Why challenge is good for building language competence

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challenge speakout

We asked Antonia Clare and Steve Oakes, co-authors of Speakout 2nd Edition, for their thoughts on challenge. This is what they said:


A lot of people are afraid of challenge. They avoid it, and prefer to play it safe and stick to the status quo. After all, challenging oneself means there’s a possibility of failure, and for many people, failure equals disappointment, and disappointment leads to lower self-esteem. If this is how you feel about failure, then why would you risk it? Why challenge yourself?

The answer? You need challenge in order to grow, and to learn. Without challenge there is no learning. So, perhaps you need to see challenge from a different viewpoint.  People with a more positive mindset welcome and embrace challenge. They are not satisfied with the status quo – they want to improve and to develop their skills. These people enjoy the experience of trying something new, they like to taste success, but also to learn from defeat because they understand that failure is just a part of the learning experience.  

So what about when you’re learning a language? Is challenge a good thing to help you develop your skills?

We think so. We believe that learning a language is an inherently difficult task. You need to push yourself outside your comfort zone in order to succeed. One of the things that learners find particularly hard is dealing with fast spoken English, for example.

Challenge students with Speakout 2nd edition

Speakout 2nd edition incorporates extensive use of authentic material, and this genuinely engages learners both cognitively and effectively. It is also challenging for them. The procedures in Speakout support learners and gradually build their confidence in their ability to deal with spoken language. Learners truly enjoy the inherent demand in the tasks because it is satisfying for them to know that the material hasn’t been written especially for the language classroom. It feels more real, and pushes them beyond their comfort zone. However, the challenge needs to be doable, so tasks are designed to be achievable, so that the learners’ interaction with authentic material is meaningful and also gives them a sense of success.

Teachers and learners who use Speakout 2nd edition often comment on the challenge of some of the texts, saying that the course is more demanding than other courses at the level. We have found that ultimately both teachers and learners appreciate this challenge, that they feel better prepared for dealing with “the real world” than they would if they only had exposure to graded material. At the same time, within a level and a unit, we do vary the difficulty of texts so that some are relatively easily accessible to students at that level. These serve as confidence boosters.  

Speaking is another skill that many learners find difficult. Speakout encourages students to speak as much as possible, and most teachers comment that their students talk a lot during the lessons – because they have something they genuinely want to talk about. They are given lots of opportunities to express their own ideas, feelings and opinions, and we focus on giving learners really useful language, as well as building their grammatical and lexical competence. We also provide them with clear speaking frameworks, which help to push them to use this new language in practice.

In essence, we encourage learners to welcome and embrace the challenges that come with learning a language. Overcoming linguistic challenge helps you to gain awareness, knowledge and skills, and can also give you a taste of genuine success, the kind of success that really helps you to grow. And that can be addictive!   

Find out more about Speakout 2nd edition and download a digital sample now.

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