I’ve been teaching Spanish at a local private school since September. One of the most amazing things that I’ve encountered is the numerous excuses for not turning in homework on time. One excuse was “I went camping so I didn’t have time to get it done”. As a brand new teacher, (I should say instructor, because teacher implies that I have been trained to teach. I have not.) to the school system I hadn’t given much thought to my own reaction to late homework. After entering grades for mid quarter and researching for this article, I have given this some great thought. I thought about this student’s excuse and realized that it didn’t hold water, in other words, it wasn’t valid. I teach Monday thru Thursday. This means the students have Friday to get their Spanish homework done before leaving for the weekend. If they spent any time watching tv, as my dad said, then you had time to do homework. Young students aren’t the only ones coming up with excuses. We all do, including me.
Many people from English speaking countries feel that since English is the lingua franca language of the world, there is no need to learn a foreign language. They can get by in a foreign land by speaking only English. Perhaps to some extent this may be true, but only because the native speaker either has taken the time, effort and money to learn English or they are really good at charades. But what happens if you need to go to the doctor, to the bank, or to the pharmacy, to the police or simply need to buy gas and don’t know how to say unleaded? Any of these scenarios could lead you to disaster if you don’t know the local language. Learning a foreign language does more than to teach you a new vocabulary. It also brings insight into that culture. Have you ever watched the news about something that happened in a foreign land and wondered why the people reacted that way? Many of my foreign friends, for example, don’t understand why people in the U.S. are so attached to their guns, especially in the light of so many school shootings. If they understood our history and our culture they would understand this attachment. Personally, I prefer a dog to a gun, but that is another story.
Learning a foreign language also improves your native tongue. How you ask, by simply reinforcing grammar. When learning a foreign language you break down sentence structure and build it up again, you experiment with the language to see how it works. And when in doubt, you fall back on your native tongue as a resource, thus you explore your own language too. In the end, you improve in both languages. Lack of time One of the biggest excuses to not learn a foreign language is the lack of time. As with the story above about my students, you make time. Do you watch tv for three hours a night? Do you sit down and have a cup of coffee? Then you have enough time to learn a foreign language. In as little as 15 minutes a day you can learn a foreign language. While driving to work pop in a lesson and listen and practice in the comfort of your car. While drinking your coffee play a language game on your iPhone. Spend 15 minutes at home reviewing flashcards. You can place post-it notes wherever you will see it in the house. There are so many things you can do. The objective in language learning is not to sit in your room for hours studying it, but to be repeatedly exposed to it. Language learning can take up a little of your time or a lot, and the best thing is it can be done from anywhere! The truth is, if you say you don’t have time, you probably have time management issues or you simply don’t want to learn a foreign language.
We’ve all heard someone say I’m too old to learn a foreign language. This excuse implies the older you get the dumber you get and therefore, can’t learn a new skill. The old saying “you can’t teach old dogs new tricks” is a fallacy. Today many people every day of all ages are learning new skills. Learning a foreign language is just one more skill they could learn. Besides learning a foreign language is not a race, it is a skill that requires time, patience and perseverance.
I’m not talented with languages.
I’m not talented with languages. This excuse, I have to admit boils my blood. For me, language learning was not easy to say the least. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Growing up I remember my classmates completing their homework in minutes, while I struggled and struggled for hours. I just didn’t get it. Gender, plural and singular, and conjugating verbs was all confusing to me, but with time and practice, and more practice, I started to get it and now can speak Spanish fairly fluently. After all, a new skill is just lots of practice!
It takes too much time, money and effort to learn a foreign language. Any new skill requires time and effort and sometimes money. What matters is what you do with your time, effort, and money. Language learning can be expensive, or cheap or even free. There are a ton of free learning resources in just about every language online. You can work on your listening comprehension, reading and listening skills and even your speaking skills online for free! (For Spanish see my post on Resources). Language learning can be done in a classroom or on your own. If you do it on your own and want feedback the language community is here to help at sites such as talkingp2p.org and Livemocha.com. No matter what new skill you desire it will require effort. Language learning can be fun and challenging with little or a lot of effort, so give it a try!
Don’t need a foreign language to be successful.
True, you don’t need to know another language to be successful. There many people in the world today that are extremely successful and only know one language. However, the world is getting smaller and more competitive and those that know a second language are becoming a valuable commodity for businesses. Today more and more businesses are selecting the bilingual candidate over the monolingual candidate. Study a foreign language and give yourself that edge over the competition for that job or promotion.
Not travelling yourself does not exclude you from running into people from other countries. Two Christmas’ ago I worked at a department store to make extra money. It was there I met people from all over the world. In this middle class, predominately non-ethnic city I was using my Spanish to assist non-English speakers! Even though you may not leave the confines of your own country you may go to an ethnic restaurant or see a foreign film or go to a local museum that is hosting an event on a particular culture. Knowing a foreign language will only enhance the experience of these events.
People come to visit their Minnesotan relatives in the summer and living up to our “Minnesota Nice” reputation we bring our relatives and friends to our cabins. It is there we insist that they stand on two long boards while holding onto a rope, which is being pulled by a speed boat flying across the water. Water skiing is a favorite pastime here in Minnesota and we love to share it with anyone who is willing to try it. But, it is not easy and people fall, a lot, making this a favorite spectator event as well. The point here being whenever you learn a new skill, whether it is water skiing or learning a foreign language you are going to fumble, make mistakes, and even be laughed at. And guess what, that’s ok! Everyone fails the first time and sometimes the one hundredth time, but it is only when you keep practicing that you will be able to finally feel that breeze across your face as you skim across the water or hold a conversation with a native speaker.
Losing motivation is probably the single greatest cause of failure. When you lose the motivation to learn you put up a wall, stopping you in your tracks. Finding that motivation again is one of the most difficult things to do. Motivation is the means in which we attain our goal of language learning. Motivation is what gets you going, keeps you going and determines where you are trying to go. It is, therefore, important to determine the causes of lack of motivation and know how to handle it. Having negative feelings or prejudices toward a target language or the people who speak it or if the learner does not believe that there is something practical to be gained from learning a second language can cause a lack of motivation. The key to staying motivated is to have a clear, concise goal as to why you want to learn a second language. Another key is to keep language learning fun. Change up how you study, bring variety into your study routine. Variety brings entertainment, entertainment brings fun and fun brings learning.
What are some of the excuses you’ve made for yourself or heard from others in the past? Do you agree or disagree? Comment below!