Why people learning a second language fail


Why people learning a second language fail

Sat, 27 May 2017 14:16:14

By Geralde Vincent-Bancroft

Most people learning a second language start with enthusiasm and after a few weeks it withers and the language book or the program bought or even the one-to-one course gets forgotten.

” I’ve been there ” I here you say”. It happens because most books and courses follow the traditional methods in place for decades. What do I mean by this?

The teacher provides you with sentences that you must repeat after hearing them. You must memorise a list of words and go through boring grammatical rules that are difficult to understand in the first instance. The words and grammatical rules are impossible to remember and you blame yourself for an atrocious memory. What happened to your self-confidence? It goes downhill and out of the window fly all your resolutions of sticking with your language learning ” this time “. Sounds familiar ?

As a matter of fact, we’ve all been there.

Remember how you learned your primary language.

You listened to what people were saying around you and how Mum talked to you ( what she was saying and the tone she used ) and one day you started to talk by imitation (mimicking). You were not afraid of making mistakes, you were happy to communicate and with practice you were improving day by day. You were not bothered about grammatical rules, in fact, you did not even know they existed. When you said something wrong, Mum was happy to correct you and you learned. Your vocabulary grew in no time, without you even noticing it, your way of expressing yourself improved day by day.

Fear of not being able to express yourself, fear of not being understood, fear of failing never took hold on you.

I previously mentioned that you firstly used to listen to conversations and tried to repeat the words your Mum used to tell you. Yes, the key here is repetition.

In an article written by the Proctor Gallagher Institute it is stressed that” repetition is the mother of all learning”. It is not about memorising. The aim is, by exposing ourselves to that new idea on and on, we imprint an image full of emotional charge in our mind and that is what triggers recollection.

Effectively, when we want to add a new habit in our lives, it takes 30 days of daily repetitions to establish a mindset shift and for that “habit” to become part of ourselves.

The same rule applies in language learning. Andrew Weller in his article ” Value of repetition in language learning” calls it “mindful repetition” and he further explains that the key to language learning is to be engaged in what we are doing. yes, you have to be fully focused,

Another terrible mistake that happens when learning a language is the following. Our brain wants to take us back to what it already knows. Every time a new word is introduced, the brain automatically looks for its translation. When trying to express ourselves in our new language, we think first in our primary tongue and translate it. This process robs energy from us and in no time we give up.

This is where my favourite kind of repetition comes to the rescue.

It is called simultaneous repetition and as the name suggests you repeat the word and the sentence at the same time as the teacher while reading the text. In this practice, your listening, reading and speaking abilities are engaged at the same time preventing the brain of the learner to shift back to their primary language. His/her attention is fully engaged and this is when the words start having an emotional impact on the learner and recollection is much easier, and what is most important with time you lose the fear of speaking in your target language.

What tricks do you use to recall the new vocabulary words you’ve learned in your target language. Feel free to drop a comment below.


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