By: Mubarak Abdessalami
The question of the difficulties of learning a foreign language is relative and it has always been the target of many researches. Why does it seem difficult to learn a foreign language? How encumbering are these difficulties for the learner? It is not because the language is difficult in itself or because it may differ from the mother tongue -which is the utmost reference for learners- in vocabulary, structures, diction, pronunciation, grammar and idioms. Learning a foreign language is difficult because most of the time it is a school subject and it is related to either a purpose or no obvious purpose.
Most learners see the foreign language very difficult because they have no obvious need for it in the near future; thus no obvious purpose for learning it. They are just not motivated at all because there is nothing motivating in a foreign language that is not functional in the learner's immediate environment. On the contrary, a second language is motivating by itself because it is required to communicate with the others the moment you step out of the classroom. To illustrate this let's take these two examples: A Moroccan who emigrated to the States or Britain, for instance, will need English for survival otherwise he would be a victim of illiteracy in a country where English is the language of day to day dealings. However, English for a Moroccan who resides in Morocco is considered a mere a burden whose actual purpose is blurring and good for neglecting like anything useless.
Motivation then stems from the utility of the language in one's everyday life. English for the Moroccan emigrants is a second language (there is motivation) whereas it is only a foreign language for the Moroccans who stay in Morocco (no motivation at all). The difficulty is now explained. Thus, a language is neither difficult nor easy; it is only in the way the learners regard it that makes it as such. If they are in need for it, it will surely be or at least rendered easy despite all the cultural divergences. Nevertheless, if the learners have no need for it, it is so difficult for them that going to an English class is worth missing.
One of the means to create this sturdy motivator and chop up the seeming difficulty of the language is perhaps curtailed to the approach used to teach English to those non-motivated students. The Sheltered English Instruction or Immersion is one. The next is TBE (Transitional Bilingual Education) which is the method of teaching students in their native language and directly phasing in English instruction. Another one is the Two-Way Bilingual Education to name only three. As you may deduce, in all these situations, the teachers need to be as least bilinguals. Teachers and researchers work hard so as to find out how motivation could be triggered and reached or even created to incite the students to cope with the “difficulties” of learning a foreign language. Lots of other means are being tested and the only pledge which makes English the most convenient in this field is the fact that it is almost the Lingua Franca of the contemporary modern age. Isn't English the language of technology par excellence?!
Worse than that, however, is the situation in which English is taught as an additional language. It is also the case of many languages at Universities. TEAL (Teaching English as an Additional Language) bumps against the least motivated students of all. English here is no more than a school subject mostly optional and with a very week coefficient.
TENOP, Teaching English for No Obvious Purpose and TENAR, Teaching English for No Apparent Reason as well as TENOR, Teaching English for No Obvious Reason, are three instances of several funny acronyms used to describe a learning situation where the purpose of learning English is, at best, hazy; this includes language courses that apparently exist merely to allow students to meet university graduation requirements.
*/ TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.