The decision to learn a second language is no easy undertaking. It is in our human nature to want to rely on what is most comfortable to us as we embark on a task that seems daunting. However, studies show that humans learn new skills much faster when we remove all the comforts of the familiar.
While it may sound counterintuitive to have a teacher who is not able to communicate with a student in both their native and target languages, when it comes to language learning, it is recommended that 95%+ of the process of learning a new language be conducted in the target language. In other words, if you’re a student and you are having difficulty finding the correct words to communicate in the target language, you’re likely to rely on your native language to ask questions or circumvent those words altogether. In contrast, if the teacher doesn’t understand the learner’s first language, the learner will be unable to circumvent words in the target language and have no other choice but to find a way to communicate. As it turns out, this potentially uncomfortable and frustrating method of learning affords students a more effective way to gain knowledge and begin mastering a new language faster.
On a recent episode of LTI’s “Language Is Your Superpower” podcast, special guest Casie Arellano, explained how this method of language learning serves the English language learners she works with every day at Brevard Adult and Community Education in Brevard County, FL. Casie has been working in education since 2009 and began working with Adult Education programs in August 2017. She currently oversees all English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs with Brevard Adult and Community Education in Brevard County, Florida, where for the past few years she has been working on building outreach centers to help adult learners develop pathways to achieving their dreams using language as a stepping-stone. Their ESOL program is one of the most successful programs they run, assisting adult students who are integrating into life and culture of the United States. Courses cover improving language skills, learning about U.S. culture, and preparing to become a U.S. citizen.
Casie explained that the teachers she works with “found that it holds students back a little bit knowing that their teacher can communicate to them in their own language. So, forcing them to speak English and not letting them lean on that crutch, […] will push the students further.” She mentions that she has “a handful of teachers who speak Spanish. But, for the most part, they are all English speakers.”
Going beyond the classroom, Casie elaborates on how the workplace can provide this same kind of intensive education out of the necessity to meet the responsibilities and demands of a job. “Our classes that we offer at Career Source [Brevard], [students] work one-on-one with a career counselor and their career counselor helps them gain employment. And a lot of the times, we lose students even before they finish our program because they got a job. But the great thing is, a lot of the jobs are in sales, so they must use the English language in sales, which forces them to learn it a little bit faster. [They may] not use it necessarily correctly, but then they can come back to us in our evening classes, or our morning classes and they can fine-tune all of those English skills.”
Removing the training wheels from language learning can sound intimidating to students. However, just like learning how to ride a bicycle, it’s necessary to command the skill quickly. The decision to take the training wheels off will provide language students the opportunity to be courageous as they figure out how to correctly “balance” themselves while learning how to “ride” their target language without falling.
Making the brave decision to take off the training wheels from the language journey of adult ESOL students – even if it means them wobbling or falling a few times before getting the hang of it – is the day they will accelerate their mastery of a second language!