Ask Yourself First
While there are many aspects which come into play during the teaching of an English language class, there are some which directly impact the value and success of any lesson both on the part of the English teacher and the language learner. In order to effectively promote those qualities which form an effective language learner, TEFL teachers first need to understand what those qualities are. To do this, language teachers should ask themselves, “Am I a good language learner?" So, let’s briefly examine what constitutes a good language learner.
According to studies by Rubin (1975) some identifiable qualities of a good language learner include the following:
- Is a willing and accurate guesser
- Has a strong drive to communicate
- Is uninhibited
- Attends to form
- Practices – seeks out conversations
- Monitors own speech (and the speech of others)
- Attends to meaning
Now that principal qualities of a good language learner have been identified, we can examine each of them in turn.
A review of Each in Turn
Willing and Accurate Guesser
When you come across a new word or phrase in speech, reading or while listening to a broadcast, for example, do you absorb the new lexis divining its meaning from context or scramble for the nearest dictionary? Do you frequently use a bi-lingual dictionary? A good language learner will first “guess" the meaning of the new lexis in context.
Strong Drive to Communicate
Do you have a “strong drive" to communicate? What’s a “strong drive"? Well, let’s try an example. You’re in a situation where you can’t speak the lingua franca – say you’re vacationing in China and can’t speak Chinese. What do you do if you have diarrhea and need the bathroom urgently? Do you foul yourself because you can’t ask properly? Or do you somehow “make yourself understood" to whoever is around? That is a “strong drive" to communicate (although an extreme one).
Have you ever noticed children when they’re developing proficiency in their L1? Do they make mistakes? Yes, TONS of them. Do they get ashamed or embarrassed about them? Not hardly. They bounce over errors and just press on. We lose that quality as we “progress" to adulthood. A good language learner doesn’t allow errors to impede their language-learning progress. They will make errors but correct them, learn from them and move on.
Attentive to Form
Are you attentive to form in language learning? A good language learner is attentive to form. “Mommy me want cookie", is not grammatically correct, although understandable. A good language learner will progress beyond the basic form of the language to effect not only their meaning, but effect it in a correct – or acceptable form. “Mommy I want a cookie. " There, that’s better. “No honey, you can’t have a cookie now, we’re in English class. "
Author and language teacher Barry Farber said, “A good language learner picks conversations the way a sailor picks fights. " That is to say, a good language learner seeks out every possible opportunity to practice the target language. Anywhere and everywhere you go, you should be ready and willing to practice. On the phone, at the market, at the bust stop, while strolling, at the mall, or in line at the bank, are all only a few of the places you can listen to and speak English. If I had a buck for every time someone asked me, “What time is it?" while I was abroad, I might be writing this from my yacht.
Monitors Own Speech
Do you pay attention to what you say when speaking English? The most effective form of error correction isn’t from a teacher, a spouse, co-worker or peer, it’s self-correction. You will reinforce your own learning to a far greater degree than anyone or anything else. Good language learners monitor their own speech. “Honey, give please me a water glass" – Excuse me, I mean “Honey, please give me a glass of water. "
Attends to Meaning
The use of colloquial idioms and expressions gives problems to even native speakers of English. What makes you think you should be any different? If you don’t know or don’t understand how to say an expression correctly – ask. If its meaning and context are unclear, then by all means, do whatever you have to in order to clarify the usage. Don’t embarrass yourself or the person you’re speaking to by using an expression incorrectly. There are even situations where this could even prove to be potentially dangerous. A good language learner attends to meaning.
Now that you as a TEFL teacher understand what those qualities are, you can effectively promote those which form an effective language learner both in yourself and in your English language learners. So, are you a good language learner?
Prof. Larry M. Lynch is an ELT Teacher Trainer, English language learning expert author and university professor in Cali, Colombia. He has published more than 350 articles and academic papers and presented at numerous EFL teacher training and TEFL conferences throughout North America, South America and Europe. For comments, questions, requests, to receive more information or to be added to his free TESOL articles and teaching materials mailing list, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org