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Education - The secret to learning English, part 2

Luglio 2017
Il segreto per imparare qualsiasi cosa? I casi sono due: o ci piace tantissimo (e allora la impariamo senza fatica), oppure abbiamo una forte motivazione, perché da questa cosa dipende il nostro futuro. Ciò si applica anche all’inglese, ovviamente: chi parte senza convinzione... non arriva da nessuna parte! Ecco perché è bene farsi un esame di coscienza prima di investire in corsi costosi.

di Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts
Rachel Roberts

Not many schoolchildren enjoy studying Latin. Not that it’s a useless subject, it’s just not usually people’s favourite. Now, imagine that one day you are browsing through an antique bookshop, when you suddenly discover a book of spells – real spells that can give you anything you want. The only drawback is that all the spells are in Latin and the only way for them to work is for you to pronounce them properly, out loud, with true understanding of the magic words. You can’t share your secret with anyone and a Google translation just won’t do in this case.
Don’t you think you’d want to learn Latin now? You’d probably skip your meals while you spent hours carefully memorising all the difficult verb forms! Try to imagine how you would feel, because that state of mind is when real learning takes place.


Wouldn’t it be nice if all learning was like that? Some people think it should be and have criticised our whole concept of schools in modern society.
Educational researcher, Sugata Mitra, has a radical approach to learning which he calls “minimally invasive education.” In his prize-winning TED talk of 2013, he describes how he and his colleagues installed an Internet-connected PC in a slum in New Delhi. Using a hidden camera they observed children from the slum playing with the computer and eventually learning how to use it and even teaching each other. Dr Mitra’s conclusion is that, when motivated by curiosity and peer interest, children can teach themselves to do anything.

our brains

Unfortunately, most of us have experience of very different learning situations. The sensation of your mind going completely blank during an oral test at school in front of the entire class will be familiar to many readers, and according to Dr Mitra there is a very simple reason for this. He explains that the oldest most primitive part of our brain, also known as the “reptilian brain” is responsible for governing our most basic instincts, such as the urge to escape when under threat. It regulates bodily functions including heartbeat and production of adrenalin, and, in order to help us get away, it can completely block the slower thinking part of our brain. Therefore if we feel under threat when taking a test at school, and many of us do, then our reptilian brains will shut down the parts we need to perform well!


Ken Robinson is another education expert, whose TED talks are extremely popular. Both he and Mitra agree that “Education has an important role in helping us to achieve our potential, but the processes by which we assess ability were designed for other times and for other purposes.”  For Mitra, these “other times” go back to the British Empire. Ken Robinson, on the other hand, talks about the Industrial Revolution. They refer to a time when we needed a lot of bureaucrats, all knowing pretty much the same thing, to run society. The point is that nowadays we have computers to do that kind of “knowing” for us and so we are free to learn what we are most passionate about.


In his book The Element Robinson tells the story of Gillian Lynne, who was sent to a psychologist at the age of eight because of her disruptive behaviour at school. Fortunately, the psychologist recognized that Gillian had a talent for dancing and told her mother to send her to dance school. As a result Gillian became a world-famous dancer and later helped create Cats and The Phantom of the Opera!

as if by magic

So what does all this have to do with learning English? Well, for a start you need motivation, so if learning English isn’t going to change your life, I’d just accept a level sufficient to buy a flight on Internet and buy yourself a sandwich on holiday. You probably have some other passion or talent that requires your energy and attention!
If, on the other hand, you really must learn English to realize your dream, then you need to create a “Latin spell book” situation. Forget English language courses over the summer. Go and study something you love in English. Whether it’s painting or acting in the UK or surfing in Australia, or simple volunteer work, there is certainly something that you will enjoy and that will force you to interact in real English. Your  language level will improve as if by magic! 

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