Sex and language learning

September 8th, 2005
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There! Got your attention didn’t I? That’s because after millions of years of natural selection our brains are hardwired to react immediately to a chance to reproduce and pass on our DNA. Studies show that when thinking about sex our brains explode in a frenzy of neurotransmitters.

What does this have to do with language teaching? The always brilliant Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users explains in this post (her example is teaching IT systems):

So instead of, “… then the enterprise component will stay synchronized with the underlying persistent store…” I might say, “if you don’t do it this way, you could be a victim of the dreaded Lost Update problem and… that means you could lose the entire record of Suzy’s last Victoria’s Secret purchase.” Then I let them make the one final leap to, “the boss screams at me, it shows up on my performance eval, I don’t get that raise, and that means… less sex.” (And yes, there’s a reason I said “Victoria’s Secret” and not “lose the entire record of Bill’s Office Supplies purchase…”. It’s almost biologically impossible to not have at least some tiny chemical reaction to the phrase “Victoria’s Secret” that simply doesn’t happen when you’re talking about pencils and staplers. And remember, it’s that chemical reaction that leads to attention and memory. It’s that chemical reaction that tells the brain that this is important! Pay attention and record!

If we all acknowledge that we need to make our classes relevant and meaningful to adult learners, what better way than by acknowledging something so essentially human? We need some neural re-wiring for second language acquisition, and neural activity can spark that. AJ Hoge’s recent post at Effortless Language Acquisition (again, a must read for language teachers) writes

If “content is king”… if “fascinating topics” are crucial…why are we still reading boring articles in class? I imagine that thought is going through every one of my students’ minds who reads this blog.

I’ve thought about that question alot and I can’t think of a reasonable answer other than, “I was afraid to go all the way with this idea”. But that fear is evaporating and I realize I’ve got to do more than write or yammer about these ideas.

Another problem is that it’s not necessarily easy for me to know what fascinates most Thai University girls aged 18-22 (the bulk of my students). It has taken me some time to figure this out.

My conclusion is that the number one topic of fascination is relationships & dating. Romance, heartbreak, the differences between girls and boys, dating challenges, love, etc. seem to fascinate most of my students. Whenever I ask a class what TV show they’d like to watch in class, “Sex and The City” is always the big vote winner. Romance movies are equally popular.

OK, time to go spice up the content of my “English for Accounting” course.

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