Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Friday, March 24, 2006


by AJ

"A Westerner visiting or living in Japan who will only eat "meat and potatoes" and does not enjoy sushi will usually not be successful in learning Japanese. Similarly, Japanese people who will only travel abroad in groups and will only eat familiar foods are unlikely to be successful in learning other foreign languages, no matter how much time they spend trying. Learning a language is like traveling. Both activities are an adventure.

--Steve Kaufman

I bought Steve Kaufman's book and have been reading it this week. I bought it for my own language learning, as Im still determined to learn Spanish. As I read through the book, I continually recognize mistakes I have made in the past... mistakes that limited my learning.

The BIGGEST mistake was, in fact, a focus on language mechanics. Despite my views on teaching English, when studying a language I always seemed to obsess over the linguistic factors. Like many of my frustrated students, I also obsessed over accuracy. I felt self-conscious about my pronunciation and grammar-- which tended to inhibit my willingness to communicate.

But Im an enthusiastic traveler. I love to sample new foods, meet new people, try new things. Problem is, I never brought this attitude to language learning. Trained by years of school, I viewed language as a "serious subject" requiring "hard work".

Im trying to change that now. Ive been asking myself the same questions Ive been asking my students-- what about Central/South American culture interests me? Where would I like to travel?

Ive come up with quite a few things. Im interested in salsa music and salsa dancing. Id love to read "The Motorcycle Diaries", and other books by Che, in Spanish. Id love to read Pablo Neruda in Spanish. Im interested in the food of each country in the region. I find professional "futbol" to be very interesting.

In fact, what Id really love to do is recreate a bit of Che's trip-- buy a motorcycle and cruise around South America.

Learning the past tense in Spanish doesnt excite me... but engaging the cultures of C/S. America does.

And so Im trying, as quickly as possible, to master the beginner readers Im currently working on. Ive upped my listening to 60-90 minutes a day. Im excited to master these materials now, because they are the key to more interesting content.

Which brings me back to teaching. Perhaps the best service I could provide for my students is to help them connect with American culture-- help them nurture interests and relationships.

San Francisco, CA