Why I’ve gone feral with my learning

Almohada at Las Heulgas Monastery

What’s helped me learn more Spanish this week? Giving up the classes! That might sound odd when I’m trying to learn a language but after some helpful conversations I recognised that, though the teachers were lovely people, at the end of a class I felt overwhelmed by what I didn’t know rather than excited. And, if I’m entirely honest, a little bored by what I’d been taught.
I think this might reach to the heart of formal learning for many people.
First, there was no recognition of what I already know so classes started with simple everyday objects and situations because that’s where they’d always started. I’ve been coming to Spain for 30 years so I can get by in bars and restaurants and negotiate the ‘muebles’ (furniture) in a house. We’d even been buying cushions a few days before and I knew the right words, because we’d seen a museum of amazing gold, embroidered pillows belonging to ancient Royalty – their beauty and age captured my interest so I needed to know what they were called.  In my brain I have a beautiful set of images and imagined textures to link to the words ‘cohines’ and ‘almohadas’.
In class there was little recognition of my need to understand business Spanish – the words and phrases that will help open doorways and make connections in the places I want to be.
So instead of classes, I’ve gone feral (adjective – especially of an animal in a wild state, especially after escape from captivity or domestication) and am learning by meeting people who are interested in the same things as me. Last night I met a coach who spoke very little English but within minutes we were deep in conversation and very excited about the things we both believed were important in people development. It’s amazing how quickly you find the words for ‘parrot’ when trying to describe those voices over your shoulder that help or hinder your progress (‘loro’ if you’re interested). It was both interesting and important to me to make that connection.
So when we’re learning it needs to be real and to connect with things that excite us and motivate us. Now I’ve gone feral, I’m meeting a lot of Spaniards who tell me they’ve learned English for up to 30 years but still can’t speak English because they’ve focused on grammar and structure rather than communication and they don’t feel confident. They are intimidated by the tests they must pass, and yet when we’re talking about what we’re interested in we all improve and help each other learn – and teaching someone else is an excellent way to learn for yourself.  I know grammar and structure are important but nobody learns to speak a language as a child by understanding the perfect and imperfect tenses – it comes later not at the beginning.
I’ve also met an excellent teacher of English who makes much faster progress with his students because he starts by gets people to feel confident; creating links to what they already know; encouraging what they do well and investigating what they want to know. He praises and encourages and ensures he corrects mistakes because it’s important to get it right at the start, rather than letting bad habits accumulate. He was an inspiring person to talk to, both in English and Spanish and I intend to learn more about his methods.
So, now I’m relaxing and making better progress – ‘poco a poco’ (little by little). My reflection is many people in the UK and Spain are not learning language naturally, in a way that comes easily to them. Instead they are being shoe horned into a structure that has become embedded and engrained as the norm.

This is also true of a lot of formal training in organisations where the structure and tests become more important than the results you’re aiming for – competent, confident employees.    Perhaps the 70:20:10 model is really a model or feral learning? Humans are good at learning so let’s make it easy for them.

To learn more about designing and delivering training so that people learn more naturally check out our website www.howtobeabrainfriendlytrainer.com for upcoming programmes. Next one is coming very soon – Edinburgh 26-28th Sept –don’t miss out.