Yesterday I told you about my niece.
I told you she studied Spanish in school for 12 years, passed all her tests, probably got all As, yet still can’t win an argument with a taco.
I then asked you how many years you studied English in school.
39% answered between five and nine years
32% answered ten years or more
Does it take ten years to be confident and comfortable with a language?
Does it take five years?
I don’t know the exact number, but I do know it could be…should be… can be… much faster.
So what’s going on?
Schools teach you reading and writing and math and biology quickly.
So how can they teach English faster?
I asked you for your opinions and you wrote:
“More practise is needed.”
“a good dosage of vocabulary, exposure, meaningful reading.”
“have a native speaker”
“less grammar teaching”
“you have to live it not study it”
Sounds good to me.
But here’s another way to look at it.
What if the problem was goals?
On Monday I quoted Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic. In his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, he said, “Goals are for losers.”
And what does everyone inside a school have?
The students, the teachers and the administrators all have goals.
A student wants a good grade.
That’s a goal.
A teacher wants 95% of her students to pass; that’s a goal.
And an administrator wants to go home at 5 o’clock; that’s a goal.
They all want to be able to point to a number and say, “I did that. I succeeded.”
They have a goal. They measure. They get the goal. And still you have problems with your English.
Scott Adam’s solution?
Replace goals with systems.
What’s a system?
Here’s Mr. Adams again:
“If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.”
For example, if you want to lose 20 lbs before you go to the beach, that’s a goal. But if every Saturday you shop for fresh food and eat a salad with each meal, that’s a system.
My routine for learning Italian is every morning I learn 20 new words and review words I’ve already learned.
If I continue this routine I will eventually know a lot of words.
I’ll then add daily listening, daily reading, and eventually daily speaking.
What’s my goal?
I don’t have one.
I have a system.
And I’m very confident that when I get off the plane in Italy I will be able to tell the police, in Italian, No, I don’t have The Plague, and yes, my dollars can save your pizza industry.