The 10 Commandments for Language Learning

April 11, 2017 admin


What makes for good language learning?  What are the strategies and techniques that
will aid our students in their language journey?  Language teachers sometimes need to refresh

our perspectives and remember what it was like to actually learn the language
from square one.  Do you remember?  Do you remember the anxiety of being called
upon when you were unsure of your pronunciation?  Do you remember not knowing what the teacher
was saying in the target language and feeling overwhelmed?  Brush away those cobwebs, and it just might
help you connect more with your students.
Here are 10 language learner commandments adapted from the list that H.
Douglas Brown offers in his book entitled Principles of Language Learning
and Teaching
.  I hope that they
re-open your eyes as much as they did mine!

Commandment #1:  Do
not fear
As teachers, we should strive to lower our students’
inhibitions.  Most will come to the
classroom with raised inhibitions and fears that will prevent them from taking
the necessary risks that must be taken in order to try out and test the new
language.  How can we do this?  Incorporate guessing games, communication
games, role plays, skits and songs!  Use
group work as they will feel more comfortable speaking in the TL with each
other as opposed to being called on in front of the class.  Lastly, talk to them.  Explain that it’s normal to feel some anxiety
with something new, and that it’s ok.
Help them to feel comfortable to come and talk to you when they feel this
way.  Have a list of strategies that you
can give them that will help them take ownership of their learning.  Laura Lee of Señora Lee: For the Love of
Spanish has written about the Fear Factor in her blog and offers some great
advice.  Check out her blog here:  http://www.senoralee.com/single-post/2017/03/02/Fear-Factor—Spanish-Edition
Commandment #2:  Take
We need to encourage risk taking in the language!  Praise students for their efforts to
communicate in the language no matter how rudimentary it is.  Make sure to not correct every error in the
classroom or students will lose their motivation to try.  Strive to only correct those errors that
interfere with learning or understanding.
Give outside of class assignments to speak or write and test out the
language in non-threatening ways. 
Commandment #3:
Believe in yourself
Build your students’ self-confidence.  TELL them that you believe in them.  TELL them that they have the ability to speak
the language.  TELL them that they are
making great strides.  TELL them that you
are proud of them.  Many of our students
simply do not get the praise they need from home… we need to be their
cheerleaders and lift their spirits!  By
the way… not only must we use verbal communication, but SMILE and be receptive
in non-verbal ways as well.  Let the
students themselves make inventories of what they have learned or accomplished
so far in the course.  Many times, seeing
where you’ve come from and where you’ve managed to go will do wonders for self-esteem.


Commandment #4:  Get
Remind your students about the rewards for learning the
language!  You can have them do a web
quest and report back to the class on what they have learned.  Here is a great website to have your students
investigate the many benefits of learning a language:  http://languagelearningfacts.com/  You can also tell them about the jobs in
which the language will aide them, or have them investigate job postings on
line that require a bilingual applicant.
Help them to see rewards beyond getting a good grade in the class or
passing a requirement for graduation.  The Internet TESL journal offers some
great insights into motivation in this article entitled “Motivation and
Motivating in the Foreign Language Classroom”:
Commandment #5:  Love
your neighbor
Promote cooperative learning in the classroom.  Students learn and retain information better
when they share it with another.  Get the
class to think of themselves as a team.
Have them do small group work as well as work in pairs.  Teach them, by being their role model, to
cheer one another on in the target language.
Looking for ideas of how to get your students to bond?  Fellow SSS collaborator, Catharyn  Crane, talks about creating good vibes in
Spanish class in her blog found here:  http://www.solazucar.com/2015/07/creating-good-vibes-in-spanish-class.html
Commandment #6:  See
the big picture
Encourage your students to use right-brain processing.  Help them to get the big picture by using
movies and audio in class.  Read in
class, do skimming activities, do free writes such as a diary, and oral fluency
exercises where you encourage speech without fear of correction.  Help them to see that communication and
understanding is the goal… not perfect language.
Commandment #7:  Tolerate
the unknown
Tolerance is a word used a lot in today’s world… it’s
something that our students are very familiar with.  Use this to your advantage and teach
tolerance in the classroom… for ambiguity.
Help them to understand that it’s ok to not understand every single
word.  This is normal and that they can
still understand the message.  Teach them
strategies to figure out meaning from context and to ask for clarification in
speech.  Keep explanations brief and
don’t be scared to use English to briefly explain or clarify something that is
conceptual and difficult to convey via the TL and comprehensible input.
Commandment #8:  Be
Teach students to use their intuition.  Praise them for good guesses.  Help them to see patterns in the language so
that they can make educated guesses.  You
do not always need to explain errors explicitly, but rather show examples of
the pattern, so that the students themselves can figure out the problem.
Commandment #9:
Discover your mistakes
Do not always correct the mistakes made in class… let the
students discover their own mistakes.
Ask the class if they see anything that needs to change.  Have them peer correct a writing assignment
and give feedback to their classmates.
Have them make a list of their common errors and have them put the list
in their notebooks to look at before turning in an assignment.
Commandment #10:  Set
personal goals
Get your students to make goals for themselves beyond the
classroom.  Try to get them to commit to
a certain amount of time to devote to the language outside of class… whether
through study, oral practice, written practice or reading.  There are so many options today for our
students… Skype, Facebook, educational sites on the internet, etc.  Autonomous language learning ideas can be
found in The Interent TESL Journal
article entitiled “Motivation and Learner Autonomy:  Activities to Encourage Independent Study”:  http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Nowlan-Autonomy.html  You can even have them make a contract
listing what they hope to accomplish each week.
Check in with them periodically to see how they are doing and give them
rewards for their work… students LOVE extra credit! 
Are there any commandments that you think should be added?  Be sure to comment below!




Stain Glass Picture By Nheyob – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50667093


  • Sol Azúcar by Catharyn Crane April 13, 2017 at 10:19 pm

    Thank you Yona for sharing a wonderful set of ideas that are so important to bring to the Spanish classroom. I love that they also are really a set of best practice for life outside the classroom too! So appreciate the reminder at this point in the school year as we're energizing for this last stretch.

  • Unknown April 14, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    Thanks Catharyn! Honestly, it was very enlightening to write and think about my own practice! I think little reminders help us to stay aware and in the moment… it's so easy to get bogged down with the everyday grind.

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