Speaking a second or even third language is becoming a necessity in today’s complex global society. While there are millions studying English around the world, there are also plenty of native English speakers embarking on acquiring language skills in Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic, Korean, French and so on. Language is not only the key for communication, but the bridge into another culture. It can also be the difference in securing a job. Moreover, speaking a second language allows one to step inside a different dimension of reality. After all, language and culture derive from the same crust. With that being said, it is not an easy task to obtain a level of fluency in any foreign tongue.
So what is the best way to learn a foreign language? A quick Google search will reveal hundreds of books, websites and techniques making promises to teach people a foreign language in a relatively short amount of time. Despite these claims, mastering a foreign language is not an easy task and there is no quick fix for doing so. It takes time, dedication, patience and courage. However, learning in the correct type of environment and with the right perspective can speed up the learning process. Here are a few suggestions for teachers and students of all languages, including English.
1. Language needs to be taught in a flexible environment
In other words, students and teachers need a comfortable space to learn and teach. The language classroom should never be static, but dynamic and interactive. The students nor the teachers should be staying in one place during the entire duration of the class. Students should be encouraged to move around the room, ask questions, speak in front of their peers, role play and have fun doing so. Moreover, a language teacher should not spend the entire time in front of the class or behind a desk lecturing. Language teachers need to treat their adult students like grown-ups instead of standing in front of the class like a dictator. Students and teachers both need to be able to speak openly during class. In other words, the learning environment in the classroom needs to be religiously active.
2. Learning a foreign language needs to be fun
This is something that both teachers and students need to understand. It is good to be serious and focused, but being uptight and too serious does not equate with speeding up the learning process of a foreign language. Of course, students need to take notes, come prepared and listen carefully, but they need to learn how to laugh and enjoy while doing so. This will create a carefree environment, which will allow the students to speak the language openly. I’ve come across many students who are entirely too serious, stressed and almost militant about studying the language. Not surprisingly, these students almost always learn at a slower rate despite their self-proclaimed professionalism.
On the other hand, teachers of any language also need to learn how to inject humor into the classroom in order to create a friendly environment. I’ve seen too many language teachers who do nothing but lecture in front of the class while the students sit in agony. If you are a person with control issues, then teaching a language is probably not the best fit for you.
3. Students have to avoid getting stuck on minor details
Studying a language is not the same as learning math or technical applications.The answers to a foreign language cannot always be discerned in a systematic way. If you understand 90 percent of the material, but are utterly stuck on 10 percent, then focus on and further develop the usage of what you do know. I’ve seen many students waste time dwelling on a small detail and becoming frustrated. What they should be doing is practicing what they understand and the rest will come later.
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4. The learning process needs to be creative
While it may be necessary to have a textbook for a language class, the class should not be tied solely to a textbook. Language instruction needs to be dynamic, creative and imaginative. In addition, students acquire language skills in different ways.The textbook may be used as the foundation of the class, but there should be plenty of presentations, role-plays and activities that encourage creative thinking. One of the best ways to acquire language skills is by way of a creative process. This will allow the student to approach the language in a more natural setting.
All of these tips mentioned above should coalesce to create a dynamic classroom environment where students are speaking the majority of the time. Thus, students should always be active and teachers somewhat passive in the language classroom. While any classroom needs structure, the setting for learning a foreign language must also have the flexibility to foster creativity, humor and modeling. In my opinion, this is the best way to learn a language.