Positive Impact of Positive Comments by Anyone

It is an English teacher’s ethical obligation to remain positive and foster positive “English image” in our students. I say that today for two reasons. One based on research in the field of language learning, and the other based on research in the medical field.

I was reading my tweets today, and a tweet from Blythe Musteric (@Blythe_Musteric) caught my eye. She had posted an blog entitled “Impact of negative comments on nonnative speakers in the workplace.” The title is pretty self explanatory, but basically it says that impatient, negative coworkers can impair their non-native speaker colleagues’ language ability by using negative language. The writer suggests that coworkers encourage their colleagues to improve, and uses a statement from Krashen as support.

Doubt and anxiety decrease a learner’s ability to process the language, creating a “mental block” for language learning. [Krashen, S. (1988), Second Language Acquisition and Second Language, Prentice Hall]

If we extrapolate from this, anything we as teachers do or say that increases the doubt and anxiety of our students should be avoided, and we are obliged to increase our learners’ self confidence and secruity. We have the ethical obligation to create this kind of environment through the use of predictable outcomes, encouragement, and a curriculum that fosters language development.

Since I teach nurses, I wanted some more evidence from their field of expertise on the effects of positive beliefs. I found an article by Herbert Benson and Richard Friedman, from the Annual Review of Medicine, entitled,” Harnessing the Power of the Placebo Effect and Renaming It ‘Remembered Wellness.'” In it the writers suggests that the placebo effect gets positive results in 60-90% of cases which are enhanced by a.) positive beliefs and expectations by the patient, b.) positive beliefs and expectations by the health care professional, and c.) a good relationship between the parties.

This kind of research would be very useful in a language learning setting, where one class was left to their own beliefs about their learning and had no relationship with their teacher, and another class where all three of the factors were present, positive beliefs and expectation by the learner, by the teacher, and with good relationships between the two. My hypothesis is that the class with the positive beliefs and expectations and good relationships between teacher and student would perform better than the class with no such benefits.

I do not have data from such a study, but there is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that it is the teachers ethical duty to remain positive him or herself, to help their students be positive about their outcomes, and to maintain good relationships.


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