I have always been a fan of the expression “There are no silly or trivial questions except the ones you don’t ask.” And when it comes to learning a language or any subject for that matter, questions are imperative. If we don’t understand something, it’s important to speak up. Children are great at this. They are constantly asking adults all the “whys” and “whats” they like. They’re not afraid to admit they don’t know something. However, as we grow up, we change. People associate not knowing with being stupid. It takes courage for many of us to admit when we don’t know something. The greatest benefit of asking questions is that by asking the right questions you can learn and grow as a person.
Recently one of my students has been coming in each week with some really great questions regarding translation. Despite having taught English for 18 years her questions made me stop and think. Two weeks ago her question was “How do you say ‘~shimatta?’ in English?” It really caught me off guard and I had to think for a while. With the help of a good friend we came up with “without thinking I ~” or another idea was “I couldn’t help ~ing.” Then this past week her question was “Eigo sukoshi shika shaberenai.” to which we had a few different ideas; “I can speak only a little English,” “I can only speak English a little,” as well as “I can speak little English.”
What does this tell me? That this student wants to learn. It also means that she was thinking about English at home. And finally it tells me that she will learn quickly.
When it comes to learning a language questions take on so much more importance because in my opinion a student’s mindset is crucial. There will be times when things can’t be translated, there will be times when things don’t make sense, and there will be times when you’ll be frustrated but if you just ask questions you’ll be amazed at what you can learn.
The funniest thing about successful people is that they are the first to admit they don’t know everything and will ask questions when they don’t understand something. For them, looking stupid for a short time is a small price to pay for the gift of knowledge. I guess that’s what makes them successful. They aren’t afraid to say “hey, teach me.”
So the next time you don’t understand something, don’t just pretend you do. Speak up. I hope my students at Smith’s Hirakata do just that.