Life around the world

Tuesday, 18 February, 2014 - 20:31

Baby steps

by DanielT

When learning most things for the first time, I think it is really important to be patient and understand that becoming good at something takes time. This is true for sports, school subjects, and of course languages. When we are small, we don`t think about the difficulties of learning something new; we just go right ahead and do it, sometimes with funny results. One example of this is when I was learning to paint. I was very small so of course the paint got everywhere! I got paint on my clothes, on the table, even on my felt like the paint went everywhere apart form on the paper! But instead of getting angry, everybody would be patient with me, encouraging me and showing me the correct way to hold the paintbrush, and after some time I was able to paint properly. It was important for people to encourage me and to give me the time in which to develop my abilities.

I feel that this is a really important lesson to learn when trying to use another language. Many people around the world only need one language, because most of their friends and family can speak the same language as they do. As a result, when the time comes for these people to try and learn a new language, it is usually more difficult. This can be for a number of reasons.  First of all, the best way to improve in anything is to have the opportunity to practice continuously. In the case of a language, this means having the chance to communicate on a regular basis with speakers of the language they want to learn. If this opportunity is not there, it can slow down the rate at which the language can be learned. Second, it is also easier for the learner to lose motivation because they have less chance for regular feedback and to see how far they have progressed. Without this ability to assess progress and to see how much improvement has taken place, it can be tough for the learner to keep believing that true development is happening.

This is why language websites can be really useful in aiding the language learning process. Not only do they keep a record of all the words and phrases learned, showing the user what has been picked up, they can also be used to illustrate areas for future improvement. Free programmes such as Livemocha do this particularly well. With Livemocha, there are different chapters, each with separate units. Each unit is a little bit more difficult than the one before, and so it is possible to make good progress without feeling overwhelmed. Best of all, the program remembers where you are and so you can go back at any time to continue your learning. You can also evaluate the progress of learners of your native language, as well as have learners of your target language evaluate your work.

Other sites, such as English Central (a particularly useful website using short videos) and Memrise (for reading and writing), work on a similar principle. The reason it works so well is because all these sites consider the principle of taking baby steps. It is much better to learn something slowly but properly, and then move at a pace which is appropriate for the individual learner, than to try and rush into learning too fast. It is a principle I try to observe and follow in my own teaching, and it is my hope that my students benefit from an approach which allows them to grow and learn at their own pace.

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Do you learn things quickly or slowly? Are there certain techniques you use that help you to learn things faster?

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