Talent For Language
Apr10

Talent For Language

You hear it all the time and I’m sure you’ve heard it before… The struggling learner with the ‘once a month’ study plan says it. The person that studied Spanish in high school while reading a comic book and not paying attention says it. The ‘average’ L1 English-speaker says it… It’s the monolingual catchphrase:  “I don’t have a talent for languages” Rubbish. Everyone has a ‘talent’ for language… it’s an in-built mechanism. We are human. We have language. But what do they truly mean when they say that they “don’t have a talent”? Well, it’s my professional opinion that they mean they are ‘lazy’. When people are young – i.e. infants – we are surrounded by language and our ‘talent’ allows us to acquire language without knowing what we’re doing. We have to acquire it or we can’t communicate… Simple. And depending on circumstances, some of us acquire just the one language or some of us acquire multiple languages. In any case, as we age and have to actively think about acquiring – or learning – a foreign language this ‘lack of talent’ comes to the fore. The average L1 English speaker uses their ‘lack of talent’ as an excuse for nothing putting in the effort. Ask any of the people that have successfully acquired an additional language post-puberty and they’ll tell you that it didn’t happen overnight. What did happen though, is that they put in the hard yards and grabbed hold of something that they can use for the rest of their life. This ‘talent’ should more realistically be seen as: ‘motivation’ + ‘effort’ = ‘talent’. Without the motivation, you won’t feel the need to learn. Without the effort, your motivation will eventually shrivel and die. Without a combination of the two, your talent will never emerge. How can you keep the motivation alive? Well, take baby steps… There are mini-milestones everyday and when you achieve them your motivation will keep growing. But to reach the mini-milestones, you have to put the effort in. Even if it’s just reading one sentence and figuring out the meaning; at least you’re putting in some effort. And I’m sure, that one you’ve figured out that meaning and gotten past that sticking point, you’ll feel a sense of achievement. A ‘sense of achievement’ typically has the pleasant side-effect of stoking your motivational fire. And in-turn, you’re likely to put in that little bit more effort. A vicious circle is emerging. Simply put, don’t be lazy! To achieve your language goals, you have to put in the effort. But effort is likely to be fruitless if you don’t have the motivation to back it up....

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Class Activities: Spot the Difference

“OK guys, we’re going to describe this picture…” you say to your eager students. Silence is their response. We’ve all experienced the silent response and will continue to experience it for as long as we teach a foreign language. But what are some ways to alleviate it? One activity that I’ve been trying of late with both younger learners and adult learners utilises spot the difference pictures. Most people love a good puzzle, so to give them something they may enjoy in their L1 and transfer it to something that makes use of the language patterns they are currently learning can give some light-hearted relief and much-needed spontaneous speaking practice. How to use the spot the difference pictures? Well, your imagination is your limit as with any teaching scenario. I’ve used them to cover: prepositions of place descriptions with progressive continuous descriptions of people (appearance) descriptions of the scene differences in thoughts and emotions (via body language and facial expressions) As for how to use them? Well, again… imagination is the key. I’ve used them in pair work, group work and whole class work, and have also made a team game out of them. The game being that the students work in teams to communicate with one another and write down the differences as quickly as possible. This is most effective with the younger learners since they like the competitive side of things, but I’m sure it can be adapted to suit all ages. I’m sure there are other ideas of what they can cover as well… and I’d love to hear about...

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