The president of the English club at Gabon’s Institute Superior de Technologie invited English Language Fellow Anne Barkow to present to the group. The president specially requested that Barkow target methods for quickly advancing one’s English level. Barkow has observed that this goal is always a “hot topic” for language learners and that students often seem to feel language teachers are withholding some great secret for learning the language. In her presentation, therefore, Barkow outlined four steps (or secrets!) to acquire proficiency in a new language fast:

  • Immerse yourself in the new language
  • Active practice makes perfect
  • Mistakes happen
  • Learn vocabulary

Barkow and the participants spent some time discussing (and chuckling over) the many unrealistic expectations that both students and teachers bring with them into the second-language classroom.  

Barkow’s presentation’s biggest value may lie in its unstated message: real language learning takes place everywhere and all the time. Several attendees commented that they were taking away with them a new sense that they could practice and learn English throughout their days and lives, not just in the formal classroom. Barkow pointed out that just like you can’t learn to shoot hoops from a book without picking up a ball, real language acquisition comes from authentic experience. After the event, one the participating students mentioned, “The basketball example helped me understand the value of active practice. I can’t just listen to the teacher. I have to speak English.”

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