Learning to speak a second language is all too often seen as a difficult option leading to discouragement which is often never completely overcome. Indeed, it can become so much of a self-fulfilling prophesy that many students don’t even get past first base.
How difficult can it be?
Yet it clearly can’t be all that difficult, can it? After all, almost all of us learn to speak a language fluently before we even get as far as formal education. Those of us lucky enough to have grown up in bilingual households generally learn to speak two or more languages side-by-side. So what’s the problem?
A recent survey in the UK found that take-up of a second language among secondary school students had fallen by 40% since 2001. The main reasons cited for not opting to study a second language was that perception of difficulty – particularly in terms of the grammar and vocabulary. Paradoxically, though, most students recognised the benefits of learning a second language. If we’re going to be successful in persuading students that the gains are worth the effort, we need to find a way to overcome the preconception of insurmountable difficulty in tackling the learning process.
Tackling the preconceptions
This is where organisations like Daily English can make such a difference. As this article in the UK’s Guardian Newspaper suggests in its ten tips for learning a second language, “if you are serious about learning the language and getting direct pleasure from what you have learned, you need to go to where that language is spoken”. It’s that philosophy, employed by Daily English in teaching English in France within a host family environment – a scenario which closely reflects the way in which most of us learned to speak a language in the first place – which pays huge dividends in helping to teach English as a second language.
After all, when learning any new skill, one of the key tools is repetition. By immersing themselves in an environment, and in this case the culture, where using the skill as it is learned is the norm, the student is able to reinforce the skill to the point that its use becomes second nature. The language skill, just as when we learned our first language, is in constant use and gradually, the use of the language becomes so unconscious that the student doesn’t need to think about structure, grammar or vocabulary – expressing oneself in a different language simply becomes part of everyday life with your host family.
It’s not only the students who benefit from this approach. There are considerable benefits to being a host family and passing on your own language skills. Seeing the student growing in confidence during the homestay process is hugely rewarding in itself – almost to the point where the excellent remuneration offered is a secondary consideration.
It’s clearly important that host families have the language and educational skills to ensure that students get the most out of the experience. It’s also important that the host family household has young people around the same age as the students as well as the spare space to make the homestay a comfortable and welcoming experience.
All told, then, a win-win situation which helps to tackle the preconceptions about the difficulty of learning a second language, delivers excellent results and, perhaps most importantly, makes learning a truly enjoyable experience for student and teachers alike.
About the author:
April Wiener, her Austrian-born husband and three children live in Southern France. English, German and French are all spoken on a daily basis and Italian and Spanish are also occasionally heard – a truly European household! As second language teachers and mentors for some years, the Wiener family wouldn’t have it any other way.
Host family, homestay, host family in Paris, English as a second language, teaching English in France, English speaking jobs in France, Idiomatic English, Language teaching, learning English in France.