LEARNING A SECOND LANGUAGE
‘No gain without pain.’ It’s a cheesy, over-used saying, but oh so true when it comes to learning a second language. The pain we’re referring to is enough to ensure that for every 100 beginner-level students enrolling in an English language course, 17 will not complete the beginner’s stage, 13 will drop out at the end of that stage, 21 will drop out after the elementary level, and another 41 will drop out at the end of the pre-intermediate level or soon after. Which leaves us, just 30 or so weeks after the course started, with only eight of the original 100 students still active. That’s one hell of an attrition rate in anyone’s book.
Why is it so, I wonder? After all, everybody learns their first language without undue trauma. Even the thickest, laziest, most inept of us. But when it comes to learning a second language, it’s a different story entirely.
The student starts off with a rush of enthusiasm. Think of all the benefits that acquiring a second language will bring me! A better job. An assured future. Perhaps the opportunity to meet a foreign partner – a devoted, loaded, generous foreign partner – who’ll eat out of my hand and grant me my every whim and desire. It’ll be my passport to international travel. It’ll be the key to success. Oh, the benefits are endless! So you rush to a language school, you listen enraptured to the front-desk girl as she confirms every one of your dreams in spades, you hand over your money, you’re given a text book, and told to come back at 7:30 pm the following Tuesday.
Once back home, you sit down and flick through your new text book. And that’s the moment when your first doubts and misgivings begin to emerge. “Hell, look at this! Unit one: ‘Are you a student? / Yes I am. Are you a student too?’ Unit three: ‘The be verb.’ Unit seven: ‘Can you swim? / Yes I can’. Bloody hell! This isn’t going to get me a better job, or hook me up with a foreign wife/husband, or have the slightest impact on my future. What, oh what, am I getting myself into here? Well, I’ve paid my bloody money, and a helluva lot of it too, so I’ll just go along to the school and find out for myself how they’re going to set me on the road to fluency and success.
Fast forward six weeks. You can now use the ‘be’ verb 80% accurately (although when speaking you tend to omit it altogether). You can now extract personal details from someone you’ve just met (“Right, so you’re a student, you like football and video games, you can swim, and you have no pets. So, what will we talk about next?”) You have expanded your English vocabulary to the tune of 80 words. You still can’t understand English pop songs, or conduct a prolonged conversation, or make head nor tail of your teacher when he talks at a normal conversational speed on an open topic. Your chances of landing a top job in a top company are as remote as ever. You still haven’t found the English-speaking gal/guy of your dreams. You are no closer to attaining that successful, happy future you thought was at your fingertips.
The first level of your English course is soon to end. Should I extend it or not extend it? If I don’t extend, I’ll be able to upgrade my phone to one that will allow me to surf the web, play games, make movies, listen to half a million songs…. I’d be the envy of all my friends with a phone like that. Tempting…
My new book, EFL minus the B.S. (now available on Amazon) puts the English teaching game under the spotlight. From applying for a job, living overseas, work permits, management and mismanagement, classroom dynamics, teens’ and children’s classes, to sex and the single teacher.