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When life imitates blog.

October 6, 2011

UPDATE 10/10/2011 – scroll down for new anaolgies! 

Following my last blog post about the parallels between English teaching/training and yoga, this comment was made by Adam Beale  –

“I wonder if it would be possible to get learners to come up with an analogy between their own learning experiences and some sort of hobby/sporting practice? I think there’s a lesson in that somewhere!”

So, never one to dodge a challenge, I decided to find out….

The lesson began with my revelation that I have recently done something I never (ever) thought I would do: I’ve started a blog. (Shock, horror.)  After their sniggers had died down, we discussed my reasons for doing such a thing and then I did another thing I honestly thought I would never (ever, ever) do – I gave my students a copy of my blog post to read.

(As an aside – Have you ever got your students to read your blog posts? I was more nervous than I was about all you lot reading it!!)

I was pleasantly surprised to see that they (mostly) enjoyed it and were interested in drawing their own parallels between some part of their life and learning English. Some of them have chosen sports, others more obscure things like zombie video games. So for homework they are finishing off their ideas and have agreed to me posting them here.

Here are the results – (bear with us, not all of them are in yet due to a public holiday here in Germany, but watch this space for more installments…)

Cycling and learning English

I spent a great deal of time thinking about this topic, if there were common aspects between learning English and my hobby “Cycling”. My first thought was: Nonsense! They have nothing in common. That’s like comparing apples with oranges! Later, I had more and more ideas in my head and I was surprised that there were actually some common aspects…

For both you need a lot of discipline, especially if you like to do an exam or to cycle a race or planning a cycling holiday over long distances. For both you need to be well prepared. Here it pays off to do little steps, that means learning English every day maybe half an hour and not only once a week for hours. If you are able to learn one new word a day – the figure is 365 new words a year – that’s not too bad! It is the same with cycling. It is better to cycle every day a small distance – maybe your way to the office – and you will see, that you were in a good shape without a lot of pain. In any case it would be better to cycle every day or 2-3 times a week than 50km at once. That is really exhausting and serves no useful purpose for your fitness.

Independent from the discipline, I can try to get an opinion from an expert. That could be a good English teacher or for cycling a nice friend or trainer because sometimes it’s good to get a little motivation or a soft kick in the butt 🙂

Additionally it is more fun to do it in a group with other guys than alone in your flat or on the street. Without fun it would be very hard to reach your aim. I know from my own experience, that a boring language course without any fun took away my interest in the French language. We had boring school books and a teacher without any passion for her own profession. It was a shame, then she removed the possibility to be curious in the foreign language and the people of this country. On the other hand, we had a fantastic English teacher, with good ideas beyond our school books. From time to time she came in with her guitar and taught us English songs and motivated us to get pen friends all over the world or to translate our favourite songs. We noticed, that the English language was a great chance to communicate with nearly all people from the world and that was fantastic!

But now I would like to return to cycling. A good teacher or trainer is half of the rent! He or she can increase enthusiasm, can give you a helping hand with your equipment like the bike or – in the case of English – with the right books, internet pages, preparation for the exam, motivation and praise.

At the end, if you can see your progress and the initial successes in learning English and cycling, then nothing can stop you and your big aim and your can be proud of your own and your trainers great performance.

 By Sonja. 

What are the parallels of a language learner and a jogger?

Personally, I think they share many things. In both “jobs” it is important to retain a regular basis: you have to speak a foreign language consistently otherwise you won’t learn it. Almost the same is training for a half-marathon. If you only go running once a week or less, you will never reach your goal.

As a language learner, it is nice to have people around you who are in the same situation. So working in a group is much more fun and provides more practice than working alone, just as with running. To have a running group who meets three times a week motivates you.

But of course, jogging and learning new vocabulary, memorizing it, using it actively gets on my nerves the same as running five times a week does. But when you actually do all this, you will be confident and proud in the end. So the best thing to do is go running after you have learned vocabulary because your psychological challenge will turn into a physical one and that is a strong and important difference!

By Simone.

Killing English-Speaking Zombies

I want to talk to you about the parallels between learning English and playing games.

