Good advice?

Blog No. 2:          You Have All the Time in the World

A question for teachers and learners of English:

What good advice have you been given that has helped you learn or teach English or any other language?

My own response to this question:

When I was studying the viola as an MA student, I once turned up to a lesson feeling worried because I had a concert coming up and I felt very under-prepared. The anxiety and stress were causing me to make even more mistakes. The teacher stopped me and gave me this piece of advice: Whenever you are playing or practicing try to imagine you have all the time in the world. He could see I’d been practicing in a blind panic, rushing to get through everything, and that I needed slow down and refocus.

This viola teacher was a softly spoken Irish man and there was something so reassuring about the way he said the words “all the time in the world”, that it felt like this idea was the most obvious and simple thing to do. However, back in the practice room it took a great effort to overcome the sense of worry. With some difficulty I found a way to stop my mind constantly fixating on the concert and what might go wrong: I concentrated on the very important matter of making a good sound, which is very difficult to achieve if you’re physically tense. Just having that focus helped a great deal. In the end I seem to remember the performance went pretty well. The advice has stayed with me ever since and become relevant in other aspects of my life.

Learning a language, like learning a musical instrument, is a very lengthy process. Even those people who seem totally fluent or have complete mastery over their instrument will never feel they’ve achieved perfection and have no more to learn. I’ve lived in France for over five years and I’ve been studying and using French throughout that time (I also learnt French at school). Even after all this time I often feel frustrated that I’m not making progress and I get so annoyed with myself when I misunderstand what someone is saying or make silly mistakes. So when this happens I remind myself it’s about just keeping my focus and continuing to study regularly. Feeling stressed about what I can’t do or don’t know undermines my confidence which only makes things worse in any situation.

As a language learner these are some points where I feel this “all the time in the world” advice has helped me:

  • Focussing on what I need to work on in the moment while studying rather than worrying about the next thing coming up or how much I still need to learn
  • Being patient with myself and appreciating how far I’ve already come
  • Staying curious. Enjoying the process of learning and that there’s always more to learn and improve on

And as a teacher the above also applies as I’m always learning more about teaching! I would also add:

  • Giving students space to interact spontaneously and not feeling tied to a lesson plan when a discussion or conversation goes off on a tangent
  • When teaching students on a course with a limited number of hours, prioritising their pace of learning over the list of grammar/vocabulary topics which I think need to be covered.
  • Not feeling frustrated with myself or the students when they find an explanation or some new information hard to understand. Take a break, step back, find another approach…
  • Not feeling uneasy if there are silent pauses during lessons. It helps to give students space to think and it’s not always necessary to prompt their answers sometimes they just need a bit more time to gather their thoughts.

Finally, this isn’t my favourite Louis Armstrong song, but it seems appropriate…

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