Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Monday, August 28, 2006

La Liga Language Lessons

by AJ

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What is the number one secret to successful language learning? Of course, many factors contribute. But which is top? Which holds the key?

After observing countless students, I can clearly identify the most important factor: a curious and passionate connection with the target language culture. This is number one. Its more important than study method, raw talent, intelligence, training, education, or any other factor.

My very best students almost always have a passionate interest in American (or UK or Aussie) culture. I've got one student, for example, who loves the Beatles. She's crazy about the Beatles. She's a musician and wants to write and sing songs in English. She's a great student.

The best students engage the culture. They become interested in the country's art, or history, or music, or sports, or food, or dating norms, or geography.

Another example- my friend Wat, who is Thai, taught himself English on the streets of Bangkok-- selling jewelry to foreigners. He never used a textbook and, in fact, can't read English. Of course he listened carefully. Of course he was patient. But what sustained him and drove him was a passionate interest in two aspects of American culture: Native American jewelry- and American motorcycle culture. He loved to talk to tourists about these subjects. He incorporated many elements of Native American art into his jewelry. Of course, he rode a motorcycle and was a member of a motorcycle "gang".

Now he's in America, living in San Francisco. He seems to connect with people very easily because he is naturally curious. He's already made several connections with artists and other jewelers. He's already visited a Harley Davidson souvenir shop-- and is eager to visit a shop that sells bikes. As he walks around the city, he's always checking out parked motorcycles-- and chats with the owners if he gets a chance.

Contrast this with the students who obsess only about exam scores. Their progress is typically slow, and even worse, its painful. They exhibit no joy or passion for the language-- or the cultures/countries where its spoken. For them, English is a chore, an ordeal, a test score. Many of these folks spend YEARS in test prep courses just to boost their TOEFL score a few points. They are chronically frustrated-- and can often be heard to say, "I hate English". I can't help but think, "Then stop torturing yourself and quit."

Which brings me to my own Spanish study. Recently, I've taken an enthusiastic interest in soccer (ie. futbol). It started with the World Cup. Our school showed most of the games, and our students were filled with passion. I got caught up in the spirit and began taking an active interest in the players, teams, and tactics.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I bought the FIFA 2006 videogame for my Sony Playstation. It hooked me. Wat and I have been playing it like crazy. Not only is it fun, but by playing it I've learned even more about futbol-- especially the Spanish teams of La Liga.

This, in turn, led me to read about La Liga on the internet. I started reading articles on ESPN.com, in English. However, since a new season just started... and I'm craving new Spanish language material... I've decided to start reading & listening to articles about soccer-- in Spanish. I copied the first story today-- a recap of the game between Barcelona and Celta Vigo. I used Speechisimo to create an audio file (and used Audio Hijack Pro to convert it to an MP3). As I've become more passionately interested in the Spanish League-- my desire to understand Spanish articles and broadcasts has increased.

Likewise, I'm an avid traveler- which is why the travel, geography, and cultural articles in "Read & Think Spanish" are so interesting to me.

The point? To learn a language more quickly, more effectively, and more thoroughly, forget the damn test scores. Connect emotionally with the language-- with some aspect of the people, places, cultures, & countries. Investigate new, strange, and different elements of those cultures. If you are an English learner, become an American Football aficionado, or a maniac about Harley Davidsons, or a fan of some kind of American music, or movies, or writing.

If you do so, you'll truly enjoy learning the language.

And your test scores will get better too.

San Francisco, CA