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Alex: Yeah, totally.
I think about a month ago I started riding my brother’s scooter and I had never ridden a scooter before.
So, obviously, the first few hours on it were a little wobbly, but after kind of developing a sense of how it works and how it feels then building on that confidence is really what enables you to be a safe driver.
It’s confidence in driving that allows you to be confident of what’s around you, of your abilities as a driver, so that you’re not worrying about focusing on everything that’s going on next to you, but focused on just the key things that need to happen.
It helps, too, in just developing a clarity.
Steve: What’s more, confidence is important in all of our activities, not just in language learning.
So if you are a language learner, but also you have a job, so you work, if you have a sense of achievement in one area it carries over into the other area.
So if you feel that oh, wow, I had this great conversation in Korean or whatever — in my case maybe Korean — you feel a sense of achievement.
That makes you more positive in your other activities.
So if we’re teaching language in such a way as to frustrate and discourage people, we’re in fact not just discouraging insofar as language learning is concerned.
We’re making them less positive in their other areas of activity, which is really kind of bad.
Certainly here you only hear negative things about French at school.
Steve: I wouldn’t say only, but 99%.
Alex: Pretty much, yeah.
Steve: Pretty much.
Alex: It’s the same where I went to school in California.
There is probably about half and half who study French and Spanish, but it’s the same for Spanish and French; both ways, yeah.
Steve: I know in my own experience in high school we had French and I got good marks, but I wasn’t at all interested.
Then I had a professor at university who just turned me on and that turned me on, subsequently, to learning other languages.
There it was because the content of the course was just so interesting and the way he presented it.
Here, again, it’s connecting with content that matters so you can understand stuff.
I remember like at school you’ll always find the guy, say in French, whose mother is a Francophone and therefore who speaks French, but he gets poor marks.
Steve: The teacher is oh, yeah, he can speak, but you know, ha, ha, his subjunctive is not quite up to snuff. Does it matter?
He’s miles ahead of everybody else in the class because he can actually speak and he can understand what people say.
So why do we learn languages if not to speak.
Maybe his mother is a Francophone and maybe his mother doesn’t speak grammatically correctly all the time, just as there are many Anglophones who don’t speak English grammatically correctly all the time, but they communicate.
Yet these people saying no, no, he’s got poor marks or whatever.
That was the same for me when I took Korean at university that there were some kids who were Korean who spoke Korean with their parents.
It’s the second year course and they’re there communicating with teacher fully in Korean and everyone else is like ah, ah, just totally mangling everything.
It’s funny, as you say, the kids who can speak fluently who don’t maybe know the formal grammar and things like that get worse marks than the people who memorize everything, regurgitate it perfectly, but can’t have a simple conversation with someone.
Steve: I know.
So, yeah, confidence, I think that should be the thing, is how do we get people to feel confident and to feel a sense of satisfaction and achievement in language learning?
So, again, I don’t recommend this for engineers and neurosurgeons.
Alex: Not for the Sciences.
Steve: Not for the Sciences. Not for the hard Sciences.
And, yeah, you’ve got to have goals for people.
Again, we know very well that people always say well, nowadays the kids they don’t know grammar or they can’t express themselves very well and stuff, which is true to some extent.
Now, I don’t know if it was better 50 years ago.
I don’t know, but certainly you hear teachers say that and professors at universities say that.
They say it’s because of computer games or it’s because of whatever and I suspect that that’s true.
I suspect that it’s because people read less.
So the goal of speaking well and being able to express your thoughts clearly, being able to think clearly, structure an essay, to write, I mean those things are important.
They are important, more important than the second language acquisition because you’re ability to communicate in your first language is key to your professional success.
It’s absolutely the number one thing.
They’ve done studies.
More than your years of schooling, it is your degree of literacy and they divide the degree of literacy of people up into five sort of segments.
There’s the top 20%, the second, third, fourth and fifth and the top 20%, by enlarge, do much better than anybody else and the lowest 20% are to be found in our penitentiaries or on welfare.
There’s people who are very illiterate and who have done very well.
They’re trades people or they’ve got other compensating attributes, qualities, but all other things being equal, statistically, if you’re in that top 20% you’re going to do well.
Therefore, it’s extremely important to be literate, to use the language well, your own language.
It’s somewhat less important in the second language, especially if the majority of people graduating from school can’t use that second language at all.
To that extent you need goals, but I’m convinced that if you can get people to read a lot and listen, but read.
In other words, it gets back to this whole input thing.
If they read they’re going to learn about things.
If they’re reading they’re reading about something.
So they begin reading Twilight or Harry Potter and then, eventually, they’ll read other stuff.
They can access a whole world of learning if they can read.
So I think there should be very real goals in terms of encouraging people to read and one of the things there is to give people the freedom to choose things that they’re interested in.
I mean I don’t know what it was like for you at school, but we had to read some pretty boring stuff at school, some novels that weren’t interesting you know.
It’s one thing if we have to read the History book.
Okay, I can appreciate that we should know the history of the world, the history of Canada or whatever, but when it comes to novels the teacher arbitrarily decides that this is a good novel.
Of the thousands and thousands of novels, why do you choose this?
So maybe today with the Kindle and Kobo and whatnot it’s easier to provide more choice to people.
Alex: Well, getting back to how to provide more confidence, I think one of the things that was missing from my language education, my formal language education that is, is we never really did that much reading.
You always find this short paragraph or two-paragraph intro at the chapter and then some vocab and some grammar explanations, but when it comes to actually picking up an actual book or seeing actual text in that language you have no confidence that you’re able to read that.
I think when you kind of break through that barrier of finishing your first book…
Steve: I agree.
Alex: …finishing your first novel, you’re like wow! I did this. I can read more.
It bolsters your confidence and opens you up to being able to pursue more stuff and, as you say, to learn.
Steve: And it’s another achievement.
It’s another stepping stone.
It’s another Everest that you’ve climbed.
I’ve likened the first book you read in a second language to like climbing Mt.
When you do that boy, you feel wow!
I read this book.
I’m not talking about reading it on LingQ and looking up every word.
I’m talking about a book.
No access to online dictionaries.
I read this book.
It’s a tremendous sense of achievement.
So, yeah, I guess we’re agreeing.
You know what?
One time we should have a discussion where we disagree.
It gets a bit boring after a while.
But, no, all these things help build up confidence, a sense of achievement.
You’ve got a livelier step.
You’re up at and it.
You feel more confident about your language learning and all your other activities as well.
So when I see these people – this gets back to my YouTube channel – who come on and criticize me.
I would never criticize someone who puts up a YouTube channel.
Hey, look at me.
I’m speaking Swahili or Spanish and I go well, you know your tones are off, whatever.
No, unless they make some ridiculous claim that I speak like a native, but then you’re setting yourself up.
Steve: Why set yourself up for something?
Chances are it’s not necessary.
If you listen long enough you can identify words and you can do a good job at it, even those people who have a heavy accent.
I mean the number of people I know who speak so well with a heavy French accent, with a heavy Chinese accent, it doesn’t matter, but who use words well.
So, the key is to compliment people for what they have achieved and not to try and criticize them for where they maybe aren’t quite perfect yet.
Steve: Only you and I are perfect, right?
Alex: Of course.
Steve: Of course.
Ha, ha, ha, that’s certainly not the case.
Steve: Okay. Well, thank you for listening.
Alex: Yeah, thanks for listening everyone.
We hope you enjoyed this podcast.
Steve: In two parts.
Alex: Yes. We’ll see you again next time.
Steve: Yes, and we’ll try and make it more frequent.