Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Language Learning: Global Issues

I came across this post on languages learning a few days ago. It is from The linguist on Language blog, run by Steve Kaufman. I found interesting the key issues that were raised, showing that many of them are not local but global...

Steve was sent an email by a student who was doing a study "to determine how individuals acquire language and how the education system promotes language learning and language diversity”

You can see Steve’s answers here. My answers are as follows.

1) How do you feel language is presented in schools? Is it an important issue? Or is it sort of put on the back burner?
Steve thinks that it is poorly presented, with the teachers imposing their agenda and their content. I agree that we often “try to induce the learners to acquire language patterns and vocabulary, in which [they] have little interest” but this is often dictated by examinations. This is not our content but something that is prescribed. On the other hand, prescribed defined content can also be more reassuring to both students and teachers. The “content-free” opportunities offered at KS3 through our New Secondary Curriculum feel daunting to many –What do we do? What about linguistic progression? Do I have to change everything? The way language is presented is regularly debated as the key to student engagement.

2) What are the techniques you use for studying language? On the computer? Off the computer?
Like Steve , I think that “you need to spend a lot of time with the language”, which is a real issue as curriculum time is being cut in many schools. Steve’s advice is also to spend a lot of time on receptive skills and combine this with efficient vocabulary learning (words and phrases). However, I would disagree about the advice to “delay producing the language, (writing and speaking) until you have enough of a base”. I have always found active consolidation of new vocabulary and phrase through writing and speaking an effective way to ensure that the language can be “recycled” and some structures can be transferred across the four skills.
Digital resources are very useful as they can encourage all students to take risks with the language through doing things like reading a text out loud or performing role-plays. I particularly like the individual use of recording and text-to-speech tools to ensure students can develop productive skills avoiding excessive reliance on the teacher at an early stage.

3) Do you think that public education should offer classes in another language, if that language happens to be prevalent in that area? (ex. Spanish in southern Alabama)
Like Steve, I believe that “the choice of the language, and of content to be studied, should be up to the learner. A variety of options should be offered. The key is the interest of the learner, not whether that language is spoken locally, although for some people that would be motivating.”
The type of language spoken should also be considered, especially in the case of languages with a different alphabet/ script. It is nonetheless the case in the vast majority of British schools that there is no choice at all for the study of the first-and often only- foreign language.

4) Do you think globalization and international business are hurting or helping language learning? Why?
Steve thinks that globalization makes language learning more important. Unfortunately, globalization has also secured English as a Lingua Franca. I am always amazed that many global dimension projects do not see developing language skills as a priority.

5) How would you teach a language class? What techniques would you apply?
Steve considers the classroom as the place to encourage learners to get out and learn languages outside the classroom. I agree that “languages are learned outside the classroom and not in class”. I feel that the wider the range of techniques used, the better: ICT, games, Drama, Art, Music and other cross-curricular activities... Steve argues that “our brain learns all the time, and often in implicit ways, and not in response to pressure from teachers”, hence the potential of ICT and social media to create situations where languages are going to be used outside the classroom for real communication purposes...

What about you? How would you answer these questions?


aliceayel said...

these questions are very interesting and I must admit I do mostly agree with Steve although I am a language teacher and I do impose my agenda and content to students. But as you rightly said I do teach for my students to succeed in their language exams. And I think that's where the problem lies! If we look at how toddlers learn how to speak, they listen and listen and listen again until they understand what people say to them and then they can speak a few words and finally sentences. This is how students should learn a language: in complete immersion but this is not possible in the current education system.

IC Jones said...

Dear Alice
Thanks a lot for your comment. You are so right! As the curriculum time dedicated to languages shrinks more and more, it is impossible to sustain a complete immersion approach. However, that is when interesting developments like CLIL could be used to show that extensive use of the target languages does make a difference...