Before I actually learned Spanish I spent a couple of years in high school learning about Spanish. I was required to commit grammar rules and vocabulary to memory; both were forgotten as soon as the test was over. I read passages of text out loud with the fear of mispronouncing a word hanging over my tongue like a cleaver. Somehow I managed to stumble through them gracelessly without actually having my tongue split in two, but I never learned to love the language.
Years later I attended an intensive program in Mexico for several months over the summer to get over my fear of not being able to learn Spanish. I then enrolled in the second level of Spanish at my university and I started to develop the one thing I never developed in high school, a love for all the things that had been created in Spanish. I soon began buying CDs of artists I had been exposed to in my classes; I made my monolingual father sit through Mexican soap operas and I began reading books by Vargas Llosa and Garcia Marquez in their original language. I began spending many hours enjoying Spanish that my teachers never assigned or graded; I did it because I wanted to, because I was fascinated by the magical things Spanish was able to show me about the world and I learned fast.
I have seen the same things happen with my most successful ESL and EFL students; something in English catches their attention and it becomes a part of their lives. Sometimes it is something I have shown them but most of the time it is something they have found themselves that grabs them and won’t let go.
Students who actively listen to music in the language they are learning, watch movies, play video games, socialize and read do better than those who do not. As a teacher, there are many things I can do to spark and foster an interest in all things English.
1. Encourage students to do what they already do in their first language but do it in English.
First, I ask students to do things they already do in their first languages, in English. For example, if they love a certain kind of music I either ask them to find something similar in English or I show them something I know about that is similar. Then I ask them to pick out lyrics they like and vocabulary they don’t know to share with their classmates. This is different for each person so instead of having everyone in class do the same thing, everyone is exploring something different. This in and of itself starts to make the class more diverse and engaging.
In order to better help my students (and because it is fun) I try to expose myself to all kinds of different things I could show to my students. I watch short animated films, read short stories and poems, listen to different kinds of music, read lots of books, and generally keep my eyes and ears open for cool, interesting things in English. For some inspiration on where to get started, check out the following resources:
2. Get Your Students Out of their Comfort Zones and Speaking English with Actual Human Beings who are not you.
I require them to step out of their comfort zones and seek out opportunities to use the language they are learning. One of the most common complaints I have heard is that students study English for years but still can’t speak. This is largely because students are rarely asked to speak freely about topics they are interested in, especially outside of class.
Speaking assignments outside of class can be tricky because they are difficult to monitor and grade. I get around this by not being too picky. The idea here is to get students out talking to people, not to monitor their accuracy and use of appropriate vocabulary so if they do it, I give them credit for it.
I usually ask them to go out and find another English speaker and talk to them for at least 30 minutes every week. I usually leave it up to my students to find this other English speaker. So far they have contacted old friends from high school or elementary school and done video chats, rounded up their brothers, sisters and parents, found exchange students, and gotten together with their classmates. Some resources they may be able to use are:
3. Get Out There Yourself and Fall in Love with All of the Cultural Things English Has to Offer
So, what exactly should you the teacher do to help students love English? Start exploring the many many cultural things English has to offer yourself, then bring what you love (or what you think they will love) in to class with you. Encourage students to do the same and show them how to search for things in English. Ask them to bring what they find to class with them to share with their classmates and watch class get a whole lot more interesting and relevant to them. Fall in love with English yourself, your enthusiasm will be contagious. If you love something, others can’t help but be curious as to why; they may just follow you on your language obsessions and even discover some of their own.
Things that Make People Fall in Love with a Language
What languages have you fallen in love with? What made you fall in love with them? How are you helping your students to fall in love with English? Leave me a comment below, I love hearing from you!
Hi, I'm Kia.
Teaching is my passion, I have been teaching for over 20 years in 4 different continents. One of the things I have learned over the years is that I am never done learning about teaching. Both teaching and learning should be fun and inspiring.
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