If you are like most language learners, your journey starts in a classroom. Whether you are a Spanish novice or picking it up again after an extended break, a classroom is the place where you will meet your greatest adversary, but also the best partner you’ll ever have: yourself. Here’s how to take advantage of those classroom hours as you make your way to fluency.
Get ready for the challenge and roll with the punches
If you expect to step into a setting where you will not be questioned or challenged, language learning is not for you. A classroom is a place where you explore and fail a lot. Trial and error. Live and learn. You will be corrected, exposed, and you might even feel like you are criticized. If you are fortunate enough to have a great teacher, she will guide you and show you how to face your fears and challenges. Language learning is an act of patience and courage. If you can sustain the challenge, the rewards will be invaluable.
Turn off your phone
Your phone is not only a distraction, but also a waste of everyone’s time. I am not referring to having a cell phone ring in the middle of the session. I am referring to you feeling the urge to check your messages. When you decide to take a time-out for yourself and check your phone, you interrupt the flow your teacher is working so hard to build. When you decide to mentally step back into Spanish mode, you will have questions, and chances are your teacher already covered them. If you want to learn, genuinely learn, you’ll have to turn it off. Your messages and social media accounts can wait. If you need to look up a word, I’ll be your dictionary.
Do NOT look at the time
In traditional Japanese ceremonies one is required to leave watches outside. The idea is that there should be no distractions during your time in the ceremony. I feel the same way about language learning. Time is only a distraction, and it is your teacher’s job to keep track of that. Spanish should be about being immersed in the lesson. You cannot focus and truly learn if you are concerned about the time. Also, if every time something requires effort you turn to your watch, you will be looking at your watch way too often. And guess what? Your teacher will notice.
Your teacher will be a great reference to everything related to language learning. But remember once she leaves the classroom she must take care of other students and responsibilities. Do not write to your teacher every time you don’t understand a word (use a dictionary), or to let her know your dog ate the homework (you should train him). Reach out to her only when she can add real value to your request. Do you call or write to your shrink every time you start to feel sad? No, you wait till your next session. Please keep the questions for in-class contact hours. Teachers have families and sometimes other jobs too. And yes, most of us have a social life as well :).
Remember when you were a kid and let it go
Sometimes I want to sing Frozen’s “Let It Go” to my students. Let go of the urge to have all your minor questions answered. The need to remember every word. The fear of making mistakes. The impulse to write every word. The desire to understand, control, and grasp everything. Just roll with it. Can’t you laugh at yourself? Be a kid. Have some fun. The journey will be a lot more enjoyable.
You are not better or worse than the student next to you. You are not the best student in the class. You are not the worst. You are simply a student and a learner. Come to learn. Come prepared. You have your own journey. Your classmate has his. Respect yourself and your journey. That’s all a teacher asks for.
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas
Right? A great teacher focuses on building a safe space where everyone can learn. Students lower their inhibitions and this leads to expressing ideas (including political ideology), beliefs and sentiments. Your classmates will spill out secrets. Your teacher might as well (I know I do all the time!). Do your best to be discreet and keep it to yourself. Please.