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The tortoise and the hare

September 18, 2007

Hello again,

This summer I met a lady in a hurry. She spent at least five minutes...

...at the start of a session, another five in the middle and five more at the end complaining at how slow her progress in learning English was. I think her attitude speaks for itself. But lots of mature students feel frustrated at their apparently slow progress so what should we do to help them?

My first suggestion is that you listen. As teachers we know there are no short cuts and no magic bullets. Learning a language requires time, patience, application and perseverance. But find out exactly what is at the heart of the student’s frustration first. It may be that work pressures are increasing their anxiety; it may be that the learner is accustomed to excelling and finds the slow progress to language proficiency a blow to self-esteem. Each impatient student will have an individual trigger for these feelings and if you find out what it is you can start to tailor a solution to help reduce that anxiety.

Help the learner understand the complexity of the task. Remind them how long it took them to become an expert user of their mother tongue. Ask them if they still meet new words even in their own language. If possible get them to compare their language learning with another difficult skill they have learnt over a lengthy period.

Up to this point your aim is to reassure the learner that their anxiety is understandable and that slow progress is normal. However, what you really want to do is refocus their attention away from what they feel they don’t know on to positive steps to making measurable progress. If you work with the learner to discover their normal way of goal-setting, you should be able to find the best way of applying this to language learning. You might, for example, design a planning sheet with space for weekly goal goals (20 words connected with finance; verbs and tenses used for planning; correct stress on multi-syllabic words, for example). Then have columns for daily aims that work towards these goals and a daily feedback column for notes.

Have the learner review the daily aims and at the end of the week measure the amount of progress made towards the overall goals. Help the learner to build in revision of earlier aims so that earlier achievements are not lost along the way.

By shifting the focus to clearly defined targets and helping the learners to measure progress, you are both increasing their learning skills and independence and concentrating on what is positive rather than what is negative. Your students probably will not progress any faster, but they will start to appreciate that going slowly but surely is the only way to win this particular race.

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  1. charles mutinda Says:

    my students seem to have a very strong negative attitude agaist poetry.i believe this attitude has been there for long time and all of them sleep in my class abd do noteven answer even ther siplest questions. kindly advise me

  1. Brenda Townsend Hall Says:

    Charles, I will post some tips for introducing poetry next week.

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