HOW do we learn?

The answer is not, unfortunately, as simple as by using method X or Y. The human brain is complex and it varies from individual to individual. However, this is not just something we believe in or something we have seen throughout the years we have been teaching. Ultimately, science is proving that personalised learning is essential in order to become an inclusive society that accepts all types of learners. 

Lara Boyd neuroplasticity.jpg

Doctor Lara Boyd, a brain researcher at the University of British Columbia in Canada, presented the results of  her work at a TEDx talk in 2005. The talk is called 'After watching this, your brain will not be the same', and it centres around neuroplasticity, which is the brain's ability to reorganise itself by forming new neural connections. While this may sound complicated, there are very straightforward ideas she expresses that explain why personalised learning is one of the three pillars of our teaching philosophy. Here are some we would like to transcript for you:

  • 'Every time you learn a new fact or skill, you change your brain [...] These changes are not limited by age.'
  • 'Long-term memories take time and what you see in the short term does not reflect learning.' This confirms that, although it sounds like a dream come true, the idea of learning a language in a short period of time is simply unreal.
  • 'Patterns of neuroplasticity are highly variable from person to person.'
  • 'The primary driver of change in your brain is your behaviour [...] Nothing is more effective than practice at helping you learn, and the bottom line is you have to do the work.'
  • 'There is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning. There's no recipe for learning.'
  • 'We have to consider [...] personalised learning. The uniqueness of your brain will affect you, both as a learner and also as a teacher. This idea can help us understand why some children can thrive in traditional educational settings and others don't; why some of us can learn languages easily, and yet others can pick up any sport and excel.'
  • 'Learning is about doing the work that your brain requires, so the best strategies are going to vary between individuals. They're even going to vary within individuals.' What we see here is that not only are each of us different in terms of learning, but we are also different when we are small children, or teenagers, young adults or later on in life. The key is adaptation to each person.

At Tea Time Idiomas, we are continuously learning from our students, from other teachers, and from the world around us to be able to offer our students the best experience in language learning. We encourage you to spend 15 minutes watching the video of Dr. Lara Boyd, and take these lessons to better understand yourself and others.

Language Learning at Its Finest - by Nicki Bonura

When I first arrived in A Coruna, everything was new. I had never had to deal with using a public bus system. I had never lived in a place where you can’t predict whether there’s going to be rain or shine on any given summer day. And, most importantly, I had never lived in a city located in Spain.

Moving here engulfed me in a whole new world where simple tasks were challenging. Everyday activities had to be completed under the context of a new culture and a new language. Over the course of a few weeks, I had to ask each of my three flat mates at three different times how the cleaning schedule worked in our apartment before I understood my chores. The first time I went out for breakfast, it was 10:00 am on a Sunday, which is the time in-between breakfast and most restaurants opening for lunch. After wandering around for 45 minutes without finding food, I ended up resorting to a Punto 24hr. My first breakfast in Spain was a sandwich out of a vending machine. Every time I needed to speak to anyone about anything, I would have to think about how to say it beforehand. Rather than reading instructions, public notices, news articles, and menus, I would have to translate them.

The experience of immersing yourself in a foreign language can be described as the very definition of new, and unfortunately, new is rarely easy. Putting yourself in a position where constant adjustment is necessary can be difficult, and frankly, exhausting. However, I can easily say that the rewards you gain in return really are worth it. I have spoken and formed relationships with people whom I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to talk to.  I now have a better understanding of another culture, which gives me a new lens to look through at my own and appreciate their similarities and differences. And finally, the most unexpected result is that cultural immersion and language learning has enforced my confidence in my own capabilities. In my opinion, making mistakes under these circumstances is inevitable. However, when they are made, you have no choice but to move on and try again. If you can adopt this mentality and use it in all your pursuits, you will be more willing to reach for your goals and less discouraged when you make a blunder.

For those of you continuing to study a new language, I encourage you to surround yourself with that language as much as you possibly can. New may be difficult, but something can only be new for so long. With exposure, patience, and a whole lot of practice, new becomes familiar, and your confidence will grow.

When I first arrived in A Coruna, everything was new. I had never had to deal with using a public bus system. I had never lived in a place where you can’t predict whether there’s going to be rain or shine on any given summer day. And, most importantly, I had never lived in a city located in Spain.

Moving here engulfed me in a whole new world where simple tasks were challenging. Everyday activities had to be completed under the context of a new culture and a new language. Over the course of a few weeks, I had to ask each of my three flat mates at three different times how the cleaning schedule worked in our apartment before I understood my chores. The first time I went out for breakfast, it was 10:00 am on a Sunday, which is the time in-between breakfast and most restaurants opening for lunch. After wandering around for 45 minutes without finding food, I ended up resorting to a Punto 24hr. My first breakfast in Spain was a sandwich out of a vending machine. Every time I needed to speak to anyone about anything, I would have to think about how to say it beforehand. Rather than reading instructions, public notices, news articles, and menus, I would have to translate them.

