November 6

Better Language Learning

I was struck recently from the experience I had when I attended a conference (IATEFL) for English language teachers in Hungary that a key factor in learning another language is the mindset you bring to it, more than anything else. I had the good fortune to meet there not only local teachers and ones from other European countries but also some students learning English.

I was stuck by the high level of English of the students. In Australia, which is where I am based, there would be very few students who could speak a foreign language as well as what I heard in their final year of school (unless they or possibly both their parents were born in the countries where the language they are learning is spoken). These students were bordering on native like. How could that be, I thought.

I mentioned this observation to some teachers there and they said these students were the best from a number of schools from that area. I should hasten to add that the conference was based in a not a large country town. From what I have seen, even in the main cities in Australia we would struggle to put together students of this quality. Though of course they also have many students who struggle.

There are I suspect not one reason for this but a number, why the uptake of English is better there. Here a few of my thoughts. I would be interested to hear from others in different countries as to their perceptions about this.Better language learning

1. Learning a foreign language is compulsory in Hungary (and in all other European countries – to my knowledge) from year 1.

2. Students may have more opportunity to use the new language and listen to it, than would be the case of Australians learning French, for eg.

3. English is a highly desirable language for many reasons, enabling access to movies, books, travel and possibly better chances of employment in tourism, shops and multinational companies.

4. Life in Hungary for most people is a struggle. English may well just enable them to make their life easier, possibly by getting a better job or emigration ( I talked to a taxi driver there who told me that he had recommended his son to go to UK as he had no future in Hungary).

5. Multiple languages are a way of life in Europe, so there is an openness to learning them and accepting that (being multi lingual) as a matter of fact .

From what I have seen there, on the net and in books the methods used there by teachers are not that dissimilar to what is being used in Australia.

What that brings us back to is the importance of the mindset of the learner, something that is occupying the minds of more and more people in the area. Mindset covers factors like motivation, attitude and engagement.

You clearly can’t always change the country you are in readily. However by becoming clearer about why you are learning and endeavouring to learn in ways that want you to keep learning, you may just be able to change how you approach your learning to make it better. These factors can be even more important than what you are actually doing. That is why we see so many examples of people using varying kinds of strategies to become successful, from traditional type learning to using movies, reading books, talking etc.

Better language learning is within the realm of everyone. That I am certain of. Just how much better may depend more on who you are than what you do. By becoming inspired to learn (a function of who you are), you will not only look for ways that work better but even make ways work that most others would not be able to use productively.

The question that remains with us is, “How can we become inspired in our learning?” That is one of the key questions this site is devoted to exploring.




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  • I would venture a guess: some Hungarians are very highly motivated, viewing English as a ticket out (as you point out) and second, English is very accessible via the web, in both written and spoken form. They don’t have to rely on textbooks and teachers anymore.

    By the way, as a “ticket out” I don’t just mean that it can open other economic opportunities, inside and outside the country. I also mean it in the sense of opening up another way of being, an out of the strictures of the society the student lives in. Small countries especially often form a relatively homogeneous culture which is in some ways wonderful, and in other ways, a straightjacket.

    • That sense of being opened up you refer to does make sense, especially when coming from the type of countries you refer to.
      The opposite can also be the case, people living in large countries with a rich heritage can tend to be more inward looking! 🙂

      • Very true. Although I view American inward-lookingness as a self-centered, rather egomaniacal perspective that only large powerful nations can afford. 😉

        For me, learning English has been personally very empowering because English is egalitarian (no thee/thou vs you any more) and relatively ungendered, and because people in America interact differently with each other than people in eastern Europe do. The reason communism assumed such a noxious form there wasn’t only geopolitical; the habits of control and mean-spiritedness originate in families and interpersonal relations. Which in turn are expressed in language.

        • Languages, as you say, can have powerful affects on the who we are and how we see the world.
          It’s true within a language as well of course…in terms of how we chose to express ourselves. (For example, “Life is so hard” compared to “Life is interesting”) In this case tho its a little bit of a chicken and egg argument. However we can at any time choose to change that dynamic.

  • Hi

    I think student’s should learn more languages for their career.

    I am a resident of London and recently I start learning mandarin from “http://practicalmandarin.co.uk/” and I had get a very good experience. I think we should learn every language, this is very beneficial for every one like to go another country, work in foreign companies etc.

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