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Can you repeat the question, please?

Updated: Jan 25

Here’s a classic pattern in my virtual classroom:

I ask my student a question, using language they’ve recently learned

My student’s eyes dart to the side. He/she is thinking, and worrying, about the answer, as opposed to listening to the question, which is feeding them at least half of the words they need to produce the answer.

For example: 

‘’Est-ce que tu as passé un bon week-end ?’’ (Have you had a good weekend?)

‘’Oui, j’ai passé un bon week-end, merci, et toi ?’’ (Yes, I had a good weekend, thanks, and you?)

In my question, students find the verb they need to use, how to use it, and only need to conjugate it at a different person, going from ‘you’ (‘tu’) to ‘I’ (‘je’), in order to formulate an answer.

You’d be surprised how rarely my students think of paying attention to the way the question is asked, instead of worrying about the answer. That is, until I point out to them that two of the key skills they need when learning a language, are awareness and the ability to recycle what you hear!

When I did so in a lesson last week, my student said the reason it’s hard to concentrate on what the person is saying, is because you need to be in the moment to do so. She’s absolutely right and not only gave me food for thought, but the theme of today’s post. Being in the moment feels scary, because you feel exposed and the pressure is on to deliver the ‘’perfect sentence’’.

Many students choose to rush the process, to get the sentence out of the way and, ironically, to say the least, end up making mistakes they wouldn’t have made, had they taken their time.

And what I still struggle to understand, is that every single one of my students thinks that restarting a sentence from scratch is failure. I believe it’s because they don’t notice when they do so in their own mother tongue and because school taught us that language learning is about perfection, not communication.

It’s not possible not to fumble our sentences from time to time. And it makes complete sense to me that rephrasing a sentence while learning a new language is an inevitable step, a desirable one even, because you’re in the process of figuring out exactly what to say in a different language!

That speaking feels scary is understandable. You don’t know if you’re saying the right thing and you’re worried about what to say next, as the conversation unfolds but the perfect sentence does not exist. Only communication matters. As for making mistakes, it’s an integral part of the process. There’s no way we can avoid them. As I always tell my students, the only thing that happens when you make a mistake, is you learn!

Don't hesitate to send me your questions.



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