The experience of immersing yourself in a foreign language can be described as the very definition of new, and unfortunately, new is rarely easy. Putting yourself in a position where constant adjustment is necessary can be difficult, and frankly, exhausting. However, I can easily say that the rewards you gain in return really are worth it. I have spoken and formed relationships with people whom I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to talk to.  I now have a better understanding of another culture, which gives me a new lens to look through at my own and appreciate their similarities and differences. And finally, the most unexpected result is that cultural immersion and language learning has enforced my confidence in my own capabilities. In my opinion, making mistakes under these circumstances is inevitable. However, when they are made, you have no choice but to move on and try again. If you can adopt this mentality and use it in all your pursuits, you will be more willing to reach for your goals and less discouraged when you make a blunder.

For those of you continuing to study a new language, I encourage you to surround yourself with that language as much as you possibly can. New may be difficult, but something can only be new for so long. With exposure, patience, and a whole lot of practice, new becomes familiar, and your confidence will grow.

A Teacher's Perspective: The New School Year

Starting to learn anything is quite scary. We feel worried about how difficult it might be, we become embarrassed by the mistakes we make, and we feel insecure about whether we are able to achieve our goals. 

Today I would like to offer the teacher's perspective, so that you can see how different it feels to be on the other side. This is, of course, a very personal experience and other teachers might see it differently.

 

The first class is nerve-wracking for everybody. As the students come in, nobody knows how it will go. Although everything is prepared for the students to have an easier lesson, there are many questions that come to mind. Will the students get along? Will my classes meet their expectations? Will they enjoy the material I have prepared? 

Meeting new people can be uncomfortable. We all introduce ourselves, and we give each other a brief description of who we are. As a teacher, my intention is to give the students funny or interesting information about myself so they feel more comfortable and less nervous. The moment we are all laughing together, we can start working as a group, and everybody tends to relax.

We continue by introducing material to the students and getting them to understand what we intend to do over the next few months. Each group works in a completely different way, but what is almost always true is that after the first 90 minutes in English, most people are very tired. Forcing your brain to work in a different language when you are not used to it is very similar to going to the gym when you're not accustomed. 

The next few lessons are still tiring and sometimes a little frustrating for the students, although I always adapt the rhythm those few lessons so that nobody suffers too much. However, within the first few weeks, almost everybody feels happy and enjoys themselves in every lesson - the magic here lies in being a little patient and persevering. 

Although I am aware that this process is more difficult for the students, they need to remember that everybody is in the same position, and that if they invest a little patience, the rewards will definitely be worth it!

B2 Book Recommendation: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

This week we really would like to talk about a very special book that many of our students have enjoyed, most of which were preparing the First certificate, although more advanced students loved the story, too.

The book 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time' was written by the British author Mark Haddon and was first published in 2003. It has won several awards, and has sold millions of copies. 

But those are not the best reasons to read this book. The main reason to read this is Christopher, a 15-year-old boy with Asperger syndrome, and his brutally honest way of dealing with the world around him. He is highly intelligent, though not socially adapted, but tries his very best to find a balance in which he adapts to the strange social conventions we are so used to. 

The story begins with his accidental finding of the dead body of his neighbour's dog. This triggers a Sherlock Holmes' style hunt for the murderer, in which he discovers many things he hadn't been expecting to find. He embarks on an adventure that takes him to very new places, and forces him to deal with strange and uncomfortable situations. 

Beyond understanding people with Asperger syndrome a little better, this story forces us to consider our own values, and our own way of dealing with things, from white lies to the significance of death. 

It is safe to say that most people would probably enjoy this book, and would find it easy to connect with young Christopher despite how peculiar he is. You can find this book in our library, but it is also available from amazon.es for less than 10€, and only 7€ for the Kindle version. Enjoy!

5 ideas to help you practise English every day

It's always challenging to start learning a language, and what helps most is to practise it as much as possible, but many people struggle to find things they can do on their own. Here are a few ideas that can easily be introduced into our daily routine.

1. Watch TV shows and films in English

Although it may take some time for you to get used to this, it can really help. Start by watching a TV show that is short (20-30 minutes) that you have watched before, with the subtitles in English (having subtitles in your own language will not help very much).Once you are used to this, try to watch longer shows and films, and when you are comfortable doing this, start removing subtitles altogether.

2. Change the language on your mobile phone and/or computer

While this may confuse you for the first few days, you will soon get used to the new words, and this will get you to learn many words and expressions. As these are devices most people use every day, it will make sure that you at least see some English vocabulary while you are making a call or checking your e-mails.

 

3. Watch BBC's One-Minute World News

This literally takes one minute of your time every day. The easiest way to do this is to find a specific time of every day to do this, such as while you are having breakfast, or perhaps in the evening when you get home. This exercise is recommended once you are more comfortable with English, as they speak quickly and offer no subtitles. 

4. Follow an English-speaking blog

Look for a blog on a topic you are interested in, and take your time to find one that you will really like and will be happy to follow regularly. You might choose one that offers a new recipe every week that you can try to make at home, or perhaps one that talks about a specific sport, or one that tells you what is happening in the world of fashion. The more you like the content, the more you will want to keep reading!

5. Keep an English diary

This simple exercise requires you to write down a few things you have done during your day. You can keep a notebook and a pen by your bed and use the just 5 minutes in the evening writing down some things in English. The idea is that you will produce ideas of your own and can use new words or expressions you are picking up from watching series or following a blog.

 

We hope these ideas help you to practise a little every day, and with perseverance and patience, you will see the results.