Long Weekends and Summer Holidays: My Worse Nightmare Come True!

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

Dave is currently spending his summer holidays in PEI and will be back August 18… Before he left, he was supposed to file his accomodation request for his second attempt at the written test. He was told it would take 4 to 6 weeks before he could have a re-testing date. Since I have not heard from him, I suspect he did not do it! Well… he was kind of disgusted with the whole thing when he left… perhaps he needed to put it on ice for a while. What I fear the most is that he might be quite rusty by the time he will get back! I do not believe he will hear much French in Prince Edward Island!!! Of course, he took all his books (grammar, short novels, Astérix) with him swearing he would review and keep up with his French… Unfortunately, experience taught me otherwise! Most of the time, the books stay in the suitcase!… Can I blame my students for not making the time while vacationing? Not really… I am not sure I would be more disciplined than they are.

Learning a second language is not like learning anything else… when you get away from it for more than a day or two, you start forgetting simple notions and regressing quickly. I always remind my trainees that what took them three months to learn and assimilate will take only three days to vanish!… Advanced students do not face that problem because French is kind of engrained in their brain, but it is another story for beginners. Fortunately, what seems gone forever can be easily retrieved yet it takes a while… therefore, there is no room for new stuff! During that time, the meter is running… This is problably why I hate deadlines so much! Language cannot be learned in a specific time frame… there are moments when people just soar, then there are moments when they literally suck! Learning a second language is made of ups and downs… sometimes, my students reach a ceiling and they cannot absorb anything new for a while… THAT stresses them out more than necessary! For me, it is only business as usual… I only have to be patient and tell them “On se calme le pompon… tout rentrera dans l’ordre sous peu!”… Their brain is only overloaded with information, abstract concepts and rules… it takes some time to sort everything out. Let’s not be panicky here, life is too short!!! And…after all… it is only French!!!

Nevertheless there are a few small things people under’going language training can do to maintain their knowledge… it only requires commitment and a minimum of effort!… It actually sounds pretty much easy, doesn’t it? Except that, in reality, it is not as simple as it sounds…

One hour per day… only one lousy hour… I am not asking anything else from them! Instead of reading the paper in English, they can choose to read Le Droit (even if they merely read the headlines!)… Watching a TV program in French will not kill them either: Radio-Canada has excellent shows… they only have to pick one that agrees with their taste and interest and watch it on a regular basis… Listening to the radio in French while driving is not that demanding… is it? La Courte Échelle (Québec Publisher) has a great variety of novels for juniors (from age 8 to 16)… easy to read and quite interesting! Bottom line, it is a matter of choice

For instance, yesterday Susan told me she had rented a made in Québec movie (Maëlstrom with Marie-Josée Croze) over the long weekend… I was indeed very proud of her! She could have watched it in English, but she chose (wisely) to watch it in French… she admitted she had selected the English sub-titles, but hey! who cares? If it made her feel more comfortable, why not? Living in Canada is a bonus because, by law, all DVDs must be in both English and French… all it takes is a couple of clicks: Menu, French and Select… C’est l’enfance de l’art quoi!

On the other hand, this morning, Seema struggled through the entire two hours of her session with me… She was totally lost (and I seriously doubt it was because of the backlash caused by the Backstreet Boys’ presence at The Marshes last Monday… Sam did recover! Unless mom is a secret admirer of these guys… actually I saw them on the news, I would not even pay attention to them if they were sitting next to me! What fame can do… n’est-ce pas?)! The results of three days away from French… she left the classroom feeling guilty! Guilt is probably the worse feeling to live with… and there is no need for it! Seema is a very well organized woman, in both her professional and personal lives… since I know she has the required self-discipline, it falls to her to make the time for French and stick to her schedule. I work with adults and I cannot tell them what to do as if they were toddlers… They have to make that choice for themselves and, then, they will get rid of the annoying guilt that consumes their lives!… And… do I have to remind my students of their upcoming tests? The clock is ticking buddies!!! Consequently, apply your freedom of choice wisely…

This blog moved here, if you are ever interested to get more information on those issues…


“Dans sa pleine liberté, l’esprit est pareil à cet insecte stupide qui passe la moitié de son existence à filer un cocon, et l’autre moitié à le détruire.”

André Suarès, écrivain français



The #1 Fear Factor

by Lyne des Roberts alias La Dame dragon

In this series of posts, I will write about topics relevant to on-going language training, answering questions, discussing issues most learners have, facilitating their learning process and much more. My findings are the combined results of andragogical (andragogy is the word used for adult pedagogy) theories and my sound experience in the field.

That being said, I thought of starting this series with the universal myth of AGE… How many times did I hear “I am too old to learn a second language… I cannot concentrate any longer… I cannot remember anything… I wish I had learned French when I was a kid… etc.”? Too many indeed! This is why I always dedicate a couple of hours at the beginning of any training to explain a few facts so that this negative attitude will not affect my trainees’ learning.

Small children actually learn a second language much faster than adults and children in grade school. But not because of their age! It is only due to their lack of reasoning, questioning and knowledge: they are like sponges absorbing anything the world throws at them and they copycat adults. They only do what they are being told to do until they find their own ways and that comes when they develop the ability of reasoning.

Never ask a 4 year old child to translate the word chair in French or the word chaise in English, the answer will be “Duh!”… Small kids divide the world in two: French and English… they do not connect both languages! Yet, when they start reasoning and making that connection, they go through confusion and it is not uncommon for some to spend a year or two refusing to speak either English or French. Fortunately enough, this phase goes away after they figured out the reasons why they were so mixed up! Although some of them stick to their decision of speaking only the language they chose.

Adults (young or older) do not go through development stages as children do and, because of that, they learn differently: they need to understand the whys and the how, they need answers that make sense to them, they need to connect their mother tongue to the second language and they need to make use of their life experience (their best asset in their learning process).

Yes! There are some deterrents to their learning, but those have nothing to do with their age. All depends on their environment and not on their abilities to learn… Young adults are normally fast learners because their school years are not far behind and they have a methodology.

From my own observations, I would say that adults in their thirties and early forties are the ones who struggle the most due to the pace of their personal and professional lives: they are working towards promotions at work, if married, they have small children requiring lots of care and attention, they often have all sort of training going on in order to broaden their knowledge, they are either hockey moms and dads or soccer moms and dads… and most of the time they learn a second language for the mere purpose of getting a promotion! This generation X is seeking results overnight and they easily get frustrated when they realize that learning a language takes time and lots of effort.

Learners in their late forties and over are probably the best learners of all! The Baby Boomers are not as eager to get a promotion because they are already planning their retirement, therefore learning another language is a personal goal rather than a professional one. Their children are adults and do not require their devoted attention any longer so they have more time for themselves: learning a second language is still a challenge for them, but they enjoy it more than their younger peers who feel pressured all the time.

Hopefully this article demystified an old myth and will encourage people of all ages to consider the positive aspects of learning a second language and jump into a pool of fun… because adults are not much different from children: they learn better and faster when the door is open on creativity… But that will be the topic of another article… Stay tuned!