Why my students learn faster than I did

It strikes me that I often ask my students to do pretty crazy stuff, I mean stuff I wouldn’t want to do if I were a student in a class learning a foreign language.

  • I have them write essays (yes, essays) and then immediately read them in front of class.
  • I have them compete to see who can answer my questions the quickest.
  • I have them prepare two minute speeches, where they have two minutes to prepare and then two minutes to speak in front of class.
  • I have them memorize vocabulary on the spot, none of this “take it home and study this on your own” stuff. (That’s a separate section.)
  • I have them run dialogues together, incorporating new syntax, new vocabulary, even new voices, as though they’re cartoon characters or something.
  • And most of all, I make them speak only in English as long as they’re in the building.

When I took a foreign language in college, I think I spoke like 12 words in Spanish throughout the entire four semesters of studying. The rest of the time, I just wrote, on my index cards, in my homework book, and on my exams.

I think I may have written a couple sentences on the white board once or twice. I had to listen and understand enough to reply to simple questions, but only in writing, for the exams. And I never did anything in direct competition with my peers.

Pretty crazy what I have my students do compared to what I did myself.

The difference, though, is that now my students can speak English, while I’m still stuck after, “Hola. ¿Cómo estás?”