Feb 18 2012


Brad’s Blog Challenge – How and Why You Learned a Foreign Language

Brad presented us with another challenge (he seems to have a knack for that!): blog a story related to learning a foreign language.

Photo by Gil Epshtein

Last January, when my blog was only a month old, I posted about how I ended feeling a lot like a deaf person when I was sudying Spanish.

Since that was such a long time ago and the blog was still “taking its baby steps”, I’m posting this tale again.

Here it is:

TAKING A WALK IN THE LEARNERS’ SHOES

On the blog Box Of Chocolates, which I really enjoy following, there’s an interesting guest post discussing whether or not the experience of learning a foreign language can help you understand your students better, called

Taking a Walk in the Learners’ Shoes

I had an interesting experience related to this. About 7 years ago when I was on a partial sabbatical, I took a beginner’s course in Spanish. My motivation was part historical (classic Eastern Jewish story, my maternal grandmother’s family scattered from Poland to Israel, USA and Argentina) and part practical (Spanish is supposed to  be an easy language to learn).

I wasn’t thinking of sharing my students’  experiences when I registered – after all, I’m not deaf and had not been expecting the course to enrich my experience as a teacher. Just hoped to learn some Spanish!

Well, I was wrong from the word “go”. I barely knew 3 or 4 words in Spanish when I started. My clasmates were shocked that I hadn’t known the Spanish word for heart! Hearing children in second grade know all sorts of words in English beore they start formal education. The deaf pupils literally start with nothing (some kids know the word LOVE but only in capital letters).

I had no exposure to Spanish outside the classroom. The only Spanish speaking friend I had at the time had recently moved away and I don’t watch the Spanish speaking Soap Operas.  Many (not all, never all) of my students are not exposed to English outside of the classroom, even though we live in a country where English is influential. They watch TV and movies with subtitles, use Facebook in Hebrew and don’t hear songs in English.

Just like my students I found it increasingly harder to remember the vocabulary. Each week required more effort on my part to review the words on my own. As I was also teaching, it was difficult sometimes to keep up when I had report cards and national exams to deal with.  Just like a sizeable number of my high-school students, who are often distracted by things going on at home.

I put in extra special effort and finished the course pretty well. But not easily at all. Seven years ago, after  not using Spanish at all, I remember very little… But I do remember how I felt when I studied.

I think learning a foreign language is a very important experience for any language teacher!

2 responses so far




2 Responses to “Brad’s Blog Challenge – How and Why You Learned a Foreign Language”

  1.   Brad Pattersonon 18 Feb 2012 at 12:36 pm     Reply1

    Interesting that you found similarities you wouldn’t have expected.

    I think there is a great lesson in humility when we learn a new language. We are “little ones” again, and even the little ones in that target language speak better than us. Making errors or not speaking fluidly really got to me at first when I started learning French in France. Over time, though, I learned to let go and let French happen. I always learned to laugh at myself.

    These are of course great lessons for a language teacher, just as they are for any human being! Merci for sharing your story, Naomi!

    Cheers, Brad

    •   Naomi Epsteinon 18 Feb 2012 at 3:19 pm     Reply2

      Brad!
      I think your interesting comment highlights the difference between learning a second language and a foreign one. I had no need to learn Spanish, not for work, studies or socializing. It just sounded like a fun thing to do. Without a “need” the info didn’t stick so well. Not the situation you found yourself in when you arrived in France!
      But it was certainly a lesson in humility and a reminder to feel more empathy towards my students.
      Now that I have a music player, I may download some Spanish lessons and fool around with that. We’ll see!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. How I learned Chinese (blog challenge part 2) | A journée in language.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply