I learned an important thing as I was going through the drawers in my grandpa’s office desk. He was, like me, a language teacher and a translator. He stopped working no more than 20 years before I started my work – but the differences between the way we could do our job were huge and meaningful.
The most important thing – and the biggest difference – was this: my grandfather was clearly setting up his class to become an isolated, language-filled microcosm. His students were to absorb language within the space and time provided by the school, and live and breathe the culture connected with it. Naturally, there were some options for learning and picking up bits and pieces of German outside my Grandpa’s classroom – but his class was were the learning happened.
The classroom, and the time spent in it and in preparation for it, was his – and his students’ – only language learning platform. This was where they worked, grew, developed. This was where the mistakes and confusion were turned into structure and understanding. This was the place for showing off, for writing and speaking, for quiet study and careful listening.
I am pretty sure that my Grandpa’s class rocked.
But I’m also pretty sure that he would have agreed with me on this one: the times, they are a’changing. What worked very well two decades ago is no longer worth the effort – and the things nobody even considered back then are available to many students and teachers today.
This piece is not going to be a list of all the things which have changed since the time of my grandpa’s class. I just want to focus on the idea of a language learning platform, and on how this has evolved. The questions you will find below can help you think about setting up your own learning platform.
And as you will see, you no longer have a valid excuse for not working on one.
What On Earth Is A Platform?
My first association with the term “platform” is the big, rolling thing you see on parades – like the one on the photo above. This metaphor is going to work just fine for now.
Any activity involving other people will sooner or later require you to answer some questions about the way you’re acting. How do people see me? Do I want to be seen? How do I reach out? How am I remembered? Have I got a story, a spiel, an agenda? What are they? Again, like performers on a parade, it’s useful to think about these things before you go out there and meet people.
And yes, language learning is exactly the same. Your objectives, your learning styles, target language, your communication strategies and conversation partners – all these things should be considered if you want to rely on something more than pure chance in your learning. (You do, don’t you?)
A platform – in political parties, parades and (to an extent) in language learning – is a space which is yours. It’s a place where you do your thing. You move around on it, decide who to show yourself to and where to go next. You let people onto it and you display your work and art from it.
A platform is a space where things happen.
Your Language Learning Platform
It must have been easy in Grandpa’s times.
You came to class. That was your platform. And, unless you had friends abroad or international companies to do business with, that was it. Your platform had four walls and a timetable. Now you saw it, now you didn’t. End of story.
Now think of where you are.
Your options are overwhelming, and if you could tell my Grandpa what you’re capable of doing with your language, he wouldn’t believe you. You can access more reading material today than he could gather in a lifetime. Your composition, when published online, can attract more readers and critics. Your choice of conversation partners is staggering. There is no reason ever to stop exploring and learning a language – since you’re no longer limited by time, space and scarcity of resources. (There are also no excuses for boring, limited and badly prepared lessons – make sure your teacher knows that you know!)
Creating Your Platform – A 10-Question Checklist
1) How do I reach like-minded learners?
2) How can I find and keep in touch with conversation partners?
3) How do I find motivation, inspiration and places to test my language?
4) How can I find help, solutions and answers to problems?
5) Where will I publish, discuss and improve my writing?
6) How will I access, store and share reading materials?
7) Where will I find, process and listen to recordings of my language?
8 ) How can I ensure my work is stored and easily accessible?
9) How will I assess progress, plan the next steps and discuss alternatives?
10) Where will I display my progress, proficiency and passion for my language?
Each of these things can be done online. Many of them will not cost you a penny.
I love to hate to rub this in: if you’re reading this, you’re privileged. You can learn more, and better, than anyone else in history. Certainly better than my Grandpa’s students.
What are you going to do about it?
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