There's Power in Praise (Especially to Language Learners)

Two men giving a high five after a great language training session

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¡Muy bien!Those words can instantly boost my self-confidence. I am a language learner, but I’m a very insecure language learner, and I’ve recently discovered that I’m not alone. We all like to feel confident and capable, but learning something new often takes us outside our comfort zone. Luckily, my Global LT Spanish teacher, Miguel, understands this and knows how to help me feel accomplished and proud. 

While pursuing my degree in education, I devoted as much time as I could to classroom observations in schools. I did as many as possible because observing so many different teachers’ styles and strategies was valuable. I had an entire college course on “Confidence and Self-Esteem Building in the Classroom,” but it wasn’t until I saw some of these magical teachers put their spin on it that I realized the power of praise and compliments.   

I spent some time in the classroom of a particularly remarkable high school teacher. She would spontaneously toss a package of Smarties candy to a student to celebrate success. I saw that the effect was much more than just a sugar high - this simple gesture built confidence. Students would beam; they felt intelligent and proud. Another outstanding teacher inspired me when I watched her with a classroom full of preschoolers. She would praise her little learners’ accomplishments by telling them, “kiss your brain.” This signaled them to kiss the tips of two fingers lightly and then swiftly place them on their head. Again, I saw their tiny faces full of pride, delight, and eagerness to embrace the next challenge. These exceptional teachers understood the power of genuine and specific praise, and their students thrived.  

It’s not just young learners that benefit from abundant praise, however. This is important for adults too.  Miguel does not give me sugary candy or tell me to “kiss my brain,” but his enthusiastic “¡Muy bien!” makes me feel so bright and, more importantly, engaged in my language lessons.   

I have also witnessed the impact of peer compliments during our Language Experiences. Learners often praise and encourage each other. After all, another learner truly understands what a significant accomplishment it is to master a specific skill or face a challenge.   

We recently had an English student participate in our Moms’ Group for the first time. At first, she was hesitant to take part in the conversation. She said she feared people would not understand her. After several minutes, she spoke. The teacher quickly complimented her and told her she understood everything she said! The other participants chimed in and agreed. The following week she returned and shared that the feedback from the group gave her the confidence she needed to accompany her child to the doctor for the first time. She now empowers other learners with her beautiful words of encouragement.  

Are you ready to start learning a new language? Or have you already started your language-learning journey? If so, good for you! Join us and experience the power of “¡Muy bien!” in your new language. 

This post was written by Karen McDougall, VP of Experiences & Culture.

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