I’ve been in Latvia for quite a while now, and, as often happens with foreigners, I’m often asked why I live in Latvia and not my native country Canada.

There are numerous reasons, but one of my first is always the food, and growing your own food. Again, before moving here, I had never eaten anything that I directly contributed to its growth or harvest, and now I regularly eat lettuce, strawberries, pumpkins, squash, dill, parsley, and parsnip straight from the garden.

Nice story – but what does this have to do with language learning or acquisition?

Amazingly, parsnips also play an important role in the English as a Second Language (ESL) world, here we just write it PARSNIPs – politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, -isms, and pork. Any idea what those are?

For politically correct reasons, those are the 7 topics that cannot be included in your English language course book.

Now, think about the conversations that you have had over the last week, and then consider how many of those conversations did not contain at least one of those topics.

We learn languages so that we are able to communicate, and using course books stifles that communication as the topics and vocabulary to learn are dictated by the content of the book. At William Jones, we have a strong belief that people are interesting. I have spent 12 years of my life teaching English. That means, 3 or 4 times a day, I sit down with an individual and speak with them for 90 minutes. As an English instructor, if you don’t believe the people around you are interesting and you don’t want to learn more about their lives, you will quickly burn out.

By building on this belief, we also clearly see that a course book is not only unnecessary, but hinders the communication that must be present. If I’m having a 90-minute meeting with someone at least once, if not twice, a week, there is no reason to confine ourselves to a select number of topics and ignore numerous other topics as they may be considered taboo. Besides, when you use the language outside of the classroom, will the person you are speaking with necessarily contain their language within the global norms of political correctedness? Probably not.

This is not to say that each session at William Jones is just sitting down and having a chat. We customize all of our courses to fit your language goals, needs, strengths, and weaknesses. Learning grammar, for example, is an essential part of language development. However, we do not believe that just because it is Chapter 3, it is time to learn the Present Perfect. After our pre-course consultation session, we know which grammatical points you must cover before you are able to move on to more complex grammatical structures. Throughout your programme, we consult our personalized notes to ensure that we steer the course in the direction you need so that the grammatical structures that you do need come up organically, rather than be forced on you by the whims of the course book writer.

Furthermore, the topics that we discuss, come directly from you – the learner. One of the most difficult things to do is to learn a language while talking about topics you are not interested in. At William Jones, we demand that you choose your topics in the pre-course consultation session. Of course, this can always be changed in the future, but we want you to talk about what you like. For selfish reasons, it is a much easier job if learners are engaged and interested in the topic but for the learner, the benefits are boundless. If you are interested and motivated to discuss a topic, if the conversations invoke images in your mind, your ability to remember key vocabulary and expressions is much greater than discussing restaurants for the fifth time in your language learning experience.

At William Jones, we don’t need a course book to tell us what to talk about. We use the interests of the learner and our own ability to listen, question, and direct a lesson so that the language goals are taken care of on our side and the content goals we mutually take care of.