Let's Learn a New Language and Take Flight!

29 May, 2018

When we face a new language, there is as much fear as excitement. The fear of not being able to understand new ways of communicating, the fear of not having good pronunciation, the fear of not being able to communicate. But all these fears can be counteracted with the hope that the person in front of you has a new world to discover, a world where there is really no end, no limits to reach, nothing to slow down the journey. A world which will bring to light new cultures and new ways of thinking, new ways of understanding what surrounds us.

But let's talk about fear. If we pay attention to fear, as it is, it is a state of natural alarm, a physical and mental state which is awaken in order for nothing to catch us off guard. To stay alert, to be prepared, to be able to face any setback and to survive. Therefore, all these fears are a sign of awareness that something new is about to come, something unknown which we will have to deal with. But if the decision has already been taken, if the objective to learn a new language is already a reality, these fears can be our allies, as they keep us alert. It is like people who go paragliding for the first time; their hearts start beating fast, their bodies start to sweat, their speech falters… but when the moment comes to lift off into the air, they feel the adrenaline running through their veins and feel freer than ever. So whoever learns a new language also has to know how to balance these fears and let themselves take off, discovering freedom which will allow them to use and manage this new language.

In letting themselves fly, an ELE teacher has a huge responsibility. They are the people who guide the flight in the open air. Giving freedom to the student, without holding back their curiosity, without interrupting their path through the ins and outs of the language. Therefore, to be able to direct their flight without standing in their way, one of the most important aspects that they should pay attention to is correcting mistakes.

So let's talk about mistakes. If we pay attention to a mistake, in its true sense, it is a response that does not correspond to the one expected. But when stumbling across something unexpectedly in May 2018, in Bilbao, it was not a space I found, but another answer. When learning new languages, this answer will give us lots of clues, whether we are teachers or students. The mistake, for example, could be proof of having taken in a general rule at such a level that we are able to apply it without thinking, like deducing that the first person singular of the present indicative of the verb 'caber' should be 'cabo', or that the preterite of the verb 'hacer' could be 'he hacido'; a mistake that is easily corrected but is at the same time proof that we are on the right track. Mistakes can also be used as a way of knowing what we need to reinforce, or they can help us learn new vocabulary, because if I delve deep into a word, I always find a million more words. And a language, whatever language, is a network of connections and variations which are not only grammatical or linguistic, but also cultural, which can offer us many possibilities, multiple truths and a myriad of interconnections which will take us to unexpected discoveries that we arrive to by following the rule or by making mistakes.

It is therefore a task for both student and teacher to know how to balance fears and clear the mind in order to allow things to take shape. And everything that takes shape then transforms into something. It is also both their responsibility to welcome mistakes as a sign of progress, and a sign of constructing a new network of connections. Because without a path, there are no setbacks. And without desire, there is no disappointment.

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