From the "English Only Zone" to the World

A STEP! II EFL class works together on a project to enhance their skills in English.

A STEP! II EFL class works together on a project to enhance their skills in English.

“Salut! Vous êtes là pour le cours?” asked me my language teacher in my first French course at the university ten years ago. I must admit, I froze up and looked at her with shy and timorous eyes, while searching deep in my mind and childhood memories for an appropriate answer. I was lost in one of those rare moments when you don't know what to respond or even how to react. Just like me at that time, the incursion into the world of bilingualism for plenty of new language learners may not be a very pleasant experience.

Listening to a recent edition of the BBC, I learned that more than half the world's population is bilingual. “Some people may have been forced to learn a language at school or had to pick up one because they moved to a new country. Others may just love learning new tongues and do so before they visit a new place”. Speaking a second language is beneficial not only for professional career development, but also for personal understanding of the multilingual world we inhabit. For our STEP II EFL students, being able to communicate in a second language is one of their top priorities as it may increase the probability of landing a job position or even the possibility of understanding other cultures. Eman Suwan, an EFL student at TYO affirms that “learning English would help me in my future professional life as it will open many doors”. Student Renad Sawftah puts her focus on a potential career outside Palestine. She manifests that being able to communicate in a second language will help her achieve her dream of completing studies abroad. However, for Eman, Renad, their classmates, and thousands of Palestinian youth, developing communication skills in a different language in their country is indeed a major challenge. STEP II EFL students agreed that some of the major challenges they have to face on a daily basis are the lack of available learning programs, materials and opportunities to practice with native language speakers. TYO, through the STEP II program, aims at bridging all these gaps by providing intensive EFL courses for Nabulsi youth like Eman and Renad, and help them achieve their dreams.

Students smile and laugh with each other during classes at TYO.

Students smile and laugh with each other during classes at TYO.

Learning a new language requires passion, effort, commitment and complete immersion. At TYO we are aware of the importance of capturing the true essence of foreign language. We want our students to use English to live with passion, to learn more about the world they inhabit and to use their English skills to better themselves, the community and the people around them no matter the challenges and obstacles. Keeping that in mind and with the purpose of facilitating my students’ learning inside and outside the classroom, I have very recently shared with them five tips that will offer them the key to success in language fluency and will indubitably boost their confidence when communicating in a foreign language. These tips have been compiled over the past years as a result of reflecting on my personal language learning process and are now available for all our readers:

Know your purpose

Understanding why you are doing it and what you will get from it will unquestionably help you stay motivated over the long-run. Dedicate a relevant amount of attention to define the reasons that push you to invest your valuable time and go for it. Whether it’s for your own professional development or for personal motivations, your reasons to learn a new language must be a constant reminder of why you should keep going no matter what.

Create your own language learning space

In all probability, one of the most effective ways to become fluent in a language is by packing your luggage and spending a certain amount of time living and interacting with language native speakers on a daily basis in their country. The latter, it’s a privilege that not so many learners can afford. By creating your own learning space and fully submerging yourself in the target language you will be exposed to the essential amount of interaction human beings require to develop stronger communication skills.

Read news, magazines, books, texts online, modify the language settings on your phone and on Facebook, and create a visual learning environment. Write personal notes, grocery lists, send text messages in different languages to your friends on WhatsApp or Viber. Listen to radio, podcasts, watch Youtube documentaries subtitled in the language you are willing to learn,  and speak in languages as much as possible, Skype with international friends on the other side of the globe, and asked them to correct mistakes when necessary. Make this new language an eminent component of your daily routine.

Talk to yourself

According to Psychologist Linda Sapadin, talking to yourself can be actually a beneficial sign of sanity as it helps you clarify your thoughts putting into evidence the power of words. In the case of language learning, talking to yourself in a foreign language might imply for you a way to train your pronunciation, to keep new words and phrases fresh in your mind while going for a walk, on the bus,or even at work, and to build up your confidence for the next time you speak with someone.

Don’t focus too much on grammar and make mistakes

Elbert Hubbard once said: “The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one”. Never fall into the sand trap of inaction, never be afraid of being wrong, you are not the only one, we all make mistakes in life, that’s a fact; and the best way to overcome your fears is by taking action and facing every challenge you encounter. Face it, don’t hide from it! Every mistake will get you one step closer to achieving language fluency.

Teach it and preach it!

Last but never least, use your acquired talents and what you have learnt to facilitate other people’s learning experience. Everyone needs a hand when it comes to learning a new language and you will be rewarded for doing so. Teaching languages over the past eight years has guided my personal language learning process, and I must admit, my life has been plenty of gratifying experiences alongside my students. Teaching while learning or learning while teaching at TYO STEP II program has become a powerful and beneficial tactic to my own languages learning. Interacting with my students on a daily basis has helped me keep new words and expressions fresh in my mind in one, two and even three languages.

An EFL class learns English skills through a relay activity to help increase skills while having fun.

An EFL class learns English skills through a relay activity to help increase skills while having fun.

Now that you have read through these simple five language learning tips,  you decide what’s best for you. It is time for you to go outside and put all this in practice just like at TYO.

In the meantime, I will keep helping and learning from this fruitful new adventure at TYO, developing new language skills in Arabic and certainly after a while, I will go visit my French teacher back home, I need to let her know about my experiences and progress in various foreign languages. Inshallah, she will be proud.

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The English as a Foreign Language (EFL) program is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.

- Leandro, Summer 2016 EFL Fellow