Yesterday evening I was reviewing ‘reported speech’ with a small class of Italian adults. We did it before Easter but, as expected, it had been largely forgotten. Hence the coming back to it again, before moving on to something else.
My students were happy to be back in the classroom, chatting away in English about this and that. Also as expected, the number of mistakes – basic things like prepositions – was sky high, which I could see they were finding rather frustrating.
It IS frustrating when you’ve been away from a language, even for just a few weeks, because it can feel harder to access what you previously felt comfortable with.
Anyone who’s had a stroke will know the feeling of mental resources that were taken for granted suddenly becoming inaccessible.
With language, the process of locking away things which are no longer used is much slower and less dramatic, but it’s just as annoying when you come up against those closed doors.
So my students’ grammar (especially the tenses, OMG, the tenses!) was all over the place, after just a fortnight. But as I said, they were chatting away together quite happily, and did so throughout the lesson, rarely needing or wanting to lapse into Italian.
That’s actually exactly what I intended with this group – the grammar content is more of a pretext than a real objective, and in any case they’d already failed to learn it multiple times, at school and during various other courses. Teach what’s expected, but aim that what’s learnt is what’s actually needed.
What I really wanted them to achieve was an increased level of confidence when USING English to communicate, so becoming more willing to do so, and therefore being able to learn indirectly through each interaction in the class, but also in future, rather than, say, refusing ever to try.
This morning my wife had a blood test booked, so we all drove to the medical center on the way to the kindergarten.
Roomie and I played with her new ball on the grass outside while we waited. Or rather, I played with the small pink soccer ball, which she’d gotten bored with after a few seconds, while she found a pool of mud to experimentally dip her fingers into.
When all ten fingers had muddy balls on their tips, she trotted back to where I was repeatedly kicking her ball up a flight of steps, and held up her hands for me to see.
“Yuk!” I exclaimed, refusing to pull out my multi-purpose handkerchief so early in the day (I’m allergic to pollen and have no desire to smear mud on my face each time I sneeze.)
Instead, I suggested she clean the mud off her fingers by running her hands through the lush spring grass she was standing on.
This was a trick I learned from my dad, and something we’d sort-of done once before, when she’d deliberately walked through a puddle wearing the shoes she needed for kindergarten the next day.
And lo and behold, she did. Fingers run through damp grass, checked, mud balls gone!
I’m betting that next time the soccer ball comes out she’ll be kicking it up staircases like a pro.
We learn what our brains need to learn, when we have the chance. Which might not be what was in the lesson plan, and can be something quite different from what we might think we’re learning, or would prefer to learn.
Moreover, there may not be any evidence of the learning having taken place (especially if the learner doesn’t cooperate in evaluating progress, which is normal with kids, but not unusual with adults, either.)
Think of a subject you hated at school. You definitely learned something, I promise you, even if it was only to avoid it forever after!
The problem with my adult students now being able to chat away happily in English, understand each other as they do so, and even recognise each other’s incorrect pronunciation?
That is to say, the problem with them now being able to do, more or less, what they signed up to learn in the first place?
In the interim, while the motors in their brains have been doing the heavy-lifting, polishing up the new speaking/listening skills, the drivers have shifted their attention.
As we learn, our goals change, our expectations become less modest, we’re no longer satisfied with just the possible, but yearn to achieve what may not be.
This evening, I think I’ll use a big fork to eat my spaghetti and ragù. In fact, I insist – give it to me now, or I’ll scream!
I’m absolutely certain that today I can cross the main road without holding Papà Daniel’s hand.
My aim is to understand everything when I watch foreign language films.
I want to speak ‘fluently’, so without hesitation, and making no mistakes!
Don’t forget this week’s half-price Ebook of the Week, Il campo di papaveri, which until Sunday night costs just £3.99!
A young artist, who can’t pay his rent, offers to paint his landlord’s flat instead. But guess who the landlord’s daughter turns out to be?
- .pdf e-book (+ audio available free online)
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- 8 chapters to read and listen to
- Comprehension questions to check your understanding
- Italian/English glossary of ‘difficult’ terms for the level
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