Thursday, May 19, 2011

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Calm Down and Relax

How do you feel at the moment?  Calm and relaxed?  Do you have a cup of tea next to you while you look through this?  This would be the best way to feel in an English class.  Do you feel like that when you are studying English?  If you used to be in classes, did you feel like that?

I’m reading a lot at the moment about how important feelings are when we try to learn new things.  Specifically, I am reading a lot about anxiety and that anxious learners learn less than relaxed learners.  Do you think this is true for you?  Do you think this is true for the classes you have been in?

The research shows that it is important to have a relaxed atmosphere when you are try to understand something new – you will “pick it up” (understand it) much faster like this.  Some people work well under pressure (I think I am one of these people in general) but there is a big difference between work (doing a task) and learning (understanding something new) and I know that I don’t learn well under pressure.

We will look at my attempts to learn Spanish again.  My Spanish improvement is prevented by two things: anxiety and distractions; sometimes both depending on the situation.  Every time I am in a Spanish conversation where there is new language for me, I know I am much too anxious to learn or remember any new words.  In fact, learning vocabulary is the least important thing to me in the conversation because I am focussing on the communication.  My priority is to understand the person talking to me or to make sure the person understands the idea I am trying to say.

My students also try to teach me words in class but obviously I am too distracted by teaching and learning priorities to stop, take some time and think about the new word they want to give me.

So an environment free of anxiety and distraction is essential for learning a new language. However, relaxed does NOT equal bored, and no distractions does NOT equal boring. You need to be engaged and paying attention – which usually means having a good 8 hours of sleep the night before. :-)


  1. Agree with you, Gordon. I think one of the things that great teachers do is in taking care of the environment and being a person of trust.

  2. Very good post! Makes me wonder what I can do to make my learners feel relaxed . . . I did bring in tea one day, when we were studying restaurants . . . but sadly I don't think I could do that everyday. Hmmmmm . . . must start brainstorming!

  3. Karenne, thanks for the comment and I couldn't agree more. How do you try to provide that environment of trust and what tips might you have for students to help them take care of their own environment.

    Kylie, I've been thinking about the tea. There is a fine line between relaxing and distracting but I would like to think that something as simple as tea doesn't really break that line. Down in Argentina they've got something called maté which some of my students have asked to bring into class. The one downside is always "what if it spills".

    Let me know how the brainstorming goes!


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