On Monday, February 8th, we started the English program here in Marinilla, Colombia. About 70 people gathered in the local theater to hear my presentation of the program.
I started by telling the audience that after 4 years of high school French and 1 year of college French, I could speak very little French. Moreover, within a year I forgot everything that I had learned because I never used the language. As a result, I spent the next 30 years believing that I couldn’t learn a second language, although I always wished that I could … meanwhile, I continued to envy and admire people who could speak more than one language.
Then I told my audience of adults that everything changed when I started learning Spanish at the age of 48, and this caught their attention because almost everyone appeared to be younger than 48. I explained that since I learned a second language later in life, that they could too. Moreover, I told them that I have been teaching English for several years, and that I specialize in teaching English to adult native speakers of Spanish. Everyone seemed excited.
Then I explained the following 4 requirements for learning English as an adult:
- MAKE MISTAKES – You have to be willing to make mistakes. This is very important to the process, and you cannot learn how to speak English without making many mistakes.
- BELIEVE – You have to believe that you can speak English. But even more than believing that you “can” speak English, you have to believe that you already speak English. Tell everyone, “I speak English.” Visualize yourself speaking English … at some point you’ll stop translating everything in your head and start thinking in English.
- INVEST TIME – For the next 3 months, you have to spend 2-3 hours every day studying and practicing English. If you don’t have that much time, you have to make time … and to do that, you may have to sacrifice something else in your life (e.g. television, sleep, etc.).
- WORK – During your 2-3 hours of daily English studies, you have to work. If your mind is not tired after three hours of studies, you are not working.
The first two requirements were well received … the second two requirements, not so much. So I explained to them that I am not a magician that can magically teach them English, and I also told them that there is no magic pill for learning any language. If there were a magic pill, I would take it. As a result, if you want to learn a second language you must be willing to put in the time and effort it takes … coupled of course with belief in yourself and the willingness to make a lot of mistakes.
Fellow volunteer teachers who I have recruited to help me include sixty-something Bob from the U.S. who has been travelling the world for 10 years … Cameron from Holland, and fresh out of high school … Colombian native Emilson, a young guy who is eager to show his fellow Colombians that they can do it … and new recruit, Santiago, another young Colombian who can show the way. Currently we have 4 classes every day Monday through Friday, consisting of both a beginner and intermediate class from 8:00 to 9:00 AM and from 6:00 to 7:00 PM. I am teaching all the “intermediate” students, and the other teachers are teaming up to teach the beginners. Currently we are averaging about 80 students a day, evenly spit between the morning and evening classes. Often several students will linger long after class talking with each other and wanting to learn more, which means that we have to ask them to leave because other groups want to use the rooms and/or the facility is closing.
By the way, since I assumed that most of the people who were at the municipal theater on opening night knew little or no English, I decided to speak in Spanish and without using notes for virtually the entire 40-minute presentation. You, too, can learn to speak another language.