Title

Motivation to Learn

The first time I tried to learn French, my mother signed me up for a high school correspondence course. I remember cassette tapes, quizzes that were supposed to be proctored, and a family friend and native French speaker who was horrified I couldn’t conjugate basic verbs. I didn’t finish the course.

March 19, 2015
 

The first time I tried to learn French, my mother signed me up for a high school correspondence course. I remember cassette tapes, quizzes that were supposed to be proctored, and a family friend and native French speaker who was horrified I couldn’t conjugate basic verbs. I didn’t finish the course.

The second time I attempted learning the language was as a college freshman in French 101, sitting alongside students who had placed into the course despite several years of high school French. The course was taught using the immersion method, with Pierre Capretz’s now famous French in Action. I still remember Mirelle and Robert, but I still never quite grasped the basics of definite and indefinite pronouns, or the difference between sortir and partir. I spent my time in the language lab, dutifully watching the videos, but always feeling one step behind.  One day, I overheard a classmate ask the professor about a tutor. It never occurred to me to ask for additional help. I did ask a friend for help proofreading once, and the professor asked me to stay after class, wondering why I knew a particular accent and tense we hadn’t yet covered. I was ashamed for asking my friend for help.

I knew I wanted to master enough French to earn a certificate in International Relations, so I signed up for summer courses at a large state university. Because the course would not count for transfer credit, I did not feel any pressure to do well. I had just recovered from typhoid and pneumonia that spring, and I can’t recall a single interaction with the instructor, or any of my classmates. Returning to my own campus at the end of the summer, I audited a French course in the fall, and in the spring I managed to convince a visiting professor to offer the final language course on a credit/fail basis. Somehow, I passed the course, which consisted of reading a short French novel about the Holocaust. I dreaded the class, and each day desperately hoped the instructor would not call on me.  

Now, a decade later, I find myself signing up a third time for a beginning French class. This time, however, I’m actually enjoying learning. The local adult education class meets once a week, where a few other retired people and I haltingly speak to the instructor, a project-manager by day. I’ve downloaded apps and audio programs, compiling a multimedia learning package for myself that goes everywhere my iPhone goes. I can practice translating sentences when I have a few free moments, and I get notifications when I haven’t completed my goal of 10 minutes per day. Gone are the days of trekking across campus to spend an hour at the language lab.

Listening to the introduction to the Pimseluer French audio course, I was struck by the idea that the best learning takes place when the mind is relaxed, and for only 30 minutes or so a day. In college, surrounded by peers I was desperately trying to fit in with, and concerned with grades,  I was far from relaxed.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever really learn French. But for now, I have no goals. There is no learning objective I must meet, no grading rubric, or even syllabus of concepts I must master. Without a grading framework, I’m able to relax, and enjoy the learning.

 

Read more by

Back to Top