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Privileged? Language learning could be different

Mahatma Gandhi
Photo Credit: Vinoth Chandar via Compfight

There is no easy way to write this post without sounding pompous. Let me start with a story.

The Language Show means that you meet lots of people. Some are interested in what you offer – some others want to work with you. Yi Savva came around to ask us a question. Actually, he and his interpreter came around. Yi used sign language – his interpreter spoke to us in English. Yi’s question was simple: Do we know what audism is?

We didn’t know, and we were a bit embarrassed to discover that the word is missing from the dictionary proudly displayed on our stand. Yi was awesome though – he explained this to us and we ended up chatting about audism and sign language for a while. I ended up trying to decipher his sign language before the interpreter bailed me out.

The thought I had a bit later, though, is the one that inspired this post: Yi had to learn his languages in a completely different way. Not harder, not easier – just very different.

Boxing underwater and language awareness

Muhammad Ali may not have actually trained in swimming pools, but the philosophy was commendable: increase resistance to focus on form, become more aware of every move and develop stamina.
Foreign language learning is often devised, designed and sold with one principle in mind: to make it easy for the student. You are given the most time-efficient methods, the most intuitive learning solutions – the simplest rules. You are fed the language bit by bit – lesson by lesson, through all available channels.
Imagine the opposite.
Imagine that you need to learn without access to a particular medium – such as speech or hearing. Or that you can only read when there is light in your village school. Or that there is no coursebook for the language you’re willing to learn.
Do you think it would wear you out – or make you even more determined to communicate? Would it undermine your confidence or make you more outgoing, more willing to fail, to ask, to overcome language traumas?

Mindful and grateful: two language learning panacea

This could be the pompous part.
If there was a way to get into the heads of some English students in London tonight, I guess that we could hear a complaint every now and then: “I want more…” – “I don’t like…” – “But where’s…?” – “This course is stupid.”
I’m hoping that we could also hear things like: “I really liked it when…” – “It’s so cool to be able to…” – “I’m doing this because…”
But my bet is, the complaints would outweigh the grateful and mindful thoughts. Which is a shame. Complaints like these rarely lead to constructive changes – in extreme cases, you just drop out of your language course in despair. Gratefulness and mindfulness, however, leads to good things: focus, persistence, more awareness. It makes you evaluate your resources better and enjoy your progress more.
For foreign language teachers and students, here are some places to start: there’s plenty of room for mindful and grateful ideas in language learning.
And finally – huge thanks to Yi at Femaura for inspiring me.

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