We’ve accidentally done something right for you!

It wasn’t the memory, it wasn’t the processor (sorry, were you expecting me to talk about languages instead of computers?), so it’s probably the motherboard, so it’s going to take longer – although there’s still a chance we’ll be reunited by the end of this afternoon.

In the meantime, it’s just you, me and this temperamental tablet.

[Disclaimer: Catrin thinks the tablet is just fine, and I’m the temperamental one].

But I’m not just posting because I desperately need company (Tweet!  Facebook!  Comment!  It might just keep me sane!) – oh, no, I actually have something of relevance to say.

When I wrote the first script for SSiWelsh, I wanted to praise our learners.  It was something I always did as a teacher, it’s something I try to do as a parent, and it just felt important.  I was a bit self-conscious about it, though – I was worried that general positive statements would sound a bit empty.  I imagined a dialogue that went something like:

Aran: You’re doing great!

Learner: How the hell do YOU know?  You can’t even hear me, you fraud!

Aran: No, seriously, you’re doing really, really well.

Learner: You’re not listening to a word I’m saying, are you, you bare-faced liar?!  Why, when I get my hands on YOU…

But as I scripted the intros, outros and links for the lessons, it started to become clear to me that there were certain things I knew about our individual learners.   I knew which lesson they were grappling with – and I knew that they must have achieved a certain level of proficiency with the earlier lessons, or they wouldn’t even be able to attempt the one they were on – and so I felt increasingly confident in making statements about what reaching/finishing a certain lesson implied for their level of Welsh.

Imagine my pleasure, then, as I carry on through another book by David Rock, to find this little gem:

‘People get, on average, a couple of minutes of positive feedback each year, versus thousands of hours of negative feedback.’

He’s including your own internal commentary in that – but even so!  A couple of minutes of positive feedback a YEAR?  As an average?!

No wonder that the positive feedback in SSiWelsh comes as a refreshing change – for many people, it may actually be the only positive feedback they hear all month.  Now, that’s obviously a good thing in general terms (I mean, it’s good that SSiW provides some positive feelings, not that it’s good that we all live in a positive feedback desert!), but there’s more.  This may not just be touchy-feely nice stuff – it might be very important neurologically speaking.

A neuroscientist called John Ratey has, as David Rock puts it, a theory that ‘our neurons have limits to the amount of electrical signals they can process, and can therefore go into overload fairly easily.  When we experience anxiety, fear, self-consciousness or any strong emotion, our neurons get flooded with electrical signals.’

In other words, if we are (as we are) awash in negative feedback, our neurological capacity may be limited, which means our learning capacity may be as well.

So those little snippets of positive feedback may be giving our learners an actual neurological boost to their capacity to learn, which is a rather lovely thought. 

It leaves us with an important question, though – how can we design MORE positive feedback into the course, without it becoming insincere and not based in reality?  One of the most marvellous things about the forum is the huge amount of positive feedback fellow learners give each other – so it may be that time spent on the forum gives learners a real neurological advantage (it’s certainly the best excuse I’ve heard so far for spending time on the forum!) – but is there anything else we could be doing?

That’s not a rhetorical question.  Until I get my computer back, I’m going to be hungry for conversation…;-)

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17 responses to “We’ve accidentally done something right for you!

  1. I have a confession to make. The dragon with the golden star you gave me a few weeks ago (my FIRST golden star) still warms my heart and made me so happy!
    So happy that the next day when I went over my sister’s house, I logged onto SSIW found the post and said “Look!! It’s my first golden star!” with a big grin on my face?
    Yes, that happy.

    It is a very sad fact that we get so much negative feedback, and even sadder that most of it is our own internal voice. I have a feeling SSIW helps many people who struggle with an unkind inner voice to get better or with confidence, whether people notice it consciously or not. Because we are affected by the environment we hang out in, and the forum truly must be one of the friendliest places on the Internet.
    Interesting side note: In Paul McKennas’s I Can Make You Sleep he talks about that inner voice and points out something very interesting. It’s not so much what the voice say a lot of the time, but it’s the tone of the voice! This is helpful because we can then change the voice to a silly or tired voice for example and it reduces the effect considerably.

