9 Steps to Prevent Learning


March 24, 2010 by Willy Cardoso

Preamble, Prelude or Prologue:

Not long ago I decided that I would never stop learning* languages. Be it formally – with a teacher in a classroom – or informally, the plan is that every time I reach an intermediate level of one I’ll start another, of course carrying on with the former till I feel I know it well.

*By learning a language, for the sake of this post, I mean noticing it consciously and intentionally, as opposed to picking it up.

I ’d like to outline on this post how some of my teachers’ attitudes might have prevented me from learning better.

Not that I’m  blaming them of anything really, especially because the last five ones were hired by myself, I’m just using these examples as things I don’t like as a student and consequently I don’t do as a teacher.

So here we go,

9 Steps to Prevent Learning

–        Teach by the book (in this case, the Teacher’s Book)

It might say there to play the audio twice, and that exercise 3 comes after 2 and 1. But that is not a medical prescription.

 –        Overuse initial TEFL training common senses

PPP, drilling, controlled practice, etc. E.g. Lots of pair work is fine, but doesn’t work with intrapersonal learners, which leads to the next offence.

 –        Generalize tastes and theories

I’ll take this one more personally: I’m a musician, but that doesn’t mean I like to learn through music. My occasional unwillingness to speak is not shyness, lack of confidence and neither a manifestation of my intrapersonal intelligence. What is it then? The teacher should ask instead of labeling.

 –        Don’t negotiate homework

Only 20% of my students will do their workbooks no matter how persuasive I can be. 80% will do more authentic homework such as reading novels, preparing presentations, or writing compositions, when they’re given the gift of choice. Somebody needs to tell writers and publishers that workbooks are the second most tiresome thing after commuting in Sao Paulo.

 –        Avoid taboo or controversial topics

In a workshop I attended earlier this year, Jeremy Harmer mentioned the importance of ‘the rush’ in developing fluency. In Brazil, I see taboos and controversies as highly engaging.

 –         Be a chatterbox

We were given two ears and one mouth to listen twice as much as we speak.

 –        Just talk the talk…

I hate this cliché phrase, but… I had teachers who were also students in other subjects and were lousy students. The ultimate question is: Do you, the teacher, demonstrate the level of learning you expect your students to have?

 –        Neglect knowing students on a personal level

From my experience, knowing your learner’s referential point is paramount. I tend to spend at least 10 minutes of every class to know more about their lives, and I mean ‘know’ as I know my friends, not as I know my fiancée’s step-grand-mother-in-law.

 –        Fear silence


(sshh… I’m thinking)

 These are some of the things that can happen when teachers follow instructions/methodologies religiously and forget to pay attention to students’ reactions, interests and motivation. Ironically, yet obviously, I myself have found some of the instances above in my teaching. I had read about how to do it, and I had been told about it as well, but it really hit me the hardest when I became a student again. And there will be many other things I’ll learn by being a student again and again. That’s one of the very good reasons I have to never stop learning languages.

Knowing, of course, that we shouldn’t teach the way we like to be taught. What have you seen in yourself as a student that made you a better teacher?


 I’d like to mention the three things that triggered this post:

–       Revisiting her language classes,  Anita Kwiatkowska caught my eyes with the blog post How I learned your language , and reminded me that sometimes we focus too much on teaching and neglect learning.

–        Nick Jaworski  left me a message on Beltfree encouraging me to keep the pace with this blog, which I appreciated.

–        While reviewing the training sessions I gave in 2008, I stumbled upon some role-plays based on Scrivener’s How to prevent learning, from the iconic Learning Teaching.

So, thank you all three for inspiring the dude here.

 Scrivener’s list is:

  • TTT (Teacher Talking Time)
  • Echo
  • Helpful sentence completion
  • Complicated and unclear instructions
  • Insufficient authority / Over-politeness
  • Not checking understanding of instructions
  • Asking ‘Do you understand?’
  • Fear of genuine feedback
  • The running commentary
  • Lack of confidence in self, learners, material, etc
  • Over-helping/over-organising
  • Flying with the fastest
  • Not really listening (hearing the language but not the message)
  • Weak rapport: creation of a poor working environment

13 thoughts on “9 Steps to Prevent Learning

  1. I love that line – a teacher guide is not a medical prescription!

    I’ve never commuted in Sao Paolo, but if it is anything like a workbook I would have to jump under a train. Please publishers, give us LESS, and let us be FREE!!

