First, a word on an essential element of any endeavor: motivation
In a book about paper airplanes I found a truly excellent explanation of the importance of motivation. And though it happens to be about the importance of motivation in making paper airplanes, it is applicable to anything we do that is new and seems difficult and even unnatural. When I first read it I thought, “This is great advice for someone trying to learn a foreign language.” The Ultimate Paper Plane Book by Paul Jackson
“Nobody achieves anything without effort. You need to want to design a paper plane. If you’re motivated, you’ll be more patient, more determined to succeed, and less defeated by any failures. If you are only prepared to try it for a few minutes and to give up forever when your first plane crashes on its very first flight, then you probably won’t design a very good plane.
So ask yourself….are you really motivated?!”
In my experience of working with students of all ages, effort is one thing that stands out above everything as the key to the student’s progress. Without a doubt some seem to learn more quickly, but even people who seem to have great difficulty make progress if they stay focused, keep trying, and don’t let themselves get discouraged. Another way this principle is often put is “atttitude is paramount.”
Learning Through Play
What is the value of learning through play?
Activities and games that oblige a person to speak and to listen are the fastest way to get started speaking a new language.
There are three principal things that play does that make it great for learning language:
- Obliges the player to use language to communicate
- Requires repetition and variation
- Gives a context for communicating
It’s your turn to move. You are holding 4 cards, you need to form a pair, you need a particular card, you need to ask a particular question. You are obliged to listen and to speak.
If the game is fun to play the obligation is pleasant. When the student plays a game in a language he is learning finding the words is a means by which they play. Language is an instrument, not an abstraction. The student isn’t merely memorizing words and phrases for their own sake, they are using the words to do something. As Sophie often says, there is no point in learning a language if you are not going to use it!
Repetition and variation of words and structures
Every skill improves with repetition and games make you repeat. In the course of a game a student may hear and say a single phrase 50 times, something that for most people would be tiresome were it not part of a game. Repetition would not be nearly as interesting if it were not for the variations that occur in sentences having the same structure. In forming sentences the student repeatedly must choose the correct variation. For example,
Does anybody have glases?
Does only one person have glasses?
Do only two people have glasses?
The structure of each sentence is the same, but certain elements change according to the rules of grammar. The repetition thus naturally introduces the rules to the student.