Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
It’s fair to say that my Malay, along with this blog, has taken a back seat over the last eight weeks. If I were being brutally honest I’d have to stretch the car analogy further: my efforts have been bound, gagged and locked in the boot. I’ve now passed the six-month milestone and I’m barely out of the traps. Not what I was hoping for when I arrived in October.
This is what happens when people are busy, of course. Things get prioritised, and the sad fact is that learning Malay is currently not as high on my list of priorities as eating, sleeping, working or watching Game of Thrones. Nor am I alone; Sandy Millin admits to being a nightmare student, Ann Loseva has only just dragged herself out of a 2-month slump, and even study queen Lizzie Pinard admits she could be doing better. Surely this is why some language learners fail – life gets in the way, despite good intentions and genuine interest.
Learning strategies are one way of attempting to overcome that problem. ‘Learning strategy’ is one of those vague terms in which ELT seems to specialise, and encompasses anything that you consciously do to boost your learning (you can see a list of examples here). Unsurprisingly, then, these strategies generally prove to be beneficial. According to a recent study, “higher level students report more frequent use of a larger number of language learning strategies than do lower level students” (Griffiths, 2008, p. 89), but as ever, correlation is not causation.
‘Self regulation’ has now overtaken learning strategies as the wishy-washy concept of choice in this area, defined by Dörnyei and Skehan as “the degree to which individuals are active participants in their own learning” (2003, p. 610). It’s a slightly more useful idea because it takes account of the fact that at some point or other, learners like me need to stop faffing about and get on with it. After all, it’s no use having a long list of strategies if you never put them into action.
When a spare moment presents itself, however, there just isn’t the willpower to open the notebook and ‘go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy’. You need a kick up the behind to make it happen. Since I’m not very good at self-regulation, I need some help from other people, and that’s where my fellow bad language learners come in!
The #langmt is a group of devoted teachers who are decidedly undevoted language learners, but the aim is to change that. Dörnyei notes that students in a cohesive learner group “pull each other along” (2001, p. 43), and that is precisely the idea because unfortunately, we’re having trouble pulling ourselves along. Below is our first challenge: #langmt-ers will have to post an audio or video response, and I suppose we’ll keep tabs on anyone that’s not chipping in.
This kind of group response to individual study problems was touched upon recently by Lizzie, and there’s an interesting debate to be had about how future students of English might ‘pull each other along’ in an online learning environment. Ours is an ad hoc group, but in my view, where more formal groups of learners gather online the onus is very much on the teacher/tutor/facilitator to build the same kind of group dynamic you would expect in a real-world classroom.
That, however, is a discussion for another time. I have a challenge to win!
Dörnyei, Z. (2001). Motivational strategies in the language classroom. Cambridge, CUP.
Dörnyei, Z. & Skehan, P. (2003). Individual differences in second language learning. In C. J. Doughty & M. H. Long (Eds.), The handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 589-630). Oxford: Blackwell.
Griffiths, C. (2008). Strategies and good language learners. In C. Griffiths (Ed), Lessons from good language learners (pp. 83-98). Cambridge: CUP.