At E-QIP, we are, naturally, big fans of learning new languages. Language study opens up worlds of possibilities, and if it’s done right, it can also be a lot of fun.
For many students, however, learning a new language is more of a chore than a pleasure.
Our students come to us from a range of backgrounds and for a number of reasons—anime enthusiasts who want to devour their favourite programs in the original Japanese, backpackers with Central American travel plans who’d like to converse with the locals comfortably in Spanish, immigrants who need French or English to open up career or education possibilities. Whatever their reasons (or needs) for learning now, many students come to E-QIP with language study experiences that have left a bad taste in their mouths—and an aversion to the entire process (even if the outcome is attractive).
In the UK, speakers at a recent National Association of Headteachers’ conference claimed that pupils have been coming to school with notes from their family doctors excusing them from foreign language classes due to the stress and anxiety the classes cause. Any student who’s ever taken an elementary school-level language class can possibly relate.
As adult language learners at E-QIP have mentioned, every class you take puts you closer to fluent communication; with consistent practice, you won’t get any worse in your target language (even if it feels like it sometimes!).
If that’s not enough to reassure you, here are some tips for keeping the stress at bay:
For the students obtaining sick notes to get out of language classes, language learning is seen as a burden that does more harm than good. In the competitive world of secondary school—where students’ grades determine their entry into university or technical college and therefore their future—the pressure to pass every test is high, and naturally becomes far more important to most students than gaining any meaningful knowledge or skills. Even the students who ace their exams soon forget most of what they’ve learned, if they were even able to communicate in the first place; and isn’t that the whole point? Languages are rich, dynamic and ever-evolving, and can’t be adequately “graded” through pen-and-paper exams. So find a place to learn where you’re motivated by meaningful communication rather than test scores.
It’s nice to be able to conjugate verbs and remember complicated grammar rules, but that’s all of little use when a native speaker is tossing idioms out at a mile a minute. Basic communication is the best base on which to build more complex skills, and feeling like you can stay afloat in simple conversations is the best way to avoid succumbing to the stress of learning. This type of practice doesn't have to happen in the classroom, either; head out to a museum, shop or cafe and start chatting with whoever will listen to you. Given that speaking is one of the best things you can do to get ahead in a language, you’ll be tackling the complex stuff in no time!
Language learning can be a long and sometimes complicated process, but every time you show up for class, practice communicating in public or pick up a book in your target language, you’re putting yourself one step closer to crossing the finish line. The best part? It doesn’t even matter if you cross the finish line at all. Sure, mastery is a nice goal, but even if you only achieve achieve a pre-intermediate or intermediate level, you’re still miles ahead of the version of yourself that never decided to start learning in the first place. So tie up those laces and get going!