I’m this nerdy girl who likes to spend her free time with saving the world from hordes of the undead, jumping on giant mushrooms or slaying demons with a big ass sword.

But since a few months ago I’ve also been an English student, preparing for my CAE exam in early December. Now I have two major goals in my life. The first goal is to pass the exam with a decent grade and the second goal is to learn how to play ego shooters.

The big question is: What does language study and killing pixels have in common?

A important part of studying is to regularly attend class and do to your homework (yes Jemma always remembers that part  :p) and when you want to learn a new game you have to play it regularly and practice offline to get experience.

It shouldn’t matter how nice the weather is and that you’re lying lazily in the sun, you have to get up and go to your English lesson and sit on your butt and do the homework (the last you can do while enjoying the sun).  It’s nearly the same with a new game. No matter how de-motivated I get by being killed repeatedly (usually when I enter a map -.-) I still have to start the game anew and let myself get killed.

Another thing is to practice with others. Be it to talk English with friends/acquaintances or to let friends help you with a difficult level.

In addition to that I like to improve my English with movies, series and books. I started to watch movies with English dubbing and subtitles and to read a book with a dictionary handy. Now I’m secure enough to remove the training wheels and hope for the best.

As for my gaming skills I still like to use Youtube tutorials or a guide for support. Maybe one day I’m going to be the one writing a guide or uploading a gameplay video =)

A good way to boost your language skills is to visit an English speaking country. I’ve never done this, but if I ever get the chance I would gladly take it. For gamers it’s harder, there isn’t any country full of nerds, but there are meet-ups like the GamesCom in Cologne or the famous E3 in Los Angeles. And what’s new (at least for me) is a live action role playing game. A friend of mine was on a boat full of zombies and had to fight, with a team of other players, to kill as many undead as possible without dying. The zombies had to bite as many people as deadly possible.

Last but not least. The exam. I’m still a short way to my exam, but I know that I’m going to be extremely nervous especially near the end of the time limit. I tend to panic and make stupid mistakes. The same goes for a game. You can see your damage (and it’s more realistic with the newer games) and I usually lose my calm and that’s what always gets me killed. I have to practice, to stay cool and obtain control of the situation, so my head will stay in the moment and not the “what will happen if I fail”-fantasy.

What do you think? Is it a common thing to see parallels in seemingly unconnected topics?

By Ewelina

Martial Arts vs English!

In my English course we are in discussing about guided principals from one topic to another topic. This means that we try to find analogies about hobbies and the topic ‘learning English’.
The idea isn’t new for me. A lot of the big philosophers show the analogies of their thinking with examples of the ‘normal world’. A reader is more able to understand the guidance when he reads parables in the normal world and how he has to act in this world by accepting the philosophies. But before I start a text about such a complex topic – I will try to show my own simile.
English learning and learning a sport activity have a lot in common. I have experience in material arts. I’ve practised KENDO for several years.
Both things are the same topic for the student – to learn something new:
The respect for the teacher is very important. He shows the way how to learn the new topic.
He shows his experience. In the teaching class he has always the last word and gives guidance on what is right or wrong.
In Kendo it is important to repeat every thing as much as possible. In a fight there is no time for thinking. In English repetition of grammar is also important. In the moment of speaking there is no time for thinking about the rules.
Learning groups
The best way to learn is in a group. So it is possible to get feedback and the motivation helps everybody. But in English there is no fight – there is no final test on who is the best student in a combat.
Part of the life
In both topics it is important if you want to become a expert that the topic has to become a part of your life. Only 120 minutes a week doesn’t help you to become an expert or master. Every day the student has to practice the things which he’ learnt from the teacher.
I hope my points start a discussion – feedback is welcome.
By Gunter

So there you have it: four, in my totally unbiased opinion, amazing pieces of work drawing some really interesting parallels between different areas of life. I hope you have enjoyed them!

I am sure my students would love to hear your comments, or maybe to read what your students see the parallels between.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2011 11:52 am

    Wow, this is excellent. Thank you so much for sharing this and for the mention.