    I’m with Nick… keep it up ; D

  2. You made a very good point Willy – language teachers should never stop learning other languages.

    I wonder if there is a noticeable difference between educators who learned languages prior to taking up teaching themselves and the ones who know only the language they teach. What do you think? One of the aims of my series was to touch upon that issue.

    Obviously I agree with your 9 steps to prevent learning. I’m guilty of the first one but that was at the very beginning of my career and I still discarded some of the ‘advice’ given by the TB authors. The second one, well, might happen to everyone – once you’ve regained your pre CELTA common sense, everything goes back to norm 🙂

    I’m honoured to have been your inspiration btw 🙂

    Going off the topic – wondering why is it always me and Nick? 😉

    And why isn’t Lindsay Clandfield here yet? You’ve made a list and it’s like a magnet for some people, I have heard…

    • Hi Anita, it’s good to see you here!

      There was a recent online discussion about whether second language teachers should have experienced second language learning, I riffled through my bookmarks but couldn’t find where it went on. I personally think that it makes a huge difference, I can see it based on the English teachers I supervise, the native-speakers who care about learning Portuguese end up being more efficient teachers. In our last weekly workshop here, I made this same questions to them, the Brazilian ones didn’t have a formed opinion, on the other hand, all foreigners agreed that it makes a difference, and they all said that the more they learn Portuguese, the better they are as teachers.

      You have no idea of how reluctant I was in making a list, but I can live with that once in a blue moon.

  3. Hey Willy, it’s been real busy with conference season in full-swing here. I”m glad to see you got back into the game. Some good advice here for teachers. Lookin forward to the next post. Personally flying with the fastest has always been a the one I’m most prone to, though I think I check myself pretty well these days. 🙂

  4. Hi Willy!

    I always felt I learnt a lot the time we listened to a Shakira song studying Spanish at university. I’m learning a little (and I do mean a little) Portuguese from singing while at capoeira class. Serious point underlying that – I think it’s the REAL things that help me learn as a student, and not a dry gapfill activity in a book.

    All the best


    • urgh… gapfillies give me the willies : )

      Mike, that’s awesome you learn Portuguese, even if a little, from capoeira tunes. It is indeed the REAL thing that will make learning memorable, but somehow music doesn’t work for me, and I was a pro musician for 6 years, go guess it.

      Thanks for commenting!
      All the best!

  5. philb81 says:

    Just found this blog – it looks ótimo 😉

    I think I agree with every point you’ve got there… and I think teachers should study as much as they can, because our own experiences of education can be very useful in terms of informing our practice. I think Scrivener’s list is spot on as well.

    Learning other language can certainly help us empathise with our students, but having said that – I’ve met a lot of really good and really knowledgeable but monolingual language teachers – so it’s not essential.

    Personally the thing that most disappoints me in teachers, is when I see that people are afraid to experiment, afraid to be wrong sometimes… That’s the situation we put our learners in all the time, we should be able to deal with it!

    • Hi Phil, thanks for commenting, and thanks for the ‘ ótimo’ !!
      I agree with you when you say it’s not essential for a teacher to speak a second language, it’s desirable though, I mean, do you think that those really knowledgeable monolingual teachers you’ve met would be even better if they spoke a second language? I’ve met great monolingual teachers as well, but at least in my limited context here, they were a minority.

      Being afraid to experiment is a big ‘preventer’, yes!

  6. […] also had my take on 9 Steps to Prevent Learning stepping away from my role as a teacher and trainer and seeing it from my experience as a foreign […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

receive new posts by email.

Join 490 other followers


Events 2015

IATEFL Manchester, UK
10 April, 2014
TDSIG PCE: Challenges and Rewards
More info

IATEFL Manchester, UK
12 April, 2015
Talk: Initial teacher training: challenges and innovations in course design

23 March, 2015 - Kragujevac
28 March, 2015 - Belgrade
Theme: Assessment: who is it for?
More info



%d bloggers like this: