Stimulus to action.
Wanting is not the same as doing. Motivation is great, but it isn’t enough. A person can want to know something, but not engage in learning it. That is exactly what happens to some of the best laid language learning plans. We buy into the idea, but lose momentum when reality hits. That reality can be having to struggle with grammar or learn vocabulary. Motivation often fades when we have to jump over the inhibition hurdle and finally start speaking. Then it is easier to think we are not quite ready to speak yet and wait until that magical day when we suddenly feel confident enough. ‘Maybe next time’. Motivation is quite fragile and can be forgotten if something more fun or less intimidating (like spending time with speakers of the same language) comes up. Nico brings motivation with him to the UK, it is up to us to help him turn that into engagement. We have a responsibility to do that or he could experience
unfulfilled motivation. As every learning experience affects the future attitude to learning, we really don’t want that. In order to engage, Nico needs people to interact with him as an individual and situations in which he can communicate. He is likely to engage most if those people and situations are relevant to him. The necessary encounters will probably not happen by chance, but they can be created.
The mental action of acquiring knowledge.
We acquire knowledge and understanding by filling in the gaps between what we know and what we discover or need to know. Let’s think of this in terms of a river.
Nico is standing on one river bank. It represents the knowledge he already has. He needs to get to the other river bank, which represents a new situation. The river is the hurdle, the lacking knowledge. To get to the other side, he has to build a bridge. The bricks are words. Each bridge is built in a different way because each river is different. If he has built a similar one before, he can do it quickly because he doesn’t need to adapt his knowledge much. The more bridges Nico builds, the more he develops his bridge building skills. If the river is too wide, if he has no interest in crossing it, or the ground he is standing on is not firm enough, he will probably give up. If someone is encouraging, helping him find the right bricks, always taking him to new rivers, he will quickly become a better bridge builder.
Conscious mental reaction.
How we feel abpout a language is crucial. An
explicit attitude to English such as wanting to learn to get good grades or make parents proud is only half of the story – and maybe the less important half. Knowing that a language is important for a future career can increase the pressure. Realising that a language is expected can even create resistance as the element of choice becomes secondary.
The implicit attitude such as positivity towards the native speakers of the language will go further and last longer. Like it and you’ll learn it! Can we make Nico like England and the English? If we introduce him to aspects of the country which appeal to him and a near peer role model whose attention and approval he appreciates, he has an extremely high chance of developing a positive attitude which will carry him for years. Like most teenagers, Nico probably cares a lot about friends and his hobbies. If we can link his learning experience into things which he likes and are relevant to him, we have already have an advantage. If we can add a significant element of choice and can encourage him to engage in the visit to the UK before he even gets here, he is more likely to take ownership of it. Above all, if he can go home with memories directly connected to a person and a place, that positivity will endure.
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