Hannes Saarmets

Profesor de inglés

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THREE FACTORS THAT FUNDAMENTALLY IMPROVE LEARNING

A friend of mine told me how he was drinking together with a foreigner. Suddenly they started to understand each other perfectly, although they didn't know their language. Sounds familiar? It is possible that certain amount of alcohol facilitates communication in a foreign language because it lowers our inhibitions and thereby makes it easier to express ourselves freely.

This article is not about the benefits of alcohol, though. I just wanted to bring an
example of what can happen if our rational mind is weakened. As we all know, this can be
relaxing, as well as dangerously problematic.

On the other extreme, purely rational mind can also lead us in terribly wrong directions in many ways.This is very often happening in education and learning, where effective, but excessively strict structures diminish human communication.

So, I would like to propose three rather non-traditional principles that I consider fundamental in my work in education.

 
  1. HUMAN QUALITY IS AS IMPORTANT AS FORMAL QUALITY

 

In most traditional language institutes the work is attributed to maintaining teaching
quality. This quality has been achieved by standardization  a “perfect” teaching-and-testing system. I think it is is good and necessary, but unfortunately this system does not acknowledge the human aspects as much as it should.

I used to teach university students who had to remember vocabulary and properly
follow grammar models. There was an expectation that the more precisely the students followed the curriculum, the better they would learn. Most of them successfully passed my exams, but not all of them could communicate well in English.

 

It is time to acknowledge, that in language and communication, every person has a unique role to play. A typical academic learning system is not suitable for many learners: they need  different - more personalized -  conditions in order to benefit from the learning process.

 

  1. SPECIFIC PERSONAL MOTIVES FOR LEARNING

 

Besides the unique acting style, people have very different interests and motives for
learning. There is a big difference when someone wants to speak a foreign
language because the husband or wife is a foreigner, or when someone who is a
lawyer needs it to communicate with foreign colleagues.

My area of specialization is innovation and organization management. However, some of my most motivated clients have been those whose hobby is learning languages. On the other hand, my worst experiences have always been with the students who were only studying for a certificate, or with those who just knew that it is necessary nowadays to speak other languages.

 

It is essential for a learner to have a motive. No matter what it is, it must be clear, strong and very personal in order to succeed. That's why I only accept new learners if we have clarified their personal connection with the subject. In other words, we must first understand how and why they will use the language in real life. If they are willing to find it out, I am more than happy to help them with it!

 

  1. TEAMWORK ON ALL LEVELS

 

The best work results come from teamwork, but only motivated learners are ready to cooperate. They are connected with their personal aim - be it communicating with their foreign co-workers or finding new business partners abroad.

We, teachers, must also connect our work with practical areas of life, because one
person is never good for everything in the wide spectrum of teaching. For example, I can perfectly connect with professionals of business and technology. I would not teach legal English, though, because it is not my area of competence. However, I can always recommend my colleges who are very good at it, because I work in a good team.

This example illustrates that cooperation does not only take place between student and teacher, but also between colleges. For instance, we - the Oxinity team - are regularly gathering to share our ideas. We are creating our own materials and designing new learning tools, among other things.

 

We offer something that today's changing world most needs: new original solutions which work much better than traditional standardized systems. The most direct  beneficiaries of our work are the students.

 

As a conclusion, the basic factor for good learning is connection. It starts on the individual level, when learners connect their personal needs with the opportunities (for example expand their business and communicate with foreign partners). Language connects them with those opportunities. Teachers should help to integrate the language with the learner and the opportunities.

 

It is indispensable not to forget the human connection. We can compare it with tailor`s work. Imagine we want to have a nice jacket made. Tailor can only help us when we explain what kind of jacket we need and why (formal coat for office or casual wear for weekends). On the other hand, imagine that we are confused because we are not sure what style or color we want. Imagine if the tailor says: “This is what I can do, and you have to say what you want. Decide now, you are wasting my time!” The taylor can pefectly know how to make good jackets, but it does not automatically make us happy. First, he must help us describe what kind of jacket is best for us, and then implement the work accordingly.

We are truly happy with the taylor if we feel:

“This person understands us!”

 

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