A lot of discussion is going on among
EFL teachers on how to help language learners to reach a certain level; how to
help them improve, go up to a higher plateau, walk further, dig deeper, etc.
It's as though we assumed that the learners are never good enough; never
satisfied with what they've achieved. However, it recently struck me that
maybe, some learners have already achieved their desired level and they want to
maintain it and stabilize it. This is just as difficult as the way up. In some
cases it's even harder.
This can happen,
for example, when learners suddenly and unintentionally find themselves among
peers who are far below their level. This is the case of some of my students
who passed the FCE exam last year, for which they had worked very hard and
intensely, but later on when everything was over they quit attending various
extra courses and now they only live on their previously gained knowledge.
I imagine that the
fall is immediate and quite painful. The feeling that you suddenly don't
have to work so hard may be intoxicating at first; we all know how heady
success may feel. But it's also terribly easy, in a matter of a couple of
months or even weeks of inactivity, to forget many of the things one once
learned so laboriously. The feeling of despair when one realizes that all of a
sudden they can't recall phrases and words they once knew so well must be
frustrating. I reckon it may even make one feel angry - angry with oneself,
with the peers, with the teacher, with the whole world...
Human being is a
strange creature. Laziness is hiding and lurking ready to strike when one is
vulnerable and unprepared. But it's hardly surprising. It's extremely difficult
not to be lazy if there is no motivation not to be. So slowly and unexpectedly,
the one who used to be high above the level of their peers suddenly starts
losing points. They fail a simple vocabulary test, for example, because they had
expected it to be too easy to give it a damn. Meanwhile their weaker peers get straight
As because they're used to working hard all the time.
The problem is
obvious - we (read: the whole society) sometimes indirectly and implicitly
encourage our students to believe that once they pass an important exam or
obtain a prestigious certificate, it's over for good. However, if we don't
encourage them to get used to setting goals permanently, they'll often experience
a feeling of bitter disappointment. So the question should be: OK. When I pass
the FCE exam, what will my next step be? The document itself is worthless if
it's not backed up by a new plan or goal.
At the beginning I
talked about maintaining and stabilizing a level. But now I think it's quite
impossible to maintain a level unless one wants to permanently get better at
something. To put it simply, it's either rise or fall. If one does little or
nothing, it'll ultimately mean deterioration. If one constantly works hard
and sets oneself challenging goals, it will inevitably lead to stabilization or
I think that the
habit of working for material results and outcomes has become a disease. Those
who work because they simply love what they do will finally achieve perfection
anyway. Or they may not but that doesn’t matter to them. Those who work for
perfection itself may never reach it; even worse, even if they reach it, it'll
be difficult or impossible to keep it up and their unfulfilled wishes and
dreams will be slowly killing their desire to go on. I believe that true
perfection is infinite and it's always born out of love and passion. This means
that my job is to inspire and motivate; my job is to plant seeds of passion and
love for the language. My job is to show the direction, while the students’ job
is to get there. And once they get there, they should set off for another
journey, equipped with all the useful life skills and learning strategies that
the education system offered them.