Updated: Sep 20
The answer is a combination of ego and lack of confidence.
Ego, because learners are not always prepared to simplify the way they speak, to begin with, and want the impossible, i.e., to converse in the language they’ve started learning, the way they would in their mother tongue they’ve been speaking their whole life.
And a lack of confidence, because having tried to square the particular circle I’ve just described, they decide very early on – and usually without consulting a language teacher – that they can’t speak and will anyway sound ridiculous, the minute they open their mouth.
Language teaching is not just about explaining grammar to my students, it’s mostly about finding creative ways to encourage them to relax and put their ego and lack of confidence aside, in order to embrace their learning process.
Humour, and sharing my own experience as a learner, help them achieve just that. As I tell my students, teaching languages is 95% psychology, 5% grammar. This makes each and every one of them smile and, while I might be exaggerating a bit, to make my point memorable, I’m not exaggerating that much!
This is also what makes language teaching so engaging. Every new student comes to me with goals, aspirations, and their own experience of learning a language which has shaped their confidence, or lack thereof. Every new student has their own personality and tastes. And every new student feels exposed when speaking a new language.
What they don’t see, which I keep repeating, is that native speakers are not examiners and appreciate the fact that they’re making the effort to learn their mother tongue. And if my students do end up making a mistake, the only thing that will happen, is that they will learn something new – usually with the help of native speakers! – and will never forget it.
As with everything worthwhile, language learning requires the ability to see obstacles for what they really are. And more often than not, what appears from a distance to be the Himalayas, only happens to be a very small hill indeed.