My Favourite Analogy
I love the gardening analogy, and I think it works really well with anything related to language learning.
Take the wild flower, for instance. It will grow almost on its own, independently. It will feed on natural resources and will grow to express a combination of what its environment has given and it has been able to develop. It won’t be easy. Some winters are hard to survive and natural habitats are often destructed due to human action, or climate change. But despite the threats, and provided there is no disaster ahead, a flower will bloom at the time of year it is supposed to, and will take part in the cycle of nature.
Now, a home-grown plant is a very different story. There are many kinds of indoor plants and flowers, and some can manage fine on their own, but only to some extent. Fresh flowers, for instance, are very delicate and the better you care, the longer you will enjoy them. It won’t grow to its full potential unless you are actively involved: look for the right place in the house, make sure you have the right tools. You’ll have to cut its stems from time to time, some plants will have to be trimmed and shaped.
You might find this rather simplistic, but I obviously don’t intend to explain language learning with flowers. Instead, just point out the many aspects of it that remind me of all the care and time that learning a language involves. In fact it is another recurrent metaphor I use in my classroom whenever we talk about the myths of language learning and try to raise some awareness on how important it is to establish a routine when one’s language learning environment resembles the indoor flower’s: you are practising a minority language with very little exposure -theoretically. So, being an active learner and providing all the elements for successful skill development will be key.
I thought of creating a checklist to help students determine how close they were to having active language learning habits, which will have a very similar effect as watering and keeping close observation.
1. Do you find some time every day to do something in your target language? Read an article, listen to a podcast, watch a video or revise some vocabulary and try to make up new sentences with them. Check how these words are pronounced and say them aloud.
2. Have you already found something enjoyable to do in English? Think of something that could eventually become a hobby -if it isn’t already. You like football? Go ahead and find some ESL lessons online about football. Finding enjoyment with English will make it easier for you to become more motivated.
3. Do you watch media in its original language? This article Why Scandinavians speak exceptional English points out the possible reasons of success with the English language
4. Do you attend English speaking lessons or, at least try to find the chance to interact?
5. Have you established a language learning routine?
6. Do you try to explore new ways of learning?
7. Do you change the resources and materials in order to adapt to the different levels of language learning?
The good news is that, unlike flowers, if you go on watering and observing your foreign language development,
it will not wither and die. Instead, it will stay with you forever.
The street mural of the girl watering the tree is in Bialystok, Poland. The artist is Natalia Rak