So as we know, the first stage in which the information goes through is the Limbic system, laying emphasis on the relevance and also the emotions, which should be relaxed, yet not boring, and challenging, yet not stressful.
How can we present lesson content that is relevant for the student?
The first thing that comes to mind is to explicitly point out what is important for the students and why. For example, if a student asks why they have to learn the “Konjunktiv II”, as a teacher, you could highlight that it would make the learners’ speech much more polite in specific situations.
So, if you feel as though you haven’t convinced them and it still hasn´t resonated with the student, the next step is to build bridges. Here are three recommendations:
a. Storytelling. What is storytelling? For example, to convince the Chinese learners about the importance of saying “How are you?” and “Thank you I am fine and you?” (a concept which is not common in China in that way). I started telling them a story about my own language learning experience, where I had to learn a similar notion, but in the Arabic language, and could not understand the relevance of that in the beginning. However, I suddenly understood that it is a form of politely greeting someone when you meet them. I started applying it and my Arabic teacher was very pleased with me. I could hear the Chinese giggling a bit when I told them the story, and in the following sessions, I could hear the “initial greeting phrases” much more frequent than before.
Generally speaking, from a neurochemical point of view, the connection between emotion and the willingness to act is scientifically approved. This all comes down to the releasing of neurotransmitters in the listeners’ brain.
b. Pictures in general. You can present the learners with a topic, such as: “Talk about the natural environment and the impact that humans have on it”. As you can see, this idea is very abstract, which can inhibit learners from feeling engaged. How about presenting this picture of a coral reef with fishes, which seems so pristine, but then surprisingly, you recognize the plastic bag intertwined. What emotions might this cause you? It is proven that the more intense the emotions are in a situation like this, the more likely it’ll be that listeners or learners remember the things presented. A scientific experiment showed that there is a correlation between the level of emotion generated and the students’ ability to remember the information they were told.
Instead of using photos and pictures you could also use metaphoric or picturesque language to describe linguistic phenomena. Examples for that is the “verb-kicker” to describe a conjunction of a subclause which “kicks” the verb out of its normal position to the end of the sentence. Then, you can also explain the sense of the “modal particles” as the spices added to the “language soup”, because they are not containing real information (“nutrition”) itself, but they enrich the speech and make it more pleasant (“delicious”) to hear. I just remembered another picture I use to demonstrate the difference between “als” and “wie” for comparison in German, which is a simple scale that is balanced (equal) for “wie” and unbalanced when you want to use the word “als” to compare two things.
c. Change the words of an idea. Here, I follow the rhetoric trainer Mr René Borbonus, who is famous in Germany: Instead of saying “circle training” which everybody hated at school, call it “Crossfit” and everybody will storm into the gym with enthusiasm. Instead of “please eat slowly” what your parents might have told you when you were a child, call it “Slow Food”, a movement first became popular in Italy which emphasizes the pleasure of eating good food slowly. Have you ever thought about participating in a marathon and then never did it because it sounded unrewarded and exhausting? What if I told you that it’s actually is a “Color Run” with a “finish festival” at the finish line? Doesn’t that sound more appealing? So, what has changed? It is possible to reframe an activity in a person’s mind by only changing the words.
Clearly, these are ways you can build bridges to reach your learners.
We should keep in mind that it has to be fun to learn languages. The emotional content is even more important overall than the presentation of the didactic content. The teacher is characterized not so much by their didactic as by their motivating and empathetic skills.