The text below is a slightly edited version of the video clip.
Today. I would like to talk about the second factor that contributes to the prevailing myth that achieving native life levels in a second language is just too difficult. As I've been explaining over the past few weeks, it certainly is within the capacity of each person to achieve these levels.
Last week I talked about the first main reason and that was to do with the fact that translation is so prevalent and overused in the learning of languages. If you want to hear more about that just go to this video clip.
So, today I want to talk about the second reason and that is to do with understanding, knowing and actually living the experience that the only way to be truly successful in any skill is to be passionate about it. In the same way as people throw themselves into sports, music and computer games. When these people throw themselves into it and actually get passionate about it, it's difficult to drag them away from what they are doing. I'm sure you have come across people like that and you may be a person like this yourself, in some particular skill you've been learning.
One of the reasons that people don't really get this in languages is that we've all been brought up with the idea that to learn a second language, we have to go and study it. We have to go and look at the grammar, look at the pronunciation and do the drills and go to classes. The way that most classes are taught are mainly to do with passing on knowledge. Then you are somehow expected to take that knowledge and make it into skills, which sometimes works, sometimes it doesn’t. But it is all hit and miss, for the most part, and there is a lot of struggle.
People learning languages struggle a lot, typically. Of course, there are the few that don't but they're really the few because they have figured out what they need to do to actually master the skill and that's what they go about doing. Of course ,in life you can go about and study things and actually somehow improve your skill at it. But for the most part, study only adds to knowledge. Skill is all about doing something. It's all about doing. It's not about knowing. Knowing comes from the doing, fundamentally it’s all about doing the thing and learning from that.
Just think of yourself. What skills have you learned without being fully engrossed in? Whether it be a sport, cooking or dancing or anything else in life. There are many, many skills, but the physical, practical skills are the best ones to look at in terms of looking for the principles of what actually works. Of course, there are all kinds of skills, like communication skills and emotional skills and so forth and so on. However, I want to ignore that for the time being because the principles are bit harder to extract for us, in the short time that we have here.
So, just think of children that when they learn the skills they do when they are young, they throw themselves into it. Now, of course what happens and we've all seen it, is that that parental pressure can be such that kids are encouraged, dare I say, even forced to go and learn an instrument or go and play a sport or do something else like that.
I'm sure we've all seen examples where these students have not really done much with that particular skill. They've maybe learned the piano or learned the guitar or able to play soccer or tennis or something. They may well have learned it but never really achieved any great level or any great skill. They've been sort of okay, but the ones who actually excel at it are the ones who have moved from feeling the parental pressure to having something caught their imagination. That has caught them somehow.
And they basically throw themselves into it and then transform themselves in the skills. Then they start excelling in it, The same thing can happen when we can start doing some kind of skill at a young age because of peer pressure. As our mates are doing it, so we're going to do it too. But again the same thing happens. Mediocrity is the norm (we achieve) unless something else happens. And the something else is it captures our imagination. It captures something within us and we want to excel at it for its own sake, not for anything else.
We can start learning a skill because of self-induced pressure or something like, “I need to learn this skill so I can get a better job or I need to do this to learn that instrument because I think it's a good idea or I will become a better person if I learn X or something like that.”
So, all these kind of motivations are all artificial and basically in these cases the skill never gets to any great height. The ones who become really good at something are the ones who actually transform that practice. Again, into something that is core for them. They get passionate and really engaged in it and start to really do well at it.
Learning a language is much the same. The core thing in excelling in English ( or any other language you are learning) is going from the point of thinking. “I want to improve in this because it's good for my job or I am living in the country or I'm going to get a better job, or a better life or
get a better wife ( haha) or husband or something” to basically you want to do it because it somehow captures you, it's interesting, it's engaging its enthralling, it's wonderful.
It becomes something that you want to do for its own sake not because of some ulterior motive. It's that kind of attitude that has to shift, that has to happen if somebody actually is going to take off and start to reach the native-life levels. Because to reach those native-like levels, it requires a level of engagement and a level of interest that doesn't come from artificial study or artificial working. It has to be organic. It has to be learning as you're doing the thing. Learning as you are speaking and being involved in it, so deeply, with such interest and with such wonderment that it captures you and you just want to keep improving all the time and it is just what sets you on fire. It makes you excited. It gets you up in the morning. It keeps you going all day. That's the kind of energy that will help a person to reach native-like levels.
So, unfortunately what happens is that sometimes some people get these ideas, “if I want to achieve these levels I have to do certain things”. And what I've seen with so many people I've come across who have achieved or are achieving these like levels, it's not necessarily the thing that they're doing. It's how you are doing it and and it's all about the person finding something in that activity and how they approach it that has them be completely engaged in what they're doing.
A lot of the practices are traditional ones that people refer to. Imitation or translation or memorization or study actually take you away from being engaged in what you're doing and actually lead you on a path to being disengaged of not really enjoying and not really getting the results you are looking for and that's a big problem.
So, for somebody like yourself, maybe, who wants to achieve native-like levels, I encourage you to find that spark in yourself, to find that interesting thing, to find that activity whether it's watching movies or whether it's reading a book or whether it's talking to people that actually has you want to do more of it and you find that by wanting to do more and because you want to do it better, because you want it to excel at it, because it's something that you find that it's going to give you satisfaction, your skills actually improve.
That's the way improvements are going to happen. To give you an example, for the first few years of my teaching career, I was what I would call mediocre. Some would say, maybe, even a bad teacher. I wouldn't disagree with that at all. And then, I came across some ideas and an educationalist that actually completely transformed my views and understanding of what teaching is about, what learning is all about.
Out of that experience, I got really inspired and really passionate about understanding learning and understanding teaching and becoming a better teacher. And I found myself pulled into this experience of teaching and of becoming a better and better teacher and becoming better and better at understanding what actually is involved in all aspects of teaching. That has kept me going for you know, we could say 40 years.
Nothing has stopped me since. I mean, I am still as passionate now as I was 40 years ago, and I really enjoy what I'm doing. That’s why I believe I have become, I think, a really good teacher because of that passion I have for what I'm doing. It's the same thing for you learning a language. Once you find that you can become excellent and excel in your learning, then you can get to native-like levels. So, if you want to get to these levels, I encourage you to find ways and find the ideas and find the inspiration, find that which will enable you to make that shift.
Find ways of learning and find ways of doing things that will encourage you to keep going in that way of learning. Rather than take you back to ways of learning that really take you away from that kind of feeling, from that kind of experience.
So, I hope this discussion has helped you clarify for yourself what you can do to move towards native-like expression native-like production, native-like speaking, and hope it has also helped you to basically to take away the second leg of this myth that adults are not able to become native-like speakers in a new language.
Until next time enjoy your learning.
All the best. It’s been Andrew Weiler here.