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  1. #1
    GillFrance is offline Newbie
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    Overcoming an emotional block in learners

    I have been teaching languages all my life and now, in retirement, teach English to a small group of mainly retired learners.
    Two of the group experience the same block to learning. They find it almost impossible to focus on understanding the spoken word because of an emotional block.
    As soon as I begin speaking, and however simply I state the content, they both freeze and look blank.
    I can see that the emotional block prevents them from understanding anything they hear, which in itself is a massive barrier to learning.
    One of the students went on a three week course in Goa last summer and still was unable to overcome this block. He was very disappointed to find that other students on the course, with much less experience than him, could communicate much more freely.
    Has anyone successfully found a way to diffuse this block?
    Needless to say, I always maintain a stress-free atmosphere in the group.
    I would be very interested to hear from others who have enabled students to successfully overcome this.

  2. #2
    emsr2d2's Avatar
    emsr2d2 is online now Moderator
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    Re: Overcoming an emotional block in learners

    Quote Originally Posted by GillFrance View Post
    I have been teaching languages all my life and now, in retirement, teach English to a small group of mainly retired learners.
    Two of the group experience the same block to learning. They find it almost impossible to focus on understanding the spoken word because of an emotional block.
    As soon as I begin speaking, and however simply I state the content, they both freeze and look blank.
    I can see that the emotional block prevents them from understanding anything they hear, which in itself is a massive barrier to learning.
    One of the students went on a three week course in Goa last summer and still was unable to overcome this block. He was very disappointed to find that other students on the course, with much less experience than him, could communicate much more freely.
    Has anyone successfully found a way to diffuse this block?
    Needless to say, I always maintain a stress-free atmosphere in the group.
    I would be very interested to hear from others who have enabled students to successfully overcome this.
    Welcome to the forum.

    Have you had the opportunity to speak to both those students when they are alone, rather than in a group situation? Sometimes it is the presence of other learners which causes people to freeze. They assume that all the other students are understanding more and that their own English is the lowest standard in the group. Sometimes, in a one-to-one situation, they relax and open up.

    When I taught in Madrid, I gave private classes to a couple (a man and woman who lived together). Our classes were mostly conversation-based and, despite my best attempts, the lady did almost all the talking with her boyfriend only speaking when I pointedly (and politely) asked the lady to stop talking! One week, the lady was ill and rang to cancel. She told me that her boyfriend would still attend. I was quite surprised and very interested to see what would happen. It was a revelation - he was talkative, interesting, funny and completely relaxed. It was as if a totally different man had come to class. At the end of the class, I asked him how he felt about the class. He immediately said that he had really enjoyed it but also admitted that he wasn't really enjoying the joint classes and had been thinking of dropping out. When i asked him why, he said that he knew his girlfriend's English was better than his (true) and that made him a little embarrassed about speaking in front of her. He also said that he thought I would find it more interesting and fun to talk to his girlfriend so he kept quiet. I told him that I sympathised with how he felt but reminded him that the only way his English would improve was if he practiced and joined in with the classes. At the next class with both of them, something interesting happened. I asked a question at the beginning of the class and the lady began to speak. She had only said a few words before the man said to her "I'd really like to answer this first" and he then talked for about two minutes without stopping. His girlfriend sat back, listened and looked rather happy. At the end of the class, while he went to the toilet, she told me that she had been really pleased when he started talking - she said that she had been desperately trying to talk as much as possible in previous classes specifically because she knew her English was better and she didn't want him to be embarrassed! It was a great example of lack of communication - between all three of us, admittedly.

    I didn't mean for that to turn into such a long story but you never know, you might find something useful in it.

    Edit: Extra question. You said that they find it impossible to focus on the spoken word. How is their reading comprehension?
    Remember - correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing make posts much easier to read.

  3. #3
    Esgaleth's Avatar
    Esgaleth is offline VIP Member
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    Re: Overcoming an emotional block in learners

    Quote Originally Posted by emsr2d2 View Post

    Edit: Extra question. You said that they find it impossible to focus on the spoken word. How is their reading comprehension?
    I wanted to ask about their writing and sentence structure. If their writing if sufficient it can be something to build their speaking/listening on.
    And why do you think it's emotional block? Can they understand or speak to their group-mates? Can they pair work?

