Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Saturday, July 01, 2006


by AJ

As Krashen notes, anxiety is a big obstacle to language acquisition. Ive experienced the negative effects of anxiety as both a teacher and as a student.

As a teacher, I find that many students continually fret and worry about their English ability. They worry about making mistakes. They obsess over grammar. They bemoan their own weaknesses.

Ive also noticed that the more dependent they are on teachers and schools, the more likely they are to be stressed. This is not surprising. Traditional classrooms are not a very efficient way to learn. So much time and effort is wasted. Worse, the teaching methods used are often confusing.... or downright counter-productive. The textbooks are often boring, fragmented, and artificial. Even worse, schools pour on the stress by adding tests, public humiliation (corrections in front of others, criticism, etc.), and grades.

A student dependent on such a system has a very long and unpleasant road to language proficiency. Given enough time and effort and willpower... a few students actually do make it to fluency. But not many. Most come away with little more than a very bad feeling about the language.

As a student, Ive experienced this. Ive found traditional language classes to be utterly useless to me.

But even as an independent student, I have become stressed and anxious. When I started to study Spanish, I was often frustrated or anxious. I was always fretting about the speed of my progress. I fretted about the amount of material I couldnt understand. I knew I couldnt speak, and let myself be frustrated by that too.

Finally, I realized I needed to relax and enjoy the ride. Learning a language takes time and patience... whatever methods you use. So I stopped obsessing about my "level". I stopped worrying about flawless speaking. I shifted focus to enjoying understandable content in Spanish... preferably content that came in both text & audio form.

This shift in attitude has helped tremendously. I'm now enjoying the content... especially since I got the "Read & Think" book, which contains a wealth of interesting articles about the culture, food, etc.. of various Spanish speaking countries. While I do review new words & phrases, and occasionally check a grammar reference,.. the bulk of my focus is on the meaning of the content itself. I find it very interesting and because of this, Im excited to understand more and more of it.

I now enjoy repeated listening. I listen to the same articles many times. Should I get bored with an article, I move on to a new one (but still review my favorite old ones at times).

I no longer worry about my "level"... and have no idea if Im a low-beginner, high-beginner, or low-intermediate. Nor does it matter, because Im not bound to prescribed textbooks or classes.

Will I learn Spanish faster with this approach, compared to taking traditional classes, using textbooks, etc.? I don't know. My instincts tell me YES. Research suggests YES.

But whether I learn 30% faster, at the same speed, or 30% slower is less important to me than the fact that Im now enjoying the language... I feel more motivated everyday... I, for the first time in my life, feel a sense of surety.. that I will indeed learn this language. My chances of seeing the process through to communication proficiency, and to fluency, is thus greatly increased.

Most importantly, Im having a great time doing it.

San Francisco, CA