When I lived overseas, I noticed that ego and a poor capacity to take criticism were the biggest impediments to people’s progress in learning a language.
A couple of examples:
I had a favorite Czech newspaper that I read every day. After a few months I got to the point where I could understand almost everything in it. I felt like my Czech reading was “good”. Then I picked up a different paper that was aimed at a different readership, and suddenly I could understand only about 60 percent. My first reaction was to feel humiliated and blame the newspaper. I got a grip on myself, and forced myself to learn to read that newspaper also. However, I see this same kind of ego attack stop some people’s learning in my classes.
I learned to welcome it when the kids in my classes burst out laughing at one of my mistakes. Face it! You can’t learn a language without making some hilarious mistakes! The situations where people laughed at my language were sort of a two-for-one prize, because I got to learn the correct way to say things, and I learned what was so funny. It was a double load of language learning.
And I would have made no progress at all if my friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and even children and the popcorn vendor, did not volunteer correction without my asking.
Now I have an ESL student at a corporation whose English learning is slowed by his ego. He is extremely humiliated by any sort of mistake – in any aspect of his life – and so he avoids situations where he can be wrong. This means it’s like pulling teeth just to get him to do an exercise in a grammar book. First I have to assure him that the grammar in the book is really proper, and that using it won’t humiliate him in front of important people. Then this trepidation of his makes him break every lesson down into tiny detail, which slows everything down.
With a little time, I found one very useful tool for teaching this man English. He is more cooperative if I speak a little German in front of him and make mistakes. He laughs at them and tells me what I should have said, and he seems to learn better if he can humiliate me over my German. It makes his ego feel safer or something. So, I just let him do it, and even give him opportunities to do it. I feel like I’m letting him nail my German to the cross for the salvation of his English. It seems to work.