    I did my analogy lesson just last night and now I wish I had waited so I could have read this first. Showing them your blog was a stroke of genius. Thanks for putting up the student’s homework, there is some excellent work there.

    I took an example of an analogy from the internet about memory and computers. I did a dictogloss and in groups the students had to reconstruct the text back on the board. After corrections we compared them to the original text and then spoke about what an analogy is. Next, we did a walking gallery tour. I had put 5 short analogies around the room, simply to give further examples, but also each example had a phrasal verb that I wanted the students to identify and write down. We talked about the use of the phrasal verbs quickly and talked about the different analogies and then I asked them to write their own analogy for homework about there personal experience of language learning. Hopefully next week I can post some of their replies.

    One last thing. Would it be possible to share your student’s work with mine? Just as further examples.


    • October 6, 2011 12:02 pm

      Hiya, glad you like it!
      I was a bit lazy in my description of the whole lesson, you’ve made me realise! We also did a bit of analysis of the language in mine and we did some brainstorming of what a language learner does, which gave them some ideas to go on with.

      Your lesson sounds great! Much more imaginative than mine! Good work.

      How about you direct your students to my blog so that they can read my students’ ideas?
      Right – off to class.

  2. October 6, 2011 2:44 pm

    I’ve always thought there must be something in common between sports coaching (yoga/cycling/whatever) and language learning – I wonder what things we can learn from it…
    They both seem to be a combination of background knowledge and skills practice – there’s a combination on mental agility and physical action (albeit much more limited in scope in language).

    • October 6, 2011 4:20 pm

      Hi Phil,

      Firstly, thanks for reading!

      I think that one thing we can all learn from these analogies is that we are all capable of learning and achieving something, but to different degrees. We are all different; we have different skills/interests/natural capabilities, whether we are in the language classroom or on the rugby pitch.
      Being a language learner is to attempt to play the game of communication which has specific rules set out by the many previous years of use and as we try to interpret these rules and make them our own (just as you see when a great tennis player seems to have reinvented the game as they smash their opponent to pieces at Wimbledon), we also have to remember that we don’t make the rules. This is a challenging interplay of personal expression over rule-driven restriction.
      As language teachers, these are things that we have to keep in mind when we are struggling with different abilities or needs in class. As a Celta trainer, I have to remember that some of my trainees will have a seemingly natural aptitude for standing in front of a class, when others just won’t manage it.

      Hmmm… I said “the one thing we can all learn…” but the more I think about it, the more I see!

  3. October 6, 2011 4:15 pm

    Good for you! You dared and it worked!
    really impressive!

    • October 6, 2011 4:28 pm

      Thanks Naomi!
      I’m really proud of my students and what they’ve come up with. Watch this space for more soon, hopefully!

  4. October 7, 2011 1:13 pm

    Hi Jem,

    I love this idea! It’s going straight into my ‘Idea Shower’ list of things I must try in class at some point. I might even have a go at writing my own analogy as an example – the parallels between teaching English and learning Dutch, possibly! Thanks for the inspiration.

    Keep up the good work. I like your blog!


    • October 7, 2011 1:16 pm

      Hi Cat,

      Thanks for reading! I’d be really interested to see how your students get on with this, and definitely would love to read your analogy too.


  5. Anthony Gaughan permalink
    October 10, 2011 10:49 pm

    Really enjoyed reading these – Hut ab> for your Sonja, Simone, Ewelina and Gunther!

    To Sonja: do you see any parallel between trouble with learning English and getting a flat tire when on a long training ride?

    For Simone: Do you see parallels between running successfully at different distances and managing different kinds of speaking in English?

    Ewelina: do you see any parallels between sticking with familiar levels and games just to get maximum scores and trying out unfamiliar games/levels where your chances of immediate success are low?

    Gunther: do you see any parallels between what (in western Fencing) we call the Conversation of the Blade – the willingness to “listen” to the movements of your opponent’s weapon and to engage in dialogue with it – and the willingness to listen to and respond quickly to the signals that your speaking partner gives you?

    Thank you all once again!

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