viernes, 19 de agosto de 2011

Learning English similes

A new semester has just begun. The first class is always a good chance to try and convince our students that effort is a necessary component of any learning experience. I say this because I have noticed that lately the young tend to think that things come easily, they just hold up their hands and violá, things happen –as if in a virtual reality game or a Harry Potter movie. So I begin my class with two similes I have invented.

When I tell my students that “Learning English is like losing weight,” they look at each other and smile before turning their stare at me with a skeptical air floating in front of their faces. I smile back and throw a seemingly tricky question: If you want to lose weight, what do you have to do? They frown, they scratch their heads. There is always one who attempts an answer –I guess they feel I am pulling their legs and don´t want to lose face – and raises his hand: You have to go on a diet? He doubts, and I go yes! A diet! Excellent method. So if I wanted to lose some kilograms (I do!, really), I could diet on Sundays. They smile again and shake their heads. Why not? I ask again. A girl, who is apparently an expert in keeping the line, clarifies everything: No, T-shirt, The diet is everyday! There you are! I point at the girl: Learning English is like losing weight: You have to go on a diet every day! Students who expect to command the language attending classes twice a week or on marathonic 5-hour Saturday lessons and do nothing in between will not achieve the goal. Period.

Then I tell them that learning English is like learning to swim (or to ride a bike if you prefer). Can you swim? Hands up, please. The majority can swim (except for myself, I have never learned… shame!). Then, I point at a boy and ask: Where did you learn to swim? He hesitates, looks at his classmates who are staring at him waiting for the enlightenment of his wisdom and experience in the topic. He stutters but manages to say: In a swimming pool, Tea – chair, and blushes inevitably. But I am not ready to let him go yet, so I wait for the laughs to stop and attack him again: Was there water in the pool? He is redder than a blooming rose. Of course, tea – chair, he wants to disappear from the face of earth. I smile in triumph, take a step back to the centre of the class: You see? Learning English is like learning to swim, you learn in the water; English is learned in English!

Everybody seems to have grabbed the heart and soul of the two similes. They shake their heads, some look at the ceiling deep in philosophical abstraction, maybe thinking that everything they have always thought about learning English has been wrong all along. Signing up for a two session a week class or a Saturday only course might be a problem in the end because in actual fact you will have to study in between classes! Why do they offer that type of course then? Beats me!

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