Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mix It Up

by AJ

One key aspect of language learning is to constantly mix things up in order to keep the material fresh and interesting. As I progress with Spanish, I find that I occasionally "hit a wall"- where I get bored and feel like I'm making no progress.

At that time, I find it helps to radically switch the content I'm using. For example, for the last month I've been working through "Read and Think Spanish". I enjoyed the articles and found the topics very interesting. I repeated every story many times, probably at least 25 times each-- some of them more.

Then suddenly, this week, I became bored. I felt that no matter how much I repeated some articles, I simply wasn't getting better at understanding them. Rather than strive and try to force myself- I put the book aside. Today I switched my focus to 1) A fairly easy podcast episode (Spanish as a Second Language For You) and 2) A very difficult article about futbol.

The change totally refreshed me. I enjoyed listening to the easier material. It boosted my confidence and let my brain rest a bit while still getting Spanish input. On the other hand, the futbol article was very tough, but the subject matter was completely different than anything I've read before-- so again I found it refreshing.

This is a big advantage of independent study. You can read your own moods and adapt to them very quickly. While you should follow a system, you can be totally flexible about the content you choose and how you use it.

This is one reason why independent study is so much more efficient than classroom study. In a class, you must follow the teacher. He will often choose material which you find boring. When you are wanting something easy, he may choose something very difficult. When you want something challenging, he may choose something too easy. He may go too fast, or too slow, for you. He will probably give long and complicated explanations of points you already understand. If you're in a typical class, he'll probably make you read lots of grammar explanations and do lots of contrived textbook activities.

And really, its not totally his fault. I'm a classroom teacher and I know its totally impossible for me to please all 17 students in my class. I know I can rarely find an article that they will all be interested in. I know that if I go fast, the slower students will suffer... and if I go slower, the faster students will become bored. Its simply a fact of classroom instruction-- its not efficient.

That's why self-directed study is vitally important. Even if you are enrolled in a class- don't fool yourself-- its not enough. To make rapid progress you MUST learn outside of school. You must take charge of your language learning. You must find content that is interesting to you. You must both read it, and listen to it, many times.

I am a classroom English teacher. I try my best to do an excellent job. But I'm telling you-- no matter how good the teachers are- school is not enough.

San Francisco, CA