Saturday, 14 January 2012

Understanding Languages-Why Teachers Need to Listen and Learn

In this week's MFL colum in the Times Educational Supplement, I tackle the perception of languages by non-specialist colleagues and what can be done to demystify our job.
Some subjects are scarier than others to non-specialist teachers. Languages are definitely in the scary category for many teachers, but a lot will depend on personal experiences, often dating back to their own school days.
Isn't it funny how most adults-whether they are teachers or not- and teenagers lose all common sense when they are presented with something they know is "foreign"? Anybody above the age of 9 will become more and more hindered as they grow up by the assumption that they WIL NOT understand.

They will forget they have a language of their own with which they can establish comparisons and make inferences from. They will ignore the visual clues, the cognates, the sound-alikes because let's face it, it is foreign and they cannot possibly understand this. That is why I believe before we even attempt to teach a foreign language, we must make students realise that it is not a threat to their identity.

Many adults behave in such manner and would rather deliberately mispronounce words rather than be seen to try to emulate the sounds produced by a native speaker. Speaking a foreign language then becomes a bit like karaoke singing: a high-risk business with strong potential for the participant to end up looking ridiculous.

It is therefore hardly surprising that some of my primary or secondary colleagues feel uncomfortable having to teach or supervise the learning of languages, particularly if their own experience was less than successful at school. So let's demystify!

Being supportive and non-judgmental is a good start but pointing at useful techniques and resources is key. This should be an exchange as both participants have as much to learn as each other. 

All teachers have a reasonable repertoire of cross-curricular learning and teaching strategies so no need to re-invent the wheel. After all,  languages are a medium, they can be learnt through any content...   

1 comment:

Mike said...

I enjoyed reading your article about learing languages. I have struggled with Spanish fir many,many years and I have tried just about every type of language program. I have found the most success taking online classes with native speaking teacher. I know this sounds like an ad but has helped me improve my Spanish rapidly. Please note: I do not work for this school. Gracias!