MAKING FUN OF LEARNING

"In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and SNAP - the job's a game!" - Mary Poppins, Disney, 1964 

We may not have a creative guide in our lives to keep us motivated with catchy tunes and made up words, but we can find ways to help the medicine of continuous study go down. The study of games as a valuable tool in facilitating the learning process has gained speed in recent years. We are quickly phasing out the concept of drills and tests as instructors realize that the key is to teach students how to think. The same is true of language. I recall using grade level games each summer to reinforce math or history skills. I hardly noticed the problems themselves, distracted instead by fact they were set in a crime-solving task at an art museum with a skateboarding heroine.

How does this relate to someone, maybe an adult, learning a language? Well, to answer this question we should first investigate what makes a game fun and why we are so willing to exercise our mind and various skills to this purpose, but not in a classroom.

The first thing that comes to my mind is found within the question itself - the nature of the classroom.  No one wants to study and answer questions with everyone watching, in a dull room, under fluorescent lights. One of the greatest benefits of a game is that, for a moment we are not ourselves and we are not held responsible for knowing all the answers. When teachers can help distract and redirect our attention toward a common goal, we feel less like students and more like capable and valued members of the classroom community.

Embrace role-playing activities, pretend to be someone else, and pretend to be somewhere else. Inhibitions often keep us from reaching our full potential. We are so clouded with anxiety and doubt that we fall victim to mental blocks, which in turn take away opportunities to practice. In a way, we become our own worst enemy while studying a language. Think less on the task of giving an answer at this moment to a specific question, and keep focused on the end result.

Games also provide a defined goal. People learn better when they learn with a purpose. Do you remember the answer to question number two in part B of your homework? Or do you remember the verb for "to forget" from that song by a woman who sounded oddly like an Italian Amy Winehouse? (I think you can tell what my answer would be. Four years later and I can still sing along to "Non Ti Scordar Mai Di Me.")  Games are goal oriented, and that's how we should direct our language learning. If you are focused on why rather than what, you will be much more likely to remember.

Finally, as we reach our goals, don't forget the reward! It doesn't have to be anything extravagant. Recognition of the fact that we accomplished something is often enough positive reinforcement for our brain to file this away as a pleasant experience and make us more likely to continue. (But if you'd like, go ahead and pick up that cheesecake on the way home, if that helps motivate you.) The point is, don't focus on how much more there is to learn, but be proud of what has been accomplished along the way. Note the progress made and be happy - SNAP! We're learning!