  4. #4
    Brad D is offline Newbie
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    Re: Overcoming an emotional block in learners

    Hello,

    I would definitely say that the other teachers have hit the nail on the head. I also taught a husband/wife team. They were completely different students when they were separate, and in fact, we eventually created different classes for them. Remember, your client is "old." No one likes to feel foolish or "stupid," but I think the older we get, the more strongly this feeling becomes something that can really traumatize us. (I'm old). Also, don't forget that learning a new language brings you back to the stage of a child. For some people who are retired, it is insulting to go back to that stage. I recommend beginning students to read children's books; however, some older adults absolutely find it insulting to hear that. Some are embarrassed to admit that they are reading children's books eventhough they believe it is helpful. People are people, so they have different reactions. What job did they do? Were they in charge of a lot of people? Now,
    they are overwhelmed, not in charge, helpless, like children. That can be emotionally damaging.

    You might find that they are from a culture where you are supposed to say it "correctly" the first time. Many older Koreans have trouble speaking or writing because they think that even one small mistake means failure. How much are you correcting them when they speak? How about the other students? Do they make a lot of mistakes? Do they speak quickly or slowly? Do they speak loudly or softly? In some cultures, people use intimidation to create a hierarchy of power/leadership. Eventhough you might not be doing this, and the other students are actually cool about it, the silent student may be adhering to that cultural norm. Again, if you've ever taught Koreans, you'll sometimes see students literally freak out in class because they are so nervous. Freak out means that they will blush, faint, run out of class, cry etc. It isn't what you or the students are doing, it is what has been done to them before with another teacher.

    Remember also, very (VERY) few learners pick up a second language simply by listening. I mean, if we could do that, I'd be able to speak a dozen languages because I watch foreign movies every week. You want to try and give them something with some structure, maybe even to memorize, so that they will be able to have the "correct" answer. You might have them pick a poem to memorize. Each day, a student could begin class by reciting the poem. You might start this, and actually make a few mistakes. Have them read as you speak it. Showing that YOU make mistakes in YOUR language might alleviate some of their fears. You could find a book that has dialogues for them to act out. Put them in small groups. Put shy with shy. Make sure you put space between them and the high level. Maybe even play some music or backgroud noise, as the silent ones will be listening to the high levels rather than concentrating on their dialogues. If the high levels finish
    quickly, have them do it again, or have another dialogue ready.

    T: "Okay, today we're going to read these dialogues to our partners. Let's see, You are Partner A, and You'll be B. You're A, You're B."
    T: "Student A is Jack, Student B is Susan. Read your part to your partner."
    T: "Now switch parts."

    Find a book that has very short reading passages. Ask them simple 'wh' questions. Have them ask their partner first. Make sure you monitor, so you know who has the correct answer;then, do a Round Robin and ask each student to answer one of the questions. Make sure that the silent ones are ready with the answer. I use a book called "All About the USA" for this. It's very easy, and it teaches interesting cultural ideas about the USA like where hamburgers come from. Look around for one of these that works with British ideas like why London cabs are black. Maybe it could be about historical figures like Guy Fawkes (sp?). You could probably find those on a website. Again, look on a kids website, but take off any information that alerts the students that you get it from such a site. (Don't let the font be too large or childish). Each reading should be really short; just one paragraph, about 200 words. Remember to go over some vocabulary before
    they read, so that you can work with pronunciation. If the class repeats after you, the silent ones are opening their mouths and using English. This warms them up, and it can give them confidence because they have success at something small. You could even draw pictures on the board for certain vocab and have them ask their partner what each picture is. Write the target question on the board....."what is that?" Don't forget to model it.


    pic pic pic What is that? That is a
    That's a

    T: "See the question on the board? (Student name) What is that?"
    S: "That is a
    T: "Good, you guys got it." "okay, you two are partners, and you guys are partners, and you two are partners." "Ask each other the question about the other pictures"

    Keep adding pictures as the go along.

    Well, hope this helps!

    Brad

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