ANA HERRERA, THE FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF BOND STREET LANGUAGES HAS AN ENDURING PASSION FOR TEACHING AND LEARNING.
HERE SHE EXPLAINS THE MOTIVATION BEHIND BUILDING A SCHOOL AND THE INSPIRATION FOR HER SPECIALIST TEACHING METHODS.
I’ve tried every conceivable method of language learning: courses at college, university, at academies; private lessons, group lessons, language holidays abroad; weekly conversation sessions, and finally moving abroad and throwing myself in at the deep end. But in every case, despite my tireless efforts, the development of my language skills was painfully slow. Sometimes, late at night, after my umpteenth evening class, it seemed impossible.
Surely, I thought, if one can learn a first language, if one had the brain capability at two years old to learn our first language, one can learn a second, a third, a fourth… The ability is there, within us. We just have to work out how to optimise it.
So, unimpressed (and, frankly, depressed) by the stop-start method of traditional language training courses, I looked to other fields for inspiration.
HOW DOES PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT?
I looked at the repetition in the ways athletes train for gold medals. The way a professional dancer rehearses difficult techniques to master a routine that then flows with beauty. The way a concert pianist learns the complexities of a sonata and then plays it with emotion and sentiment. In each discipline there is a crucial link between the mind, emotion and body. What could I learn from them?
It struck me that by training brain and body to think in the language through the ups and downs of a full day, progress might be faster. If a teaching method could capture emotion, encourage constant practice, and eliminate fear of failure, learning a second language might come more naturally.
“If a teaching method could capture emotion, encourage constant practice, and eliminate fear of failure, learning a second language might come more naturally.
Weekly classes just don’t work. At best, they teach you to translate – the technicalities of the language may become familiar, but it will never feel natural. But, in my own training, if I could have concentrated all those hours spent in lessons into a realistically long day, I would have had no choice but to start thinking and speaking in the language I was learning. (I also would have saved myself years of pain, and thousands of pounds, but, onwards and upwards!).
THE SUPPORTIVE SHADOW
In order to break the barrier between being a learner and becoming bilingual – I could have done with a supportive shadow; a skillful friend to take me through all the challenges of a normal day. A tutor, rather than a teacher, who would challenge me, and encourage me out of my comfort zone. A guiding protector. Someone who really understands that teaching is an art. Someone with skills, patience, and a good sense of humour.
I just needed a few weeks of hanging out with that person. Unfortunately, I had no idea where to find her. Then it hit me: maybe that person was me.
In 1995, after gaining a degree in teaching, I set up Bond Street Languages.
THE NATURAL LEARNER
A truly good teacher is rare. A good teacher has a sort of magic; they create an empowering atmosphere and enable a learner to get thirstier for more knowledge, rather than scared to try. They are a safety blanket, making try-mistake-correction-try-success surprisingly enjoyable.
“A good teacher is a safety blanket, making try-mistake-correction-try-success surprisingly enjoyable.
In contrast, good learners are everywhere. If, as a learner, you are empowered to control the rhythm and the speed of the course, and you suggest the subject matter that most interests you, you’ll be surprised how quickly you learn and how much you enjoy it.
THAT RAREST OF SPECIES: THE GOOD TEACHER
At Bond Street Languages, we believe that as tutors, we are responsible for enabling and amplifying our clients’ natural language abilities. This means each course has to be bespoke: we let the lesson plan adapt to the individual, rather than the individual adapt to the text book.
“We are responsible for enabling and amplifying our clients’ natural language abilities. This means every course has to be bespoke.
Not every teacher can do this, of course. It takes skill and courage to step away from standard teaching materials - a good academic doesn’t make a good teacher, as a Formula One driver doesn’t make a good driving instructor.
But every one of our tutors takes joy in encountering unknowns – in exploring new territory with every client. For all of us, for all our formal academic qualifications (and we’re all qualified teachers as well as skilled linguists), it’s the moments when clients go ‘off-piste’ that we enjoy the most.
It takes energy, patience and commitment to be a Bond Street Languages tutor, but the sense of reward we feel at the end of every course as our clients leave with renewed personal confidence as well as new language skills, makes it worth every second.
- Ana Herrera
Read more about Ana's method here.
Or contact her directly to start your own language course.