I can now tell you, in Spanish, that my pretty dog eats green apples

Who would’ve guessed that learning can be easy when it’s fun, that it happens organically when the student is interested, engaged, amused even?


Hola! Tú hablas español?

No, I don’t speak Spanish – yet. But I’m learning.

I wrote that opening sentence all by myself without even checking where the accents go, which is indeed a work of magic from the girl who was told to sit at the back in high school German and not bother anyone, “because you’re going to fail anyway”.

Of course I was going to fail!

All that dry der, die und das promised a slow death by boredom, if complete lack of comprehension didn’t suffocate me first.

I scraped through Afrikaans after 12 grim years of it; I achieved spectacular non-success in school Zulu and Sotho.

I simply assumed I was useless at languages. Now I’m wondering…

I’ve been learning Spanish using a phone app for an hour daily, for the last two weeks. While I’m feeling rather exotic, while I can now tell you, in Spanish, that my pretty dog eats green apples, I’m also top of the league table in my group simply because I’m working so hard at it.

And why am I working hard?

Because I’m enjoying it!

They treat it like a game; they have bonus rounds; they throw in silly sentences – “The waiter is eating your croissant”; “Do you live with a horse?” – which pull the learner up, which help the vocabulary and grammar to stick.

Who would’ve guessed that learning can be easy when it’s fun, that it happens organically when the student is interested, engaged, amused even?

Oh, it’s a far cry from those classes of yore, where they were more concerned about uniform violations.

Some teachers do seem to understand that playfulness is what hooks minds, that novelty makes things memorable, that the carrot – and courgette and artichoke – beats the stick every time.

Science backs this up: exposure to novelty enlarges the hippocampus, prodding it into growing more neurons, while a 20 minute novel experience of, say, music or science before lessons improves longterm memory significantly.

So imagine if novelty happened in every class; imagine if it WAS the class!

Sí? De nada! 

Jennie Ridyard.

Jennie Ridyard.

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