Monday, March 12, 2012

How to break down the barriers to learning a new language!

Hi Guys,

What a beautiful Tuesday. Tonight I will go and teach some unfortunate kids in my neighborhood. Some of these kids have been through the wars (not literally). There is one guy let's call him Agung, he's only just entered High School. His house burnt down with all his school leaving certificates etc. So to enter High School he had to take the Junior High exam again through distance education here. Anyway now he's made it but is living in the orphanage so he can go to the school that accepted him. His parents are still without a home, probably living with family two hours away.

Why am I telling you about Agung? It's because today I want to talk about some of the things that can prevent somebody from learning a new language. We can call them "Affective Issues" and for a fairly well written and more detailed article you can visit:

Affective Issues:

Okay so what are Affective Issues? Affective issue are issues that relate to the Affective Filter Hypothesis first put together by Stephen Krashen.

They consist of a number of elements the main ones however are in the article I linked to above and are what I'm going to discuss in relation to Agung. 1. Self-Esteem 2. Inhibition 3. Motivation and 4. Anxiety.

Now you may be surprised to hear that Agung and his friends at the orphanage so very little of these factors. They are actually probably the best students I've ever had in that regard. The moment I come in they are attentive and ready to learn, it is almost too hard to finish the class because they are just egging for more. Why? Why would it be that a bunch of children that have all been through some psychological trauma of some kind would be the easiest to teach? I'll tell you what I think - it's their appreciation for life and their love for learning. They don't take learning for granted anymore, they realize what it would be like without this blessing they have to now be able to study a language and for that they have the greatest filter beat - Motivation.


Motivation is the be all to end all in language learning (any learning for that matter) Sure Self-Esteem, Anxiety and Inhibition are strong factors but against a strong will to succeed and an appreciation for learning they don't have a leg to stand on.

Going back to how the brain works we can find that way back in 1885 we could already see evidence of this strong motivation factor. In 1885 Hermann Ebbinghaus did an experiment on memory retention and one of the things he found was that "...meaningful things are remembered for about ten times longer than random meaningless things" hmm "random meaningless things"? Sounds a bit like a foreign language doesn't it? Random meaningless sounds or random meaningless words are often how a second language learner sees the target language. Which I think is the greatest effect on motivation. If it is gobbledegook then why would we be motivated or have the self-esteem to think we can turn it into something meaningful that could be remembered?

Our part as teachers:

This is where the teacher comes in. If we can structure learning in such a way that it is immediately meaningful and makes sense as usable language then the students will react by committing it to memory. After they commit it to memory they will be motivated to come to the next class with less anxiety, more confidence and there learning inhibitors would have been removed by the great success of learning another language. What our students need is success in the classroom. If we can give them success even if it's with producing a list of commands independently and expressing themselves this way through their new command of the foreign language. This is more than enough to stamp out any affective filters right there and then. Giving a good start to language learning and getting them through the beginner level as quick as possible is the greatest gift we can give to a Foreign/Second Language Learner. As the beginner level for most language learners is the biggest hurdle, it is the time where they will either recognize gobbledegook as real language or they will run away from the whole process and shut out the [perceived] madness.

Child Vs Teen learners:

With young children it's easy. They have had little or no negative experience with another language so it is easy to convince them that anything is possible, including learning one or many foreign languages. With older students however ones that having been trying to force down the language to no avail at a tedious pace for many years, this is where our real challenge lies.

We can not expect older learners (SMP and SMA) to all have the same motivation as Agung and his friends especially if they see their parents doing well enough in life without the target language, why would they want to torture themselves any further with this mad gobbledegook language? That is why to deliver our claim of 100% success in teaching a foreign language. We need to find out which students have a strong affective filter (built up through years of failure in being able to speak) and fix the boat while it still floats. Show them that language learning is not what they think it to be, get back to the basics of the language and give them the success they deserve!

I hope that next week I will have time to do a write up on two techniques that have almost been forgotten and will be able to to instill the confidence needed for our students to propel themselves through the language learning process. We will look at a Brain-Based approach to language learning, based on the last 25years of studies in cognitive science. If you want to get an idea of the kind of language learning techniques we'll be talking about you can check out this video: Born to Learn: Class Reunion. Click on any of the other born to learn series after you're done to get more of an insight into the learning revolution. Also please discuss the videos or any information on this blog either through the comments section or at our facebook group "Change Lives Together!".

Until next time, peace out and let's Change some Lives!

Warm regards,



  1. This is great information. I have been looking forward to learning a new language for a while now. Our company is about to move over to Italy and I am so excited to learn such a beautiful language. Thanks again for sharing this post.

    1. You'll no doubt enjoy learning Italian Brielle. Just remember to not over analyses the language and make a good habit of looking (at the context, situation and expressions), listening (to the words, sounds and intonation) and guessing (the meaning) when you're trying to understand what people are saying. A good way to practice this is by watching dramas on TV from start to finish. Those tactics and techniques accompanied by regular bouts of bravery with the language when you out and about will no doubt give you a great head start. Above all remember to smile and have fun. ^_^