Recently, I was listening to the My Polyglot podcast when I couldn’t help but be incredibly impressed and inspired by the story of Sydney Sauer. Sydney is a teenage language enthusiast who runs the blog Not Quite Fluent where she shares tips, tricks, and stories about her language learning experience. Her dream job is using her languages to work towards better global communication and to get closer to world peace.
As I listened to Sydney, I was transported back to my youth as a 14 year old in my Spanish class of nine (half of which were either climbing out of the windows or enjoying a coke and a pasta pot).
Sydney’s motivation towards her languages inspired me and so I was delighted when she agreed to write a guest post about her thoughts on problems with high school Spanish for the blog. Enjoy!
High school Spanish. I’m a language geek but those three words still make me groan every day.
Even though I basically study languages for fun, I have a hard time getting into Spanish class. I tend to slack off on my homework, not study for tests, and go by what feels right rather than memorising rules. And even though I talk to the waiters at my favourite restaurant in Spanish, I don’t speak unless spoken to in class. Sound like you at all?
School, be it second grade, high school, or post grad work, is such a demotivating environment even when you love a certain subject. In my case, it’s never been the teachers’ faults; I’ve had awesome teachers who support me, stretch me, and help me work ahead. But there’s something in the system that is really uninspiring. And having only barely touched my first year of high school, I know I will have to deal with it for at least the next four years of my life. Phew.
In light of that, I’ve come up with some of the most demotivating things in school, and how to keep up your motivation despite them. Although the problems are classroom-specific, the solutions are totally applicable to adult problems, too. Are you bummed from lack of immersion? Second guessing your abilities? Out of time? Then read on, because this is for you too.
PROBLEM #1: THE PACE IS TOO SLOW
Talk to your teachers.
Like I said, I’ve had awesome teachers who are willing to help me out. If you aren’t feeling challenged in your class, tell them! Chances are, they would be thrilled to give you some material to help you work ahead, maybe even during class.
Although you may eventually catch up and the issue will come back, it’s a really good motivator. I went right from Spanish I to Spanish III, which motivated me to learn hundreds of new words this summer and a couple new grammar points in order to cover the missed material. Now I’m trying to skip another year, which means I am motivated to learn even more.
Find your own time.
If you learn a month’s worth of class material in a week, you’re wasting a lot of time. When class doesn’t require effort make sure you keep actively learning on your own. You don’t want one slow class to take away your drive.
PROBLEM #2: GRAMMAR IS SO BORING
Focus on listening.
By listening to Spanish music and podcasts, I’ve begun to pick up on what’s grammatically correct without having to study it. For example, my favorite song in Spanish uses a lot of the preterit tense, and that’s where I first heard it used. When it came time to learn it in class, I had already subconsciously figured out the endings just from listening to the song. This may sound hard, but you don’t even know you’re doing it!
Practice the exceptions.
It’s a total waste of time to practice regular verbs over and over. If you learn the rules, you’re good on those! Minimise the time you spend on grammar by working mainly on exceptions and knowing the rules of the regulars. That way you will have a lot more time free to learn more fun and motivating aspects of the language, like culture.
Learn in context.
A lot of the time grammar can be boring because it seems exacting and pointless. When you learn how adjectives work or how to conjugate verbs, don’t just memorise it straight form the notes. Put the info into sentences that you will actually use in conversation, and you will feel like you are actually getting something out of all the study.
PROBLEM #3: NO ONE ELSE UNDERSTANDS
I don’t mean this in a teenager, parents-just-don’t-understand way. I mean that when you speak in class, you physically aren’t understood by the people around you because they don’t know the vocab or grammar. I know in my scholastic career I’ve gotten lots of eye rolls and pleas to speak English.
Make a friend.
There is bound to be one other person in your class who actually cares about it. When you do partner activities, try to always be grouped with that person so you know they will always participate. If your class is particularly apathetic, make up for your lost speaking practice by always talking to your teacher in the language, even when you see her outside of class. Using the language in real life is ALWAYS motivating!
Answer their questions.
People ask me questions a lot… a LOT. Even as the youngest in my class I’m often treated as a human dictionary. 😉 Although it’s frustrating, answer the questions and give them translations. Not only will it help them out, but it will also motivate you keep learning so you always have an answer.
Don’t give in.
It’s tempting just to glide back into English and take the easy way out. After all, everyone else does and they aren’t punished! But that’s a surefire way to lose your motivation. Like I said earlier, your teacher will always be able to understand you, so your efforts won’t be in vain.
PROBLEM #4: HOMEWORK
This one is really rough for me as well. When you pick up a concept quickly and then have to do pounds of homework every night, it feels like a total waste of time. And time’s something that no one has a lot of!
Just do it.
If you’re in high school, things like your GPA are pretty important, and having a class that you are good at can help boost it. In college, too, getting good grades can help you find a job in the real world. Skipping homework will only negatively impact your grade in an area where you should do really well.
Read it out loud.
If you have pages of grammar to do, read it out loud while you work. You might be fine with the concepts, but it is always a good idea to practice your pronunciation. This will make your homework be more worthwhile. After all, you have to say a word 26 times to really know it!
Listen while you work.
Since you already are setting the time aside for your language, put on some music or a podcast while you work. This will make it harder to do the work since you will be multitasking, and you’ll be getting double the worth out of the time.
No matter how you are losing motivation, there is a panacea! It is real life practice. To avoid falling into the trap of “French is useless” or “grammar is stupid” that your peers are stuck in, you have to find reasons to love your language.
Go out into the real world and make some friends! No matter what everyone around you says, there is ALWAYS a good reason to learn a language. Keep up your motivation, and you’ll be surprised at how far you can go.
Wow, Sydney. I think we can all agree, this girl’s going to go far. You can read more about Sydney’s language learning journey on her blog right here. Be sure to also check out the My Polyglot podcast, which is where I first heard Sydney’s story.
If you’re new to Spanish, I’ve made a 1-page Getting to Grips with Spanish guide just for you. It builds a foundation in the language in a fun way. Click the image below to get in in your inbox in minutes. Yay!
Did you struggle to keep a language passion alive in a school environment? Do you now? How do you keep your interest high? Share in the comments!