When you hit an ESL wall – change the WALL


(Photo credit: http://bit.ly/2c0cLJ0)

All forms of learning anything new don’t come easy. There are easy periods where everything seemed straight forward, then there are tough times where you wonder if you ever learned anything at all and will ever again. All this is normal. When you are learning English, each one of these difficult times are considered ESL walls.

At our school a lot of people reach it at the end of their Elementary course, the end of the Pre Intermediate course and then preparing for IELTS. They hit these walls because there is a build up of grammar complexity that shifts at the end of each level, and it requires the learner themselves to change gear and re-orientate what they know to acquire the new information.

So how does a person ‘re-orientate’ themselves when they hit the wall. The answer – change the wall!

Sounds crazy nonsense right?

Well this is how to look at it. The learning of English is not something that is physical, it is an intellectual concept, all you need to do is to shift the concept a little and step away and come back to it, and it will look completely different.

Every had the experience of doing something and you are so sick of it you can’t see anyway forward, then suddenly you go for a walk or meet friends, go out for dinner, watch a funny movie and when you come back to the problem it doesn’t seem quite so bad, in fact it has literally ‘shifted’ and looks different, this is called ‘changing the wall’, or ‘the wall has changed’.

Every turning point starts by hitting a wall, you are asked to take a detour and somehow you go around the situation and come out at your destination without too many problems, learning English is the same.

Another way to ‘change the wall’ is to look at it differently. Maybe you are having a real problem with ‘past perfect’ (a real killer grammar point!), you have tried and tried to get it right but you feel this big wall appearing before your eyes every time you start to get into it.  This wall is often your fear and frustration, because other people can do it, why not you? All you need to do and take some time out, have a break, shift your thoughts around – laughing or dancing to some great music often loosens up your mind, and when you feel ready to come back into the classroom and approach that ‘past perfect’ grammar again, you will find the concept is sitting in quite a different place in your mind, it somehow doesn’t feel quite so bad and if anything, you are less worried about it. The wall just doesn’t seem quite so big and you know you will get it sooner or later like everyone else.

Some people think that changing the wall is the same as changing the teacher! Well that can be something too, but usually it will require more than that for you if everything has gone smoothly up until now.

So when you are hitting a wall in your learning (or anything for that matter), don’t keep banging your head against the wall, take time out to let the wall change shape, and when you come back your mind will look at it quite differently.


3 thoughts on “When you hit an ESL wall – change the WALL

  1. What you’ve just described is what neuroscientists call switching between the “focused mode” (intently studying one thing) and the “diffuse mode,” better known as “daydreaming.” It’s also one of the best techniques out there for getting a solid grasp of the material and overcoming those roadblocks in learning. Switching to the diffuse mode – getting up, moving around, doing something different, thinking about something else – allows your brain to “let go” of the problem and come at it later from a different, more creative angle. Which is basically what you just said, but I thought you might like to know that neuroscience backs you up on this. 🙂

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