“Someday, everything will make perfect sense. So for now, laugh at the confusion, smile through the tears, be strong and keep reminding yourself that everything happens for a reason.” John Mayer
How to pack fun back into language learning
Learning a language can be hard without the right attitude. I have a client I’ll call Tom Major; an accountant at a global company based in Germany. He hated learning English because he had spent most of his school life trying to conjugate English verbs. Tom felt insecure about speaking English because he hated grammar. When I met Tom, he had to take English lessons because his company was migrating to English as the language of meetings. Tom, 55, admitted he felt terrified. He was not good at speaking languages and he hated English. However, love it or hate it, he would have to use it. His goal being not only to hold on to his position, but to advance his career with the company.
Learning not to take your English mistakes too seriously
Like so many of my clients, Tom was exhausted, tense and insecure about his language abilities. I immediately tried to put him at ease and begin the progress of letting him in on a secret: English is a fun language, but don’t take it or yourself too seriously. I also lead role plays with him -which I’ve heard so many people say they don’t like. However, as a task to accomplish or as a business function, (replying to an email, or making an appointment) people manage to get over themselves and get on with the language learning.
Using appropriate age level games
Don’t get me wrong, but I think the classic hangman is the wrong game to play with any English learner who already knows the alphabet. However, learning to find synonyms, or explaining a word in a taboo-like game has the effect of stimulating the mind and raising emotions which have been proven to make learning more memorable.
Being engaged while you learn
I engage with my clients using humour in every lesson I can. When I first started the class, I discovered Tom would tense up when I pulled out “the lesson”. I’ve had other clients who also reacted strongly to the idea of being “taught”. So, we eased into the language learning sessions. I had to learn to use fewer handouts. Some clients have been with language coaches who have set three grammar sheets in front of them and basically turned on a timer and “taught” them until the end of the lesson. Like most clients, it may not be the language, you may simply be sick of being taught.
It’s not as black and white as it seems
There is a better way. Don’t let boxes of black and white instructions scare you into thinking there is only one way to learn English, or that only one correct answer exists to any question. I hope that Tom takes this sense of fun from our lessons with him throughout his day. I know it will help him to be able to bring the words together more easily, smile at the confusion, laugh at the mistakes, and relax. And if you are like Tom and feel stuck, the best thing to do is not to take your mistakes too seriously. If you’re relaxed about the language others will be relaxed when they are communicating with you. And know that it will come together, you just have to trust the process.