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[The power of emotions]

‘My mother was feeling cold… so now I’m wearing a sweater’. I came across this tweet ages ago, yet I still remember it. Why? Because of its powerful emotional content. So what is so special about emotions? Actually, there are a number of things.

Nature has crafted two ways for us to process reality: there is the rational route and the emotional route. Then nature said: ‘You can think and debate about trivial things all you want; I will see to it that you have the right responses about the important things’. Thus it is that we do not get to choose whether we feel fear – or love – or jealousy. Feelings are nature’s way of telling us ‘something really important is going on here’ (‘The Influential Mind’ – p. 40).

There is another thing too. Nature wants us to remember these things – precisely because they are important. This is something that advertisers have always known of course. In his book ‘Brainfluence’ Roger Dooley (p. 241) quotes an interesting study: an analysis of 1400 ads showed that those with an emotional content were about twice as effective as those appealing to reason. Researchers attribute this to the fact that the former are processed subconsciously – that is, instantly, and that they are more powerfully encoded – in other words, they are more memorable.

Now if you reflect on language learning, I think you will agree with me that it is for the most part a cognitive exercise. No wonder most lessons are forgettable. So how can we introduce emotions in class? Well, there are a number of ways; for example, we could…

 …use a song, instead of the listening track in the coursebook;

 …play an emotional scene from a film, instead of that video interview;

…get students to bring in class and talk about an object that is really special to them.

Or you can use my favourite way: play an emotional ad in class. For instance, you can get students to predict how this story continues:

‘There is this group of old men in their 80s – they have been friends since their teens. Then they hear that one of them has died. So they meet at the funeral. They sit around the table, sad, silent, thinking about all the health problems they have. Then one of them comes up with a crazy idea…’  You get students to write 3-4 lines about what happens next. Then you play the following clip. Chances are they will remember this lesson.

The Moral: To make an experience memorable – just add emotion.