli, an author who wrote about learning from nature in his book The Blue Economy. While Pauli’s main focus is of course economics, I encourage you to apply this book’s principles to learning a language, and thus attempt to learn it in a natural and organic way. In other words, learn a language like a child would. As we all know, children learn by playing, and they have great fun while doing so. So, let’s play, have fun and learn.
The unfortunate difficulty with this is that even though we were all children once, many of us seem to have forgotten what it was like. Therefore, the majority of us don’t remember how important playing is, and we instead take a very serious approach to learning.
The French writer, Alexandre Dumas, long ago considered the effects of education on children, as seen in the quote above. Born in 1802, his perspective comes from an earlier time. However, while there has been a great deal of improvement in education since then, we, as a society, are still considering what more could be done to improve the effectiveness of learning and how to apply it to the classroom.
But what is it that makes the self-learning of children so effective? I personally don’t have a good answer. However, there are many clues that I have learned from observing and listening to my youngest learners.
The most important one is their desire to explore new things and, of course, master them. They never stop until they know exactly how something works. They are like little scouts, trying to understand their world.
So, let yourself get inspired! Children find it easy to get motivated, being that they find inspiration everywhere. Nevertheless, it also helps when it is something that they are already really interested in. Therefore, one rule that you could base your language learning on could be:
- Desire + time + practice = blast off!!
In essence, we have to be able to trigger our natural desire for learning and stimulate our language acquisition. In the case of a child, we can stimulate language learning by doing the following:
- Speak to them frequently.
- Listen to them attentively and correct their mistakes, both those involving grammar and pronunciation. Correcting mistakes will make them more accurate.
- Let them interact with other children. It is not all listening, but practising too.
As an adult, you can simply emulate the strategies that we use with children. Therefore, you should:
- Find someone who will talk and listen to you. This is why getting a boyfriend or girlfriend who speaks another language works so effectively (lol).
- Ask your teacher and friends to correct your mistakes so as to not keep repeating them or mistakenly believing that you are saying the words correctly.
- Don’t miss out on any opportunity to speak your target language.
I wish that my students would learn at least half as much from me as I am learning from them. I keep acquiring little bits of information from my lessons, information that comes from various continents, as well as from children, adults, college students and CEOs alike. I feel like I am learning from a global reality; sharing cultural differences, exploring new things and trying to make sense of it all. It’s awesome! Quite frankly, I am just as happy as a kid with a new toy or, as we say in Spain, happier than a kid with new shoes:
- Estoy más contento que un niño con zapatos nuevos.
I also wish that my students could “wish” in Spanish without getting so freaked out, being that we use the subjunctive mood when speaking about wishes, and this confuses a lot of learners. In addition, Spanish speakers don’t usually say yo deseo, which would be the literal translation, but instead use the word ojalá, which has the same meaning.
This word Ojalá can be used with the subjuntivo in the present, past (imperfecto) and past perfect (pluscuamperfecto). Therefore, while this word is used in both English and Spanish, the form is different in each. Now, let’s look at an example:
- I wish (hope) that I pass my exam.
- Ojalá apruebe mi examen.
In Spanish, we use present subjunctive when we think that there is a good chance that our wish will come true. Therefore, in the example above, I may not have completed my exam brilliantly, but it wasn’t all that bad either. Thus, there is a good chance that I will pass. Let’s look at another example:
- I wish that you could come next summer.
- Ojalá vinieras este verano.
By contrast, we use the past subjunctive (imperfecto) when we know that it will not be easy to get what we are wishing for. Therefore, in this example, I don’t really expect you to come next summer. Let’s look at one more:
- I wish that you had stayed longer.
- Ojalá te hubieras quedado más tiempo.
In this last case, you didn’t stay as long as I had wanted, and I am sad about it.
So, when learning a language, be sure to dream big just like a child would. I myself wish that my enthusiasm for learning were like the wings of a butterfly and could take me anywhere. I also wish that I could spread this enthusiasm to all those who are willing to learn a language. Enjoy learning, play and have fun. ;) And remember: “El niño en cada puñado de arena encuentra un deseo.”
Hero Image by Jon Ottosson (CC0)