LANGUAGES AND THE STUDY PROCESS: GETTING RID OF THE “SCHOLASTIC” MINDSET
I was in middle school when I realized “I was not good at English”. One day of the first week of school, the new teacher steps into our class holding a very long grammar assignment. It was our assessment exam to test our “abilities” in English. I thought I was not going to have problems with that, but I was wrong: needless to say, I got one of the lowest grades in class. For the first time in my life, I had failed an assignment: it was impossible for me to recognize all those grammar rules out of context. Was I just not cut out for English? That must have been it.
For years, I kept thinking I was just mediocre at “languages” and I was never going to get very good at it. My grades kept being good but not excellent, the courses I took to get certified were hard for me to follow, and I was never really naturally speaking in the languages I had been studying at school. Before I went to the United States, I was extremely scared because I did not know what to expect, and I was not that great at the “subject”. When I got there, I discovered what the people were saying was nothing like my grammar exams. After a few weeks in the States, I was communicating much more freely and confidently. It took me a long time, from when I was in middle school all the way to my college days, to realize that English, as well as any other language, is not about studying, but really about communication.
That is why today I want to deliver one simple message: when studying a language, try to look at it with different lenses: rather than having a “studying on books” mentality, try to shift to a “living the language” kind of mindset. Do not get me wrong: sometimes we need books and grammar to learn a language. However, it is not with grammar books and intensive courses that communication is achieved. Those tools are good to have an overall idea of the structure of the language, but would you ever feel confident in having an actual conversation with a native speaker after having read a grammar book? I am pretty sure the answer is no. What is important is to assimilate the real content that the language is about, and thanks to the internet today we are able to read, visualize and listen to tons of authentic content in any language we want to learn. If someone in Middle school ever told me that I could learn much more easily by doing all my favorite activities, but setting them in English, I would have never panicked that day I thought I did not have the “talent” to learn the language. Because, truth is, there no such thing as “I am not learning because I am not cut out for languages”, we are just probably doing it the wrong way.