Are you one of those people who feel burdened with the task of learning English? Does it feel like a noose around your neck? Do you study for hours yet remember little because your heart isn’t in it?
LOOK NO FURTHER.
Your HEART is at the heart of this matter. The only way to transform the noose into a bungee-jumping rope that puts your heart in your mouth, sets your pulses racing and your neurons flying is to love ‘the enemy’.
First of all you must ‘re-frame’ the problem and see it henceforth as a fascinating challenge. You have got to face the fact that the English language is not your enemy, but that the way you think and feel about it is an obstacle that prevents you from learning. This is very liberating. Yet, it also means that you will take full responsibility for your learning outcomes and stop making excuses for not learning. It’s a bit like growing up.
“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” – Shakespeare
You are not alone. The much-loved Bard Shakespeare himself is here in spirit to hold your hand as you find your little piece of learning heaven.
The lovely truth is that you should not force yourself to do anything you don’t want to do. An amazing fact is that language is there for you to play with. You can approach language learning in whatever way pleases you and suits your personality. As soon as we realize that learning a language can be part of our most enjoyable activities, we are already free. The mind can do amazing things when it feels free; such as being creative or forming endless memory banks.
You may be a very active or athletic type who hates to sit still, perhaps you hate reading, perhaps you love reading but are too shy to speak, maybe you had damaging experiences in school that hurt your confidence, maybe you are very sociable, the life and soul of the party and see no sense in studying.
No matter who you are on the inside you can learn to love learning English.
Don’t stop me now; I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball.
Our purpose is for you to have such a good time with English that you don’t want to stop. Whatever you are doing has you fully-focused, motivated and ‘in the zone’.
The zone is a state of inspiration where you love what you are doing so much that time flies while you are learning and your learning is accelerated by the focus and ‘happy hormones’ that sharpen your memory hooks.
1) You could work out to fitness videos. The videos would be in the English language and would be about something you really want to learn. If it were me I would like to learn yoga, for example. Not that I’m an athlete, but yoga the combines mind/body connection that fascinates me.
2) You could follow your favourite sports on tv. This part may seem passive but most sporty people I know follow some sports fanatically – the most famous being football of course. Listening to sports commentators is excellent practice. They speak fast, but clearly and are usually quite gifted speakers. If you can’t sit still even for that you can download anything you want from itunes and tune in while you are on the move.
3) You could join sports clubs online which have forums to discuss your sport and chat rooms where you can talk to others about your shared passion. You could join or create your own sports fan page on facebook and indulge in your passion with like minded enthusiasts.
4) You can join language exchange sites and find other sporting enthusiasts from the English speaking world. When you make good friends like this, there is often the possibility that you can meet in real-life too.
5) If you want to make a career out of what you love ( and you should) you can get training abroad by applying for work experience ( paid or voluntary) and apprenticeships. If I wanted to be an environmentalist, for example, I would do voluntary work for an environmentalist organization where they speak English. Obviously you need to be very mobile and adventurous for such travel options, but it’s time to stop saying ‘why should I do it?’ and instead say ‘why not’?
When we can’t do it all in our physical environment we must learn to make the internet work for us in ways mentioned above. You can join online courses about your sport or hobby where they have web-conferencing, skype or google hangouts for speaking and meeting up. Many of these are free and interest-based.
6) Speaking of meeting up.
What if like-minded students got together and found a teacher who could do that for their passions?
A teacher who loves sports could schedule sporty meetups, English style, pub grub and football matches. These days I look around, spot the interests my colleagues have and wonder how much they could share these interests as specialized forms of teaching and give students what they really want?
Strangely enough I attract poetry and psychology lovers on facebook, and my online students often end up sharing my interests too, so there is some serendipity at play here. When we express our authenticity we find what we are looking for. I have had students whom I’ve never met before, and who have had little formal training in English, write beautiful poetry spontaneously because they’ve been encouraged for the first time and because it’s from the heart.
‘Nerds’ is an American term reserved for quiet, studious types, and is also used to label students in school who actually like reading and listening to their teacher. Nerds have always been both over-rated and under-rated in our hapless societies, and misunderstood both by their classmates and themselves.
They are over-rated by academia and parents because they perform well in exams. However, we now know that in these changing times, academic qualifications do not equal financial or business success. If ‘nerds’ lack social skills this can be a major impediment in the working world.
They are under-rated by their classmates because they don’t fit in and they are certainly haunted by inner critics as they feel guilty for being book worms and feel unpopular as people.
If you are a nerd, be proud of your learning style and do not give up reading or feel guilty for being studious. If reading gives you pleasure, read anything you can in English. While reading alone will not help your speaking fluency, it will give you a strong basis for vocabulary, sentence structure and writing. It will also develop your mind, memory and thinking skills.
There are many other types of learners & passions that I will cover in future articles. The basic point here is that we must accept ourselves and develop our talents. For language learning we develop these talents in the target language.
If our personalities favour learning channels that do not include speaking at first, that’s okay. Firstly we must nurture our instincts. When we have learnt to love the language by immersing in our own passions, then we’ve got to be brave and stretch our comfort zones.