    I really think that someone would have to try very, very hard to find you or any of the other people on the forum to not be genuine and sincere.

    Oh, and another thing. I don’t actually think I would have kept going with the course if it wasn’t for the lovely community that surrounds it. I mean the fact that the structure of the course makes it a lot easier to learn Welsh faster than a traditional course allow, is motivation to keep going because of the results, but not as motivating as everyone’s support for you, in my opinion.

    As for any ideas for what else could be done, I need to think about that one.

    • Marie, that gives me so much pleasure – thank you very much indeed for sharing…:-)

      It is amazing how much we beat ourselves up – and I can’t help but think that it would help make a real difference to the experience a lot of people have of language learning if we could find a way to stop people putting themselves down in the first two or three lessons. We know that it makes an enormous difference when people join the forum – but we also know that the majority of people don’t, and there must be other ways to support them.

      So any ideas you have will be enormously welcome!…:seren: [That’s the code that gives the golden star on the forum…:-)].

      • And thank you Aran! 🙂

        Sounds like a very wise ambition to focus on creating a positivity overdose in the very beginning.
        I agree with what others have said, the little pep talks in the beginning and end of lessons as well as the humour here and there is great for motivation and to help you relax a bit. More of that please 🙂 was actually one thing I thought of when I read this post the first time and that was that I did get a little bit disappointed when I got to the end of one of the last lessons in course one and it “just” ended with “well done, see you in the next lesson”.
        In lesson 20 Iestyn promised to repay every penny I’d spent on these free lessons and I loved that. He pointed out too that getting through lesson 20 meant having done only 10 hours of actual lesson material and this you could probably do more because it is a bit mind blowing to be honest! That’s not even half a day.

        I think I kind of said this already but I have a strong belief that if someone is genuine or speaking from the heart then people are gonna believe it and so I’m with Lynda I definitively feel that what Iestyn says goes for me. And i love your determination, I’ve been told so many times now through the lessons that I CAN speak Welsh and so I find myself unable to deny it (thanks ;)) which I normally wouldn’t do at this stage with a language.

        And last but not least for you Aran :seren: 🙂

  2. I’ve not long finished the Intermediate course, and the little speech you did at the end of the final lesson was wonderful and entirely welcome after the undoubted grind that came on from Lesson 17. I really enjoy the mild humour that happens incidentally throughout. Just today, I chuckled when you accused me of looking at your pint. The humour, even when it’s corny (it’s never really corny, though) is always welcome. Even nonsense statements such as, “You’re not going to eat the dog!” make me smile. The funniest recent one I came across was towards the end of Cwrs 2, when you said something like, “I’m going to the pub”, and Catrin responded with “I’m NOT going to the pub!” I didn’t know if this was born from a source of domestic friction, but it made me smile.

    • It’s a real delight to hear that, Justin – diolch yn fawr iawn! I always hope that the worst case scenario with the attempts at humour would be heavy duty eye-rolling and at least a slight relief from the pain of work…;-)

      The Cwrs 2 actually sounds like a mistake – but a rather joyful one!

    • I was feeling so happy about that until my back gave me cognitive dissonance…;-)

      Thank you *very* much for your support – almost none of what we’ve done would have been possible without our subscribers…:seren:

  3. I’m doing the Southern course, so it’s usually Iestyn that is lavishing praise on me, but the positive pep talks throughout the course have definitely provided fuel and incentive to move continue. You have DEFINITELY done something right.

    My favorite positive feedback was at the end of Course 1 the first time I did it. I remember my mind boggling over having to recall all of the information and how badly I felt about getting things wrong, confusing words, and being too slow even though I thought I had done pretty well in the rest of the course.

    I finished the last lesson while commuting home after a long day at work, and I was so frustrated and wondered why the heck I was even bothering. I was so ready to throw in the towel, and then came the speech. It even brought a tear to my eye.

    Out of curiosity, are the scripts the same in the northern and southern versions of the course?

    • It’s really great to hear that you got the praise you most certainly deserved at exactly the time you needed it most – thank you so much for sharing that, and WELL DONE for completing Course 1 – it really is a huge achievement!

