Language learning and tennis
By Kip Cates
My father was a tennis fanatic. Tennis was our family sport and he was eager to have his kids become champions. All year round, my brother, my sisters and I took tennis lessons, did tennis drills and competed in tournaments. I never got to be a tennis star, but my youngest sister did well. By age 18, she was ranked No. 2 in Canada.
People often say, "You're Canadian so you must be good at skiing." Actually, because of tennis, I've never skied in Canada. I finally learned in Germany while working at a ski hotel.
What does all this have to do with English? Well, I believe that tennis and language learning are similar. Let's take a look.
First, to be a good tennis player, you have to know the basic equipment — your racket and tennis balls. In the same way, to be a good English speaker, you have to know the basic sounds of the language. This means mastering English pronunciation, including those "r," "l" and "th" sounds.
Second, a good tennis player has to know the components of the sport. This means forehands, backhands, volleys and serves. These form the building blocks of your game and determine whether you win or lose in a real match. For English, the basic component is vocabulary. This forms the core of your language ability and determines whether you communicate successfully in real-life situations.
Third, for tennis, it's essential to know the rules of the game — how many serves you get, when a shot is out and how often the ball is allowed to bounce. For English, the rules of the game are grammar. You have to know how sentences are formed, which verbs to use, and how to form the past and future tense.
For tennis, then, you need to know about equipment, components and rules. For English, you need a sound knowledge of pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.
Knowledge, however, isn't enough. You also need to acquire skills and to practice them in real situations. Reading books about tennis is fine, but theoretical knowledge won't help when you're out on the court. Good players practice diligently and play hundreds of matches. In the same way, good English speakers practice constantly and strive to use their English in the real world.
Attitude is also important. Even tennis players who play well can fail through fear of failure or performance anxiety. The same goes for English.
Finally, to get the most out of tennis, you have to enjoy it. Good players enjoy playing and improve as a result. To make progress in English, you have to enjoy the language-learning process. If you have knowledge, skills, a positive attitude and enjoy English, then you'll be a champion, no matter what your level!
Shukan ST: May 6, 2011
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