The first stages of learning a new language are often exciting and challenging for students. Initially, the feeling of achievement when comprehensively understanding the first conversation or the novelty of being able to read a paragraph and understand the meaning keeps learners engaged. However, over time, it may feel like their skills have reached a stall period – commonly referred to as a “plateau”. This can be extremely frustrating, especially when students still find themselves sometimes struggling to understand certain native speakers or media. This may make them feel – despite putting in the hours to learn the language – they are back at square one.
However, hope is not lost. In my experience as a coach, many second language learners go through this phase at some time or another. With some one-on-one coaching, there are practical ways to help learners re-engage with their language and communication learning.
Find an interest, and work from there
Many people around the world take a second language in school, but find themselves unmotivated and unable to remember much from their hours spent in the classroom. A possible reason? The material is boring or unrelated to their workplace communication needs. Find an area the learner is interested in and use it to situate their learning. Whether history, nature, fashion or travel, or something more obscure, you are bound to find several resources online.
Coaches can also use several types of resources, depending on their learner’s preferences. Do they like YouTube videos? Reading articles/magazines? Music? Games? A coach can use these materials to isolate unfamiliar phrases, and work on integrating them into daily situations. This aspect of 1-on-1 coaching is critical, as students often learn vocabulary that, while technically correct, is not a “natural” phrase a native speaker would use. This is another huge advantage to one-on-one coaching. Compared to a textbook, learners discover which language is natural or too formal in real life from native speakers.
Set a realistic, achievable goal
Once the coach and learner have gathered materials in a specific area of interest, set a realistic goal together. For example, “watch an episode on Netflix without having to look up any words” or “speak to a colleague in their target language for 10 minutes on an unfamiliar subject”. Whatever it is, ensure it’s achievable and relevant. Overly-ambitious goals may be too daunting, and keep students from trying at all. Set a timeline for this goal, so you can ensure the learner is working with the necessary information, skills, and concepts to be able to reach that goal.
The translation method
As a coach, I have noticed many students expressing a desire to better describe situations and their feelings. They express frustration at falling back on the same tired vocabulary to describe things. A method I have found especially useful to combat this, while exposing learners to new vocabulary is to: choose an English article, translate it into the learner’s language using Google translate or a similar app, and then explain to their coach, sentence-by-sentence, what the text says. After this, ask the learner to read the article again in the original English text, to draw comparisons between their translations and the English text. This method works well to introduce and practice new phases and descriptive words.
With Lingo Live, coaches provide a learning process that is not only interesting and engaging, but also situated in real life contexts. Learners can see their language skills evolve where it matters most to them.
– Dylan Leonard, Lingo Live Coach
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