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Foreign Language Influencers: Why you may not have your say on your language course

who is looking over your shoulder in a language class?This may be the most common reason for dropping out of language schools globally, and yet it’s not often discussed – not to mention remedied. Why is stakeholder analysis missing from our thinking about language learning? Who exactly has the power to influence how you learn – and how can you make sure your voice is heard? Read on and let’s start talking about this.

1. The myth of “individual attention in the language classroom”

Individual attention means individual attention.
A language class composed of several students is NOT individual.
I just thought I’d point this out.
There’s nothing wrong with having language classes. These are very frequently successful and enjoyable situations to be in. I know teachers who are great at teaching and managing groups of people – and learners who thrive in situations like these.
But claiming that the attention you get during these classes is “individual?” That’s tricky at least.
I’m mentioning this for a reason: dealing with this tiny little language learning myth will help us go a bit further. The question on my mind here is: who else is interested in a language class – apart from you, the learner?

2. The invisible crowd: who gets to influence your learning

This is not going to be a complete list, and the particulars will vary from setting to setting. Even such an imperfect image is still worth sketching out, though; this may help you realize the influencers in your situation.
Roughly speaking, you can imagine the influencers as people who change the way other people behave, and the way learning and teaching takes place. They don’t have to come into your classroom at all! It helps if you imagine an invisible crowd behind your back, or behind your teacher’s back. Who are these people?
Let’s start with you. Or the other learners around you. In no particular order, these folks could be:

  • – Your parents who want you to do well
  • – Your children who already learn the language
  • – Your boss who pays for your training
  • – Your future boss who would require good language skills
  • – Your past teachers who told you that “you’re hopeless (or brilliant) at languages”
  • – The people abroad who spoke to you, inspired and touched you
  • – Your colleagues / coworkers who all speak the language (or, on the contrary, would be amazed to hear you speak it)

The list could go on and on.
Now, how about the people behind your teacher’s back, who are they?

  • – Her principal who wants a well-managed school
  • – The school’s accountant who insists on maximum profits from each lesson
  • – The other teachers who are more or less successful than your teacher
  • – That teacher’s teachers and trainers who defined how she teaches now
  • – The coursebook writers who prepared the syllabus for most of your course
  • – The inspection bodies with their criteria of what a good school looks like
  • – The native speakers of your language who determine what “sounds right” and what doesn’t

Is it just me, or did your language classroom just become super-crowded?
No wonder people feel lost and confused in language schools. No wonder there’s some disappointment as they realize that what they imagined is not what they’re paying for.
And so, instead of fixing this, they quit.

3. Influence your language course: 2 super-easy ways

The good news is this: you can influence almost every foreign language school you sign up for. Even the more rigid and established structures are populated by people. And people can be changed.
The bad news is this: each of these two ways will require a potentially embarrassing conversation. If you’re up for it, though, your language course may just become a lot better.
Each of these ways refers back to the list of people I outlined earlier. You can start by listing the people behind your back and behind your teacher’s back – those who, in your opinion, influence your situation.
After that little exercise, it’s a question of using those people in the conversation with your teacher.
The first way: use the people behind your back. Explain what you would like to do more, how you prefer to learn – and add another argument that’s not just about you: “My boss pays for these lessons and we would both appreciate more feedback on my homework” – or “I’d love to learn some idioms and slang expressions; I know my friends back in Italy and I know they use these things a lot.” This can make your case a bit stronger and more convincing.
The second way: use the people behind your teacher’s back. Now, this is a last resort. Don’t do this on a whim, or you’ll make a teacher really insecure and cross (I know how I’d react!). But if the course is really below par, the method may be an easy way of convincing your teacher to get his stuff together. Things like “the authors of our coursebook prepared all those speaking and writing activities – why aren’t we using them?” or “I checked the message from your Principal on the website and it mentions regular progress checks. When will we get the test?” – these sound awkward and rash, but may actually work well.

Learners: have you ever had to fix your courses like that?
Teachers: would you agree to have your courses influenced in this way?

Let each other know in the comments!

(Picture Credit: eltpics, CC licence)

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