If you’re a football fan of any stripe I’d be surprised if you hadn’t heard of Jamie Vardy. If you’re Japanese you probably stumbled across him while trying to follow Okazaki’s new team Leicester City. Vardy’s story has been one of those tales all football fans love, one where someone toiling away undiscovered one day breaks onto the main stage and wreaks wonderful havoc. It plays into that romanticism that every football fan who is emotionally diving in for each tackle, winding up for each shot, feels on match day.
More interesting for the teachers among us though is perhaps how the hell he took so long to arrive. What on earth were his coaches thinking letting him go because he was too small?
Well pretty much the same thing most teachers think when they throw a bunch of students on the scrap heap each year with horrid platitudes like, ‘Some people just can’t get languages.’ In Japanese it gets phrased even more directly, ‘can do people and can’t do people.’
I hate that phrase. Almost as much as I dislike the question, “Do you understand?”
Thank you CertTesol training for that.
The notion of intrinsic ability drives me crazy because there is very little intrinsically limiting about who we are that is a permanent obstacle.
In a class of teenage girls and boys I might be dealing with two particular limitations. The limited organisational ability of some boys and the limited confidence of some girls. Obviously I see the reverse quite often but the latter example is common enough to be appropriate.
The thing is, those shy girls often go on to become some of the most fluent adult speakers of English I know. And those boys end up being engineers who couldn’t be accused of a lack of precision in any part of their life.
So our problem in education is just the same as any sporting coach. Aptitude and maturity can and do arrive at vastly different times for people. The only difference is that when a student comes roaring back in later years the applause and recognition comes from a much smaller number of people. And the appreciation isn’t sufficient because we never fully understand just how hard it was for them to get there largely through their own efforts.
Those kind of students show the same unbelievable grit and determination as a Vardy type player. To achieve despite the system is impressive and disappointing in the same breath. It should never have been so hard.
But what of the students whose first steps were too difficult, too disheartening to continue?
How many people have we inadvertently thrown on the scrap heap simply because they didn’t possess the necessary skill set to learn a language at that precise moment in time?
We throw away too many Vardys in life. And sadly they’re probably the people we’d want to be our future teachers. Not because of what they achieved, but because they know it doesn’t always come easy; but one day it might, and then who knows how far you’ll go.