Have you ever taken part in a real life conversation that follows a pattern?

Okay so I did it. I went against my values (of preaching for language coaching) and bought one of these books that teach you a language in 10 minutes a day. I always wanted to learn Italian. It is not only a beautiful language but I love the country too so learning Italian has been on my bucket list for years.

I bought one called ’10 minutes of Italian per day’. I thought this would suit my hectic lifestyle and rather pronounced (may be even acute) impatience. I did well. I stuck to it. For two weeks.

When it comes to language learning, having taught French for years to students ranging from 2 to 89, on a 1:1 basis or in rather large groups, to pupils from deprived city areas to doctors, lawyers and top executives, one thing remains in my eyes: the communicative approach works. In a nutshell, the communicative approach relies on a hand on experience of the language over accurate grammar (to start with).  

I was happily surprised when I opened my book that it based its core learning method on the communicative approach. Minimum grammar, lots of set phrases, all in context, with plenty of images and easy exercises. I was immediately hooked!

After a few days though, my enthusiasm was still intact but the lack of progress worried me. It became quite apparent that unless I dedicated a serious amount of time to self-studies, I wasn’t going to get anywhere. I understand this. Learning a language well takes time, discipline and commitment. However, having done it before, I know that the pleasure far outweighs the pain. I was ready for the challenge! So what made me think that this was not the method for me after all?

Learning a language should be fun and engaging. Sharing the experience with a coach or even a small group is, in my opinion, what makes the experience a worthwhile journey. Speaking a foreign language if it wasn’t to share it would appear rather pointless.

When learning Italian, I want to make sure that what I know I know well (I don’ t expect to be fluent anytime soon). I need to know that my pronunciation is as accurate as can be. I want to understand the ‘ins and outs’ of the language, I want to practise colloquial expressions and ask questions. I also want to learn something different each time. I want to recycle what I have learnt using different exercises and contexts. A book follows the same pattern for each and every lesson and quite obviously, there is no one to interact with. Half way through my book, I felt boredom approaching and it worried me.

Learning a  language using the same pattern means that you train your brain to learn ‘in a box’. Not good! What happens when you have a conversation with some ‘real’ people? Your brain just doesn’t stretch that far, it panics when no pattern is being followed. Have you ever taken part in a real life conversation that follows a pattern? Nor have I. Therefore book learning cannot work.    

And then came the distractions… But not the right kind: kids asking for their tea, the dogs in need of a walk, a phone call from the office. I was studying with a book that I could pick up and leave whenever I wanted. It should have helped with my lifestyle. It didn’t.  A book is too easily dropped on a table. I wanted some support, some attention. I needed to know what I was good at and what needed improving. I needed someone to push me and be kind when needed be. I needed a language coach!

So I did, I booked myself into a class and I’m really looking forward to starting!

Despite all this, I don’t think that this was an inefficient method.  Great to teach me a trick or two and (hopefully) impress my Italian coach on Friday, upon arrival! Perhaps I have a level of expectation that is slightly too high. To me, ‘essential’ means that I will be at ease going to Italy for the week-end and while not fluent, still feel at ease in an environment where the language is mostly unknown. Sadly, studying with a book on my own hasn’t quite reached that far.

 

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