Low threshold learning experiences in Toastmaster meetings

or: Why it is much easier to learn English with Toastmasters.

It is never really easy to learn a foreign language, even though we may have few problems picking up a few words and phrases while on vacation. To really learn a language means to be able to communicate what you want to say, not only to order the dish you want from a menu. That is the main problem most people have when trying to speak English: They know exactly what they want to say (in German), but words (in English) don’t come out of their mouth.

That is what happened to me when I arrived in the United States some 50 years ago: All of a sudden I fell silent, my voice was paralyzed and I froze to immobility. Most of the people I met probably took me for a complete idiot. However, they treated me kindly. And so, slowly but surely, I was able to learn the English (better: American) language.

How did I do it? I used social strategies: asking questions, which I thought about beforehand, working together with others in small jobs, and trying to feel how the others felt when they talked about something.

Additionally I used some emotional strategies: I tried to lower my anxiety of speaking by finding routines of speech, and I constantly told myself: “You are not doing it perfectly, but well enough for people to understand you”.

So, to my great surprise, I found the same principles working at the Toastmasters’ meetings:

The meeting structure and rules encourage asking questions, preparing statements in advance, being mentored by more experienced members, learning by watching others, learning from mistakes, giving and receiving feedback on all areas of speaking competence, including emotions. And above all the non-judging and supportive atmosphere of the meetings, which makes it unnecessary to coach oneself.

As you can see: Low barriers make for high achievements.