Thursday, March 17, 2011

What makes a good language learner? / Saying hello

Greetings from Syria! We are landed, safe and sound and currently focused on settling down and finding a place to stay. My MA is currently a bit on hold but I intend to get on with it after this post.

Speaking to K about his Spanish learning , before leaving, sparked my thinking (cause he's a spark). He said (approx) “I am the top of my class at Cervantes, I am the f$*&ing best! And it’s not because of my teacher or the book or my classmates or anything: it’s because of me. In fact I learn in spite of them”. Fairly strong stuff.

Now, Keith has a tendency for confidence but I think he has a point. In the same way that some of the comments reflect that I have made progress in Arabic, perhaps, in spite of the teacher's approach. A 'good' (motivated) student may grow and learn despite everything else. Language learning is a chaotic thing, it's non-linear, growth ebbs and flows. This point is reinforced by teachers' common reports of learners learning language that wasn't the target of their lesson. However, two key elements, beyond chaos, are at play in my situation; aptitude and motivation.
Lets begin with aptitude.

So lady Love is a gifted language learner. Her French Creole, French, German and English are all advanced and then there’s her elementary and above Tamil, Spanish, Bulgarian and burgeoning Arabic too. She has an ear for this stuff, and I am sure having experience of learning a variety of languages has benefited her in the strategies she uses to learn. She certainly was faster on the uptake most of the time. I think her memory is better than mine too. I am utterly loathe to put it down to some sort of innate ability but there is part of me that believes in it. Hypocritically, I have always preached to my students that hard-work pays off, when it comes to languages, but suspected that this isn't an absolute. When lady Love and I were doing homework together often exercises that took her 1 minute took me 3. This was frustrating as we were time short doing homework after a day's work, travel, dinner and Eastenders (which we miss!.

The fact that she could recall the delicate shape of the medial letter 'daad', doesn't mean that this learning is permanent or a good measure of 'success'. It does seem to be the case that learning the alphabet is a memorization exercise, one in which I have been less successful (slower). However, it is more helpful to remove the win / lose paradigm and focus on the fact that I can read and write (even though I don't know what I am reading or writing). This helps me stay motivated.

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