Diana Beaver wrote a fascinating book called ‘NLP for Lazy Learning’. In it, she writes a short entry on learning languages, and even provides some tips, in connection with the NLP system. We look at how this can be to English learning.
NLP, or Neuro-Linguistic Programming, is defined as “a model of interpersonal communication chiefly concerned with the relationship between successful patterns of behaviour and the subjective experiences (esp. patterns of thought) underlying them” and “a system of alternative therapy based on this which seeks to educate people in self-awareness and effective communication, and to change their patterns of mental and emotional behaviour.”
Beaver asks, ‘How did we manage to learn our native language?’, which is a good question. Some of her suggestions are as follows:
- We were born with a need to communicate in order to survive.
- Our attention was on the communication and not the language itself.
- We modelled other members of our family.
- We used trial and error until we were understood.
- All verbal communication was greeted with pride, joy and encouragement.
- We were learning in a safe environment.
- We were not constantly corrected.
- We have an inborn understanding of how language works.
- We did not have to learn regular verbs before being allowed to talk.
- We were allowed to learn in our way.
These suggestions are all rather plausible, so let’s consider how some of them could be used by English learners and the role teachers, English classroom peers, and anyone else on your English language learning adventure can assist you.
Unless you are studying towards passing an English exam, remember that at the end of the day, language is just a tool for communication. Use every chance you have to communicate in English. You cannot learn to ‘speak’ English, if you are not using the language and are only studying grammar at home alone. This does play a role to some degree, but perhaps not nearly as much as you might think.
Try modelling English native speakers. Why not pretend you are an English native speaker when you are ordering your food at a restaurant or buying your next coffee. If that feels strange, why not pretend you are your teacher and try impersonating them. This might feel odd, but it may give you a whole new confidence if you pretend you are someone else. Mimicry is a good tool for perfecting pronunciation!
As babies/toddlers/children, we just made sounds and eventually they started to sound like the words we were trying to produce. There was a lot of trial and error, and I have not heard of a single child in the world that opened its mouth for the first time and produced perfect language. Remember that learning is a process and you will get better and better with time. Keep practicing, keep speaking and keep trying to produce the language you want. You will get there!
Teachers, classroom peers, host families, etc. should encourage you with praise when you get things right and you should do the same for your fellow English language learners. Support each other, and remember that everyone learns things at their own pace, so don’t get discouraged if someone has a better grasp or understanding of something before you do.
As a child we had our families to learn to speak with and this created a safe environment. We used every opportunity to produce language with these people. The language classroom and an English speaking destination are your ‘safe environment’ for learning English. Use this space to make the most of your English language learning experience and adventure.
Let’s be honest, being constantly corrected can get very tiring and very discouraging. Correction has its place at certain times in the classroom, and maybe even when speaking naturally, but it’s not nice to be constantly corrected and actually serves very little purpose to anyone really trying to learn. Don’t let people do it to you, and don’t do it to others. It’s not very important when just speaking and being natural with the language.
Think about the first words we learned as babies. They were probably simply words like ‘mother’ – mama, ma, and ‘father’ – dada, papa, or other family members’ names. Then more words started coming until they started to couple with other words: “go car”, “eat banana”. Tenses, regular vs. irregular verbs, etc. did not matter. They came naturally with time and hearing others produce this language. This is the same for more complex grammatical structures. We take one step at a time and language learning is like building a house. Once the foundations are there, we can start to build the next level and add some more complex structures as we go along.
At the end of the day, remember that you have to learn to walk before you can run. But even walking took some serious practice and some big falls before it became natural. You will get there. Practice makes perfect, and schools like the UCT English Language Centre are here to guide you on your English language learning journey!