      I script the lessons (content and intro/outro/links), and then Iestyn adapts them to the southern version – I think there are times he follows the intro/outro/link scripts, and times when he does it on the fly…:-)

  4. The positive pats on the back each time I listen to the lessons make them more enjoyable, they always seem that you are talking just to me. I am on lesson 15 course three and try to listen every day, maybe it is just for the positive language. When I tell people that I am learning Welsh they say “That’s a hard language to learn”. My reply is always “It’s an easy language to learn, you should try Say Something in Welsh, they make it so easy and you feel part of a huge group who want and love to speak Welsh”.
    When I was learning French I had a set of 14 positive thoughts to learn a language laminated and read them every day. You could include a positive thought with each of your daily practices, saying the English first then the Welsh. The first one was “French is interesting to learn” Next to this was the French translation. Another one was “I am proud that I am becoming a good French speaker. If you want the rest I can send them. Hope your back improves.
    Lynda Statham

    • Lynda, that’s an enormously encouraging comment – thank you very much indeed…:-)) It really is fantastic to hear that you’re doing so well, and gives me huge extra motivation.

      I love the idea of your positive French thoughts, and I’m sure you’re right that we could find a way to add them to the daily practices (especially with the new online software for lesson production that we’ve started work on), so I’d be enormously interested in seeing them…:-)

      The back is slowly getting there, I think! Thanks in particular to some of our learners who’ve been sending me very useful material on posture and other ways to help deal with back pain – it really is an endless pleasure to be involved with such caring people.

  5. I’ve been doing the SSiW lessons at a pretty quick pace and having had now a couple of tentative conversations in Welsh, the feedback I’ve gotten has been, ‘wait, HOW long did you say you’ve been learning?’ So first of all, yay for intensity!, but also when people say that, I think, “well yeah but at the end of every lesson Iestyn said by now I have enough Welsh to be a really confident speaker and I should be able to live, thrive and survive in the language of Welsh so I’m just doing what Iestyn told me I could do.”

    I really think that specific positive talk in the lessons has been one of the big factors in how far I’ve finally come with a second language.

    • That’s hugely interesting, Amy, thank you so much for sharing – and huge, huge congratulations on having come so far so fast. It’s all pretty unscientific at the moment, of course (which doesn’t have to be a bad thing!) but it certainly seems clear that a very significant number of our learners place a very high value on the positive commments, which means it makes a lot of sense for us to try and think of ways to do even more in that direction.

      I’m starting to think particularly about the first two lessons – my guess is that probably lose a lot of people at that point, because adapting to a different approach is too much of a hurdle, particularly with the negative feedback they give themselves – so if we can find a way to do something authentic but really powerful to encourage them at that point, it might be very important indeed.

  6. Oh, yes, the positives are the key. I had been learning Welsh for some time before stumbling upon SSiW. I knew I would always learn Welsh- the sounds, the spelling, the word building all thrill me but I never actually believed I would speak Welsh. You guys gave that gift to me. Interestingly, I realised pretty early on that I was being brain washed. I remember reflecting on the fact that you’d taught us: Dw i’n mynd i siarad Cymraeg and not dw i’n mynd i ddysgu Cymraeg. From the outset, you told me I was a Welsh speaker and I believed you. I hadn’t intended to join the forum. But then I blogged about SSiW and to my utter amazement(I didn’t think anyine read my blog) I got comments from Dee and Aran and maybe even Iestyn. I had explained on my blog that I had to say the Welsh before Cat every time or else I couldn’t go onto the next lesson. Aran wrote something like: no, only 80% of the time. We don’t want it to be a lesson in frustration. Of course, after that, I had to join the forum. And to my great astonishment, every time I asked a question people not only told me what I needed but also how well I was doing. The other great thing is Dee’s newsletter. Every week, she highlights people’s stories and we all get a chance to share in their sense of achievement. All in all, SSiW has been one big positive experience, full of people who believe in Welsh who somehow convinced me I too could speak Welsh.

    Diolch yn fawr o fy nghalon.

    • That’s such a heart-warming story – it really puts a smile on my face…:-)

      The enthusiasm you have (and share with us by talking about it) is what makes this project such an endless source of pleasure – so diolch o galon to you, too…:-)

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