The TEFL Life: A TEFL blog

a story about bad grammar and non-existent punctuation and my TEFL adventures

What dreams are made of…

So there’s a story which has been in the news for the last few days and it’s really what my dreams are made of. I am an English teacher but I have been a foreign language student many times: Thai, Mandarin, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, French – you name it, I’ve tried to learn it.

And while I’m a decent TEFL teacher (if I do say so myself), I’m a seriously crap language learner. The frustrating thing is I don’t think it’s a cognitive problem; I’m pretty sure I have the ability but I just don’t have the motivation or dedication.

Kinda like running: I know I can run, but I usually can’t be bothered.

Language learning is hard. And there’s a whole lot of other fun stuff I could be doing besides learning vocabulary. (Drinking wine and napping immediately spring to mind).

So things like this blow my mind.

In a nutshell, an English–speaking American teenager got kicked in the head playing soccer and fell into a coma. When he woke up, he spoke fluent Spanish, which he couldn’t do before.

The thing is, he’s not the only one this has happened to:

While this all might sound a bit crazy, there is likely to be a neurological basis for these amazing incidences  – but doctors just don’t know exactly what it is yet.

You see, these people did not just learn these languages out of thin air. They had tried to learn or had been exposed to them before. In other words, even though their level of the language was not very high, they had the language somewhere in their brain, just waiting to come out. All they needed was a bump on the head.

Interestingly, these cases all present in different ways. Sometimes the person is able to speak the language for a short amount of time, and some are able to maintain their new level of fluency, while others actually forget their first language.

What can we take away from these incredible stories, besides an awesome appreciation of the potential of the human brain, and renewed faith in our dreams of waking up fluent in French?

Immersion and exposure seem to be key elements of learning a language.

If you are learning a language and find you are at a plateau, don’t give up; understand you will get over it. Still exposing yourself to the language is doing you a world of good and will contribute to your fluency, when it clicks into place.

If you are a parent of a soon-to-be bilingual child, don’t panic if your child takes a bit longer to start speaking. Just because they are not speaking does not mean they are not learning, and one day they will wake up and surprise you!


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