Language Learning Beliefs

Beliefs, Modelling and Motivation… Do you know what yours are? Here are some brief insights into thought-provoking exercises and techniques to successfully overcome barriers, facilitate fluency and find your goals and motivations to really gain momentum in language learning

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Beliefs, Modelling and Motivation… Do you know what yours are? 

OK now we are progressing to some of the nitty-gritty of achieving fluency – here are some brief insights into thought-provoking exercises and techniques to successfully overcome barriers, facilitate fluency and find your goals and motivations to really gain momentum in language learning. 

Beliefs, modelling and motivation, if correctly aligned, can be the ultimate breakthrough to success…. 

Let’s start with a short exercise!  Get pen and paper and quickly run through this belief appraisal on 2nd language acquisition.  Put yourself in the position of you as a student learning a new language; forget being a teacher for the moment. 

Write here your presuppositions concerning the acquisition of foreign languages. Don’t take too much time to think about it. Just jot down on paper what comes into your head first and what appears to be the most important or ‘true’ for you. 

It may be general remarks, observations, (ex: ‘Chinese is difficult’; ‘grammar is important’) or recommendations (ex: ‘one has to work a lot on grammar’; ‘you must have a good teacher to learn a foreign language’). 

A limiting belief will probably show in a clause like ‘one has to concentrate on vocabulary’. When we have two clauses, chances are that we will have two separated beliefs: ‘one has to concentrate on vocabulary because one cannot communicate without enough of it’. 

As soon as you are done, class what you got by order of importance, meaning specifically, what in your map of the world seems to be the most relevant things to communicate about foreign language acquisition. You can class 7 plus or minus 2 of these elements (max. 9 – min. 5). 

Beliefs regarding the acquisition of foreign languages: 

  1. … 
  2. … 
  3. … 
  4. … 
  5. … 
  6. … 
  7. … 

Now look at your beliefs – which are positive, motivating, make you feel happy, enthusiastic and full of energy?  Which are negative, limiting and contribute to feeling like it is a struggle?  Step back from the situation and look objectively.  Can you see how easy it is to put unintentional barriers in your own mind through your beliefs? This exercise can be very productive for finding problem areas and to give you insight into overcoming potential problems before they have even started. 

Obviously my passionate belief in OPAL as a truly supportive and successful methodology for second language acquisition goes into this and various other helpful ways to overcome obstacles and promote ease of achieving genuine fluency. 

Opal is an integrated approach for the oral acquisition of any second language. Just think a little more on how we refer to a second language – the expression ‘second language’ covers what people usually know as ‘foreign language’. You can easily understand how this can tow along unproductive representations. If something is foreign or alien to us, by definition, it lies outside ourselves, beyond our habits or comfort zone. Such a definition reflects part of the problem. As long as we consider a language as ‘foreign’, is it not natural that it should be less smoothly integrated because unconsciously we may be considering it a foreign body? 

As Yves Thevenot, creator of OPAL, states: In opposition with this idea, the OPAL credo is the acquisition of another language as a genuine second language and even a ‘second 1st language’ in its advanced levels. This is much more than a mere variation, it amounts to a radical shift of paradigm. Indeed, the approach, both in its epistemological premises as in its integration technology considers any language undergoing integration can and probably must, in the longer term become a constituent part of the person. A meaningful consequence of this conception is that the newly acquired language will not be viewed as mere ‘tool for communication’ but rather as a new and integrated aspect of the individual, part of his/her identity which will not be just ‘useful’ as a linguistic tool, but which will enrich him/her as a person. It will allow this person to use, if need be, a wide range of new behaviours thus widening his/her flexibility and make him/her more aware regarding the complex cultural aspects at stake in any human relation. 

Moreover, the quality of the progression secured in the target language is, by the very nature of the approach, way beyond those usually obtained, even after years of study and practice. Opal facilitates the progressive construction and then the stabilisation of a genuine bilingualism in the target language, by focusing among other things on the non verbal aspects implied in language production, aspects which are usually overlooked in conventional pedagogy. 

This leads us onto modelling: – If we change our perspective, instead of getting bogged down by a ‘learning process’ we focus on the creation and nurturing of a new linguistic facet of the person, a new ‘linguistic character’. This opens up a greater facility and allows for more natural native-style assimilation.  If you understand that what is implied here amounts to more than just a change of method, it entails a totally different spirit, a state of mind and body closer in most ways to that of an actor (“actors’ studio” school) than that of a student. In other words, I do not play the part, I am the part… 

Based on the creation of a ‘second linguistic position’ also called ‘linguistic character’, OPAL takes into account every single aspect of language acquisition, both verbal and non verbal, including pronunciation and tonic intonation, which, although critical, are often overlooked in conventional pedagogy. 

As a student, you must find a genuine linguistic referent in the target language (a native speaker or a media personality) choose your role model carefully, somebody producing quality speech in the target language, someone you like, respect and can relate to. This model can be a genuine person or a pedagogical medium (tapes, DVDs, CDs) or again an extract from an authentic broadcast (TV, Radio, Movie) if your level of fluency in the target language already allows it. 

Do you know that in Vienna there are cafés where the waiter brings you over a newspaper in your own native language before he has even spoken to you or taken your order? The waiter devines a person’s nationality by looking at the way they move, the way they hold themself, their overall expression… all non-verbal aspects!  So modelling takes on a new meaning when you think of this.  Your aim is not just to mimic the accent and intonation of your chosen role-model but also their movement, their expressions, their cultural outlook and national identity. 

I will leave you this time with some initial work on your motivation for learning another language.  Start thinking about goals and objectives.  What do you really want to feel like as a speaker of your target language?  Consider all the what, where, when and how questions… 

Define for yourself a valid and well-formed goal according to the following criteria. 

Start by stating your goal in capability terms: “What do I want to be able to do as a speaker of  language X?” 

Answer this question in 7 points:  

  1. Assertive or positive formulation of the goal/objective (in syntactic terms). 
  2. Sensorial representation of the moment when my objective will be achieved. 
  3. Sensorial “proofs” that I am progressing towards the objective. 
  4. Specific actions and internal processes to engage in order to reach the goal. 
  5. Individual effect when the goal has been reached. 
  6. Ecological (systemic) effects when the goal has been reached. 
  7. Potential interference or obstacles. 

Really imagine yourself actively in these situations when considering the questions above.  Take your time, go back to what you have written down, think some more, redraft it, fine tune and add detail. 

You will be amazed at how the exercises and techniques I have gone through above can help clarify and redefine your objectives and the way you consider your new language. 

I hope you have found this interesting, do please email me your feedback, I would love to hear how you have got on as a teacher or student.  Visit again soon as coming up are articles  covering modelling techniques and exercises in more depth as well as motivations and alignment of levels of influence for linguistic progression. 


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