The only way to be truly successful in any skill is to be passionate about it. When people throw themselves into –say- sports, music or computer games and actually get passionate about it, it's difficult to drag them away from what they are doing.
Why can’t we say the same for language learning? One of the reasons that people don’t really get this in languages is that we’ve all been brought up with the idea that to learn a foreign language, we have to go to classes, look at the grammar, look at the pronunciation and do the drills. The way that most classes are taught are mainly to do with passing on knowledge. Then learners are somehow expected to take that knowledge and make it into skills, which sometimes works, sometimes it doesn’t. But it is all hit and miss, for the most part.
People learning languages struggle a lot, typically. Of course, there are a few that don’t but they’re really the few because they have figured out what they need to do to actually master the skill which is all about doing not about knowing. Knowing comes from doing.
Now, of course what happens and we’ve all seen it, is that parental pressure can be such that kids are encouraged, even forced to go and learn an instrument or go and play a sport or do something else. And we’ve all seen examples where students have not really done much with that particular skill. They’ve maybe learned the piano or learned the guitar or are able to play tennis but never really achieved any great level or any great skill. Those who actually excel are the ones who have moved from feeling the parental pressure to having something caught their imagination. And they basically throw themselves into it and start excelling in it.
Many people start learning a skill because of self-induced pressure, “I need to learn this skill so I can get a better job or I need to do this to learn that instrument because I think it’s a good idea or I will become a better person if I learn X or something like that.”
This motivation is artificial and basically in these cases the skill never gets to any great height. Those who become really good at something are the ones who get passionate and really engaged in it and start to do well at it.
You excel in English (or any other language you are learning) if it captures you, if it’s interesting, engaging, enthralling, wonderful. If it becomes something that you want to do for its own sake not because of some ulterior motive. We are learning as we are doing, as we are being involved deeply with what captures us and we just want to keep improving all the time; it is what sets us on fire. It makes us excited. It gets us up in the morning. It keeps us going all day.
So why don’t our students get passionate about learning a foreign language? We could say that a lot of the practices we use are too traditional. Imitation or translation or memorization actually take students away from being engaged in what they are doing and they are not really bringing the results we are looking for.
As teachers we should be inspired and inspiring and passionate about teaching, about understanding how learning occurs, about understanding the reasons some learners excel and some don’t, understanding what our strengths and our weaknesses are and try to become better every day.