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What Neuroscience Principles is MPEC’s Language Engagement Method based on?

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You frequently ask us about Language Engagement - the neuroscience-based method designed and created by MPEC. In this article, Suzanne Pilch MA, ACC, describes three of the main neuroscience theories this method has been inspired by.

Language Engagement Scientific Principle Number 1: Confidence is key to speaking a second language. In order to gain confidence, we need to see that language as our own, we need a story that will help us embrace the internal narrative of our own multilingual self.

Scientific Claim by D. Kahneman is that human judgement is noisy – full of unwanted discrepancies and errors of judgement which we make without realising that they are based on inner, subconscious or even unconscious filters through which we perceive and understand the world around us. Our human minds have much greater need for coherent stories than they do for those stories to be objectively true. Therefore, we will see something as true as long as we perceive it as coherent – on both ethical and logical levels. 

How is this applied in MPEC’s Language Engagement Method?
Let’s imagine we meet a student for the first time and they say something along the lines of: I am a person  who struggles with confidence, who always needs to be prepared, otherwise I cannot work or function properly, and as my English is so poor, I feel blocked when I need to speak it. 
We know that what blocks them and makes it impossible for them to speak English is the limiting inner narrative about their own difficulty with learning or speaking that language. We therefore focus strongly on highlighting growth through constant Positive GAP Analysis milestones (’this is where we were’, ’this is where we are’, ‘all these skills and expressions are new and yours to use from now on’). But most of all, we build our lessons on and around real practice, role plays and simulations. Because we know that our students’ brains need a ’Real Story Of A Past Success’ in order to feel more confident when facing a real challenge outside of the classroom. We know as well that the mind does not need this story to come from a real environment – a role play with a coach will turn into rich turf for confidence ahead of our student’s next meeting in English or an exam or an interview they want to pass.
Noise Kahneman
Imagine that two doctors in the same city give different diagnoses to identical patients – or that two judges in the same court give different sentences to people who have committed matching crimes. Now imagine that the same doctor and the same judge make different decisions depending on whether it is morning or afternoon, or Monday rather than Wednesday, or they haven’t yet had lunch. These are examples of noise: variability in judgements that should be identical. In Noise, Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony and Cass R. Sunstein show how noise produces errors in many fields, including in medicine, law, public health, economic forecasting, forensic science, child protection, creative strategy, performance review and hiring. And although noise can be found wherever people are making judgements and decisions, individuals and organizations alike commonly ignore its impact, at great cost.

Language Engagement Bottom Line

If you keep telling yourself: I am Italian/ French/ Polish and I did not do well at school, therefore my English will always be limping and imperfect, you are listening to a limiting internal narrative which seems coherent to you but which blocks your communicational confidence.​

The Storytelling Animals - Neuroscientific Principle Number 2

We are storytelling animals and there is nothing that bounds us together better than a joined, intersubjective narrative. It makes us trust each other, it makes us see ourselves as ‘belonging’ to a group. Y.N. Harari, Sapiens

MPEC’s Application of this principle:

We know that humans need to feel they are a part of a joined, shared narrative – intangible and intersubjective – in order to feel truly confident. To make it possible, we build a strong, positive community of likeminded students, who meet twice a week for guided conversation that allows them to bond through powerful topics that build intimacy and trust. Our Zoom Conversation Club (2 sessions of 30 minutes a week) does not follow the traditional academic error-correction focus. 

The Coach’s presence is limited to being the host and the moderator, whilst the students are invited to speak with different partners in a set of short, private conversations in Break Out Rooms. In 30 minutes, each student can meet 3-4 fellow learners, whose level might differ from their own, but with whom they can simply interact, without the risk of being judged or seen as ‘not good enough’ – one of the major dreads and fears amongst the human kind.

Being able to communicate without fear and with the real, non-academic end in mind is what makes the Conversation Club so amazing. It is as if we could enter an English Speaking World by clicking ‘Join’ on our Zoom app. A world we feel safe and happy in.

