Monday, 31 January 2011

8 out of 10 BE students prefer it

The other day, a student of mine was discussing a few idioms with me.

He's an upper intermediate student, and I was advising him that he didn't need to master idioms just yet.

I suggested that native speakers tended to use idioms a fair bit, but the majority of English speakers, non-natives speakers, did not use them very frequently at all.

My student digested this information for a few seconds.

Then he promptly asked me to rehearse with him the kind of sentences in which you would normally hear these idioms.

At first, I was a little taken aback by this.

He had all but flat out ignored my advice, and determined to set out in the opposite direction from the one I had encouraged him to follow.

But then it occurred to me: my student is a businessman.

He already has all the money he'll ever need.

He could be sitting with his feet up on a Caribbean island somewhere if he wished.

But he isn't, because he doesn't.

He's a businessman, and what drives him is the competition.

He wants to be better than the average non-native speaker of English.

He likes the challenge.

His zone of proximal development is twice the width of a normal student's because his determination to succeed is twice as great as a normal student's.

He only starts to get interested when it becomes almost impossible.

I have thought since about other ways I can introduce an element of competition into our 1-to-1 classroom.

Perhaps I could tell him articles are rated as the most difficult aspect of grammar by advanced learners.

Or  7 out of 10 proficiency students struggle with phrasals.

Or maybe I could let slip that not even native speakers can understand mixed conditionals.

(What harm can it do to tell him the truth occasionally too?)

What I have been reminded of by all this is that the motivation behind a student learning English, the reason they are there, may well not be what motivates them at all.

That is to say, the purpose of a student's studies should not be confused with what fires them up, merely by a trick of the language.

And while it is the work of half an hour with a good needs analysis to discover the former, it can take many, many classes to find out the latter, equally important facet of our student's make up.

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