THE OPEN SECRET OF LANGUAGE LEARNING

by Silvia Perrone

So, you have decided to learn a language, Italian to be more specific. That is a challenging task if you

  • work 40+ hours a week,
  • are a mother of three always trying to keep up with your family needs,
  • are already taking another course,
  • work shifts and one week is never like the one before,
  • are a busy freelancer and your schedule changes every day.
  • [your story here]

We all have full days and sometimes it is difficult to even take a break, not to mention carve out an hour or two to relax and do something just for us.

Learning a new language requires time, energy, money so you definitely must have strong reasons to do it.

These reasons are personal to you, but maybe you fit into one of these groups of learners:

  • I want to reconnect with my Italian family but  my parents/grandparents are not able to teach me because they have “lost” their fluency, they speak a variety of Italian that is not understood by other Italian speakers, my relatives do not speak my native language;
  • I have an Italian girlfriend/boyfriend and I want to learn their language;
  • I am going to travel to Italy next year and I want to be able to understand what I order at the restaurant, ask directions, go shopping, get a taxi, make an appointment, etc
  • [your reasons here]

Whatever your reasons are, and even if they change while you are in the process of learning, they are essentially the fuel that got the engine started and that keeps it going.

Together with your personal reasons there is another key element that is going to influence how much you learn and how fast you reach your goals, no matter what they are. I think you guessed it by now: motivation.

I have been a language learner myself, and I still learn as much as I can (more languages, writing, teaching, wire wrapping, hiking, and the list goes on, and on, and on – believe me, I am a real multipotentialite when it comes to learning something new) so I’ve had my share of jumping on and off the motivation train.

As a high school and university student my goals were pretty much linked to grades -the highest possible, please. To me, getting a good grade was the greatest recognition of my hard work.

When I was studying Spanish I went to Madrid to take a language course because I felt I needed to add something to the classes I was taking at my university. It was a half failure because in my group there were students with very different levels and the lessons were too basic for me. My motivation started to drop and I even fancied the idea of leaving the course and go out and visit the city instead of going to the classes I had already paid for.

I needed to switch my focus and find a different motivation so I went from “I need this course because I want to pass the exam” to “Let’s take the best out of this experience and start speaking with more confidence”.

Sometimes it is not easy to accept that even our most deeply rooted ideas may be wrong, but once you let go of them and find another source of motivation you are one step closer to achieve a result. I eventually passed my Spanish exam.

With time I have learned to appreciate what I learned (both in terms of quantity and quality) and the process of learning itself, my interest shifted and so did my motivation.

As a teacher I have experienced that students who are not motivated enough, or have taken a course for the wrong reasons, really struggle in class. They end up not making any effort because they feel frustrated and in the wrong place and of course they do not improve the language.

This is a waste of money, time and energy and who would want that?

When your motivation is truly yours and comes only from you, you can be sure that it is going to work.

But If you are influenced by other people, if there are external factors that interfere with you and your personal reasons, than it is in this very moment that your motivation loses its energy and your engine begins to slow down and your goals look too far away.

Working as a teacher and especially as a tutor, I have found a sweet spot for motivation. Sometimes I feel more like a life coach than a language teacher, but I think this adds a lot to the learning activities. If I succeed in keeping your motivation high, you are more likely to set up your own goals and to work towards them.

Feeling to be part of the process and not a passive bystander, having control over your success will boost your motivation and make you a satisfied learner.

This quote by the scientist and teacher Richard Feynman summarizes my vision of motivation applied to learning:

“Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.”

Richard Feynman

A lesson where your creativity is challenged and your curiosity stimulated is a lesson that is going to transform your abilities: from knowing to being able to do, from knowledge to competence. My role as a teacher is to actively help you to reach your goal.

And this is why I love to teach and motivate.

 

LANGUAGE TIP: an open secret in Italian is un segreto di Pulcinella.

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