Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Process Focus

by AJ

Steve over at the Linguist recently had a great post about enjoying the process of language learning. Here's a short quote:

"Listening to a new language, or reading in a new language or any of the activities that you can do to improve in a language, can be enjoyable as long as you do not put pressure on yourself. The main thing is just to do it."

This is another example of where the child typically uses a superior approach to the adult student. Its not that the child is more gifted. Rather, they just tend to focus more on the process of communication rather than measures and milestones. As adults, we are often terribly uptight. We fret over our progress. We constantly worry, "Am I learning fast enough", "Is my grammar perfect", "Do I know enough words", "Is my accent wrong"......

With English students, its often worse because there is a huge standardized international industry built up around the language. Thus, students fret about their TOEFL score, their national standardized test, their performance on grammar-based academic tests. Its not totally their fault, of course. Teachers, parents, and "experts" encourage their anxiety.

In the end, most students completely lose their joy of learning the language. English becomes a chore. An unpleasant requirement. A duty. An ordeal. Small wonder that students with this kind of attitude often struggle to make more progress. After all, only someone with an iron will can persist in the face of such drudgery.

Young children don't generally carry all of this emotional baggage. They are able to relax and have fun. When I taught kindergarten in Korea, I was amazed at the fearlessness and joy of the students. They loved class. They loved to sing in English. They loved to play games. They loved when I read Dr. Suess books (and later, they loved to read their favorite books themselves). And they loved to try to communicate with me... they never worried about mistakes... they cared only about understanding me and being understood by me. And yet, after a short time, their accents, grammar, and fluency were superior to many older students who had studied for YEARS.

With any long and difficult task, it is essential to enjoy the process and not get too worried about the end result. I learned this training for my first marathon. I learned to relax and enjoy the training runs. Preparing for a 26 mile race takes a long time.... if you hate the training runs, you're unlikely to ever make it to the race. The same is true of language learning and language teaching.

The process itself must be enjoyable and interesting.

San Francisco, CA