Y.N. Harari Sapiens Book
Homo sapiens rules the world because it is the only animal that can believe in things that exist purely in its own imagination, such as gods, states, money and human rights. Starting from this provocative idea, Sapiens goes on to retell the history of our species from a completely fresh perspective. It explains that money is the most pluralistic system of mutual trust ever devised; that capitalism is the most successful religion ever invented; that the treatment of animals in modern agriculture is probably the worst crime in history; and that even though we are far more powerful than our ancient ancestors, we aren’t much happier.

Language Engagement Bottom Line:

Stories we tell ourselves about our own limits become self-fulfilling prophecies. If we give ourselves permission to truly and completely belong, to join a community that shares our goals and fears, we feel empowered to speak and to use the language in which we can communicate with our fellow group members.

Number 3: The Power of Likeability

Humans are far more likely to rate a subject or a topic as positive and interesting if they find the teacher likeable. D. Kahneman, Noise
How do we apply this principle at MPEC?

Aware of this principle, we choose our Coaches very carefully. We only choose truly passionate teachers and then we help them build their lessons on different topics.

mpec coaches ESL teachers

We look for teachers with a strong desire to grow and learn and a manifested interest in communication and coaching. Before hiring a new coach and after a series of interviews, Suzanne and Ed evaluate the ease with which the candidate approached the topics. Using their coaching and microanalysis skills, the MPEC Partners choose the best conversationalist amongst the potential new members of their team. To ensure that MPEC Coaches can always deliver on the promise on courses based on motivation, psychology and coaching, each MPEC teacher has an unlimited number of coaching sessions they can request with either of the MPEC Partners, ICF Solution Focused Coaches. The coaches are managed with uttermost respect for their creativity, they are invited to bond with one another, to feel emotionally engaged during their courses and – when life brings a share of lemons – the coaching sessions are a way to find clarity, self-confidence and some peace of mind: all the necessary ingredients if one is to feel driven and motivated to work. Each course is assigned a coach only once the MPEC Partners have met the course participants and the coach who seems to have the best fitting personality has been identified. It is not uncommon for Ed or Suzanne to call a client and spend all the necessary time trying to find the suitable slot with a specific coach if the student’s profile, interests or goals are dear to this particular MPEC Team Member.

Language Engagement Bottom Line:

Go the extra mile to ensure that both the Coach and the Participants like one another.

Principle 4: Humans are bound to be connected in a Virtual World in the near future - following the vision described by Y.N.Harari in Homo Deus

Since the publication of Homo Deus, in 2015, MPEC Partners, Suzanne and Ed have been convinced that the future of human social life, education and training is linked to a real human presence extended to the new, hybrid and virtual world. They decided to obtain their coaching certificates in a course conducted in streaming by K. Dierolf, MCC, EMCC, MP, EMCC, ESIA, a pioneer of engaging online training. This experience, combined with the need they both had to cultivate meaningful relationships regardless of the other person’s geographic location, means that MPEC had a ready and tested methodological strategy way ahead of the 2020 Covid Pandemic, when the world  felt obliged to discover Zoom. Suzanne frequently says: While Italy (MPEC was founded there) was trying to figure out how to use Zoom links, we were already there, waiting for them to join us. MPEC was amongst the first Italian training companies which moved their entire didactic infrastructure to streaming platforms in early 2020, without losing a single client. The school’s offer increased and its clientele slowly shifted from Northern-Italian companies and private students to international corporations, football teams, private universities and law firms.
homo deus y.n. harari
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow examines what might happen to the world when old myths are coupled with new godlike technologies. What will happen to democracy when Google and Facebook come to know our likes and our political preferences better than we know them ourselves? As Homo sapiens becomes Homo deus, what new destinies will we set for ourselves?

Language Engagement Bottom Line:

We cannot rely on an obsolete, course-book – based training approach to work well in a digital environment. We need to make sure we do not limit the possibilities that studying in Streaming gives both the teacher and the students and the best way to obtain that is through profound and complete transformation of the studying materials and lesson plans.

Which writers and thinkers inspired the creation ofMPEC’s Language Engagement Method?

  1. The body of work by Y.N. Harari: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014), Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2016), and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018)
  2. The research and works by Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist and economist notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, as well as behavioural economics, for which he was awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.