Thursday, May 17, 2007

Why This Blog?

My primary reason for starting this blog is to share my perspective and experience with all the people I've met who want to be successful at learning languages. I have taught many students who believe that language learning is hard, that it will take them a long time, that it will take them years to even get anywhere.

Particularly American students are often so removed from an international community that they can’t fathom that they would ever need to speak any other language than English. So why bother?

I have two things to say about that.

1- I do believe in the power of language learning as a process of personal development. The fact that we try to understand someone speaking another language goes far beyond just understanding a foreigner. It makes us aware that we all operate from the vantage point of our own little world, expecting everyone to react as we do, since we consider it as being “normal”.

The world as we perceive it is the normal world, and anyone who doesn’t comply to its principles is “weird”, to say the least. We are judgmental, we attribute motives to someone’s seemingly incomprehensible words or actions, and we create separation. I don’t exclude myself here, as this goes on at all levels of relationships: friendships, intimate relationships, work relationships and relationships between countries.

To venture out and really put ourselves into the mind of another and see the world from another’s perspective – to literally “learn his language” is enlightening. It throws light on our own perceptions and beliefs. Hopefully it will help us understand that in the end, we all strive for the same things. I strongly believe that with every person on this planet who learns to truly master a second language, we are one step closer to peace.

2- I have taught languages for a number of years now, and I have learned – or in some cases, attempted to learn – several languages myself. Most of what I have seen as a student is not pretty. We spend a lot of time in classes, but do we really learn to communicate? As a teacher, I was often given textbooks that I was expected to use. I did my best to make it interesting, but frankly, it was often a drag. I would see the textbook and wonder “How is anyone supposed to speak after going through this? This can’t work!” And mostly, I was right.

The common, mostly unspoken, assumption that

Vocabulary + Grammar Rules + Communicative Activities = Fluency in the Language

just doesn’t work.

I am always surprised at how many language teachers are far removed from any kind of personal language learning process. I argue that “teaching someone a language” and “teaching someone how to learn a language” are vastly different concepts and need to be treated as such. With only 9% of Americans fluent in a second language, something’s just not right.

My purpose in this blog is to start learning a language myself and share my experiences. As a teacher, I know many “tricks of the trade”, but applying them myself and remembering how I feel when I don’t “get” what someone says, when I’m just lost in front of a foreign text, how much patience it takes to really start to communicate – all these things I can only experience as a language learner.

I am an advocate of the Birkenbihl Approach, about which I have written extensively, and which I studied for a few years. Most of the classes I taught have benefited from this Approach, and the students who chose to follow the steps had mind-blowing results.

You can get a short e-book outlining the Birkenbihl Approach at our website for free: It’s entitled “The 7 Language Learning Secrets Your Teachers Can’t Share With You.”


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