The secret of g…

2 May

The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm

This quote by Aldous Huxley encapsulates what I’ve learned during my time in Brazil. South America, I think I might have been born as a gringa accidentally; I was never meant to be one. I think the sun gives me a certain energy and revitalizes me every day. Although I am exhausted from working, and have lived negative moments alongside all of the positive ones, I am glad to have experienced these three months in Trancoso, which have left me with a renewed spirit, and a smile that won’t fade for a while… Ten days left, then it’s back to good old U.S. of A.


Outline for Division III Writings

22 Apr

On the whole, foreign languages present themselves as alternate entities, whose natures are primarily illusive and strange. To those who do not know the code that allows for entrance into a new world of words, structures, and meanings, other languages seem to be indecipherable and impenetrable landslides of sounds. They are neither indecipherable nor impenetrable, however. Broken down, a different language is simply another version of a network we already know how to navigate. Although perhaps slightly overwhelming because of the sometimes rocky initial entry phase, and its seemingly infinite nature, there is no reason to believe that a person could not learn another language, especially if given the opportunity for total immersion. When we were children, our exposure to and intrigue by language was not impeded by thought. Many individuals believe that foreign language learning is an almost impossible feat, one that poses significant difficulties and challenges, and never truly comes to fruition. This is a fallacy, despite preconceptions otherwise. I believe that humans are entirely capable of second language acquisition. Our brains are equipped with incredible functions and, like machines, are wired to detect patterns and consequently adapt to situations in which it is exigent that we synthesize input and produce appropriate output. Teaching individuals who may or may not know or believe this, whose capacities for language may not be as strong as their capacities for other activities, or who are not in the advantaged situation of being immersed in a language and culture, may prove less than ideal. No situation is perfect, however, and language learning, like anything else, proves to be a process in which time and practice are required for development and improvement. Second language learning is not impossible, nor does it have to be a daunting procedure. In fact, it can be enjoyable and amazingly rewarding.

Approach and Style

22 Apr

Language learning is facilitated by language instruction. For purposes of viewing language instruction through a critical lense— breaking down lessons, goals, and approaches— elements to take into account include the language in question, the individuals in question, and the environment where the teaching takes place. The materials of instruction must correspond with the culture, with the availability of space and time, and the capabilities and situations of the students at hand. Without sensitivity to such elements, lessons have lower potential impacts, which is less than ideal. There are various elements to consider and respect while in the process of planning a lesson. Considerate planning will ensure maximum language comprehension and retention, as well as affecting an entirely different set of inter and intrapersonal elements as well.

Another very important part of language instruction, apart from, but just as critical as, cultural and individual consciousness, is the pedagogy itself of the instruction. However you teach will directly affect how the students learn. Discovering the best approach for you is part of learning what type of instructor you are. As there are infinite ways of teaching the same material to different audiences, methods may vary depending on the target group. It is necessary to keep this in mind and act with according flexibility. In some cases the pedagogy is not yours to decide, so you must do your best with the methods you are expected to use. Try to find places for creativity, even within the confines of a pedagogy that may not allow for much of it. The true spirit of any classroom is the relationship between the individuals involved.

Although pedagogy is invaluable, teaching style is indispensable. Writing up a Teaching Philosophy is an integral part in the development of your instruction. First, it forces you to recognize the distinct models you wish to follow, how you want your students to learn, and what kind of instructor you view yourself as. It also gives you a place to write your general goals and ambitions as far as teaching goes. As you change, your teaching philosophy should evolve as well.


22 Apr

There are a few distinct components of instruction that I believe are fundamental and absolutely essential, yet unfortunately often go overlooked or under practiced. These components are patience, positive reinforcement, and the remembrance of what it is to be a learner.  They are pieces of the larger concept of compassion, which a good majority of classrooms severely lack. They may seem like minor details, incredibly elementary principles, that are automatically integrated without much effort. This is, unfortunately, not the case. It is imperative that we actively pursue the inclusion of compassion through constant consciousness and deliberate maneuvering. This is not to say that our compassion must be blatant. In fact, blatant compassion often falls short compared to the simmering subtlety of genuine kindness, concern, and mindfulness. These considerations are not only for your students; compassion for your students should go hand in hand with compassion for yourself.

Being a Language Learner

22 Apr

Remembering what it means to be a learner can be a source of great wisdom, especially in terms of language learning. Language acquisition is a delicate and intricate process. I believe that knowing how it feels to have learned another language is a lens through which many ideas can be recognized and comprehended. I believe it to be an absolutely key ingredient for individuals who wish to teach their mother tongue. Of course, any person with a mastery of the complexities of a language can teach, but only language learners can really know what goes into the acquisition of a foreign tongue. Expertise comes from experience, not just theoretical examination.

Not only is it beneficial to have learned another language for the distinct insight and empathy it provides, but it also creates a certain bond between you and your students. The understanding that you have experienced very much the same process will give students that extra feeling of support. If you learn the language of your students and demonstrate your skills, this becomes even more true; it will show that you are interested in their language, not simply attempting to insert your own. Demonstrating your skills and your flaws will seal the deal: if your students become aware that you are a language learner as well, and that you make mistakes and have difficulty just like them, and you indicate that this is normal and natural, you will gain their trust. Trust is exceedingly important because of the implications it has on creating a comfortable learning environment. Mutual understanding that results in trust fosters a feeling of comfort which very well could help students try harder, with less fear of making mistakes.

There are people, however, who believe that speaking the language of your students is not necessary while instructing English as a Second Language. Indeed, some people believe that it is better not to speak the language. In full immersion courses, where the instructor speaks only English, of course you would not need to speak any other language. To this end, it is decidedly so that individuals that cannot speak the language of their students, or in fact any other language, can be English as a Second Language instructors. The degree to which they are effective instructors is the question, however.

Knowing a language, and specifically the language of your students (considering that the individuals in your classroom speak the same language), does not put you or your students at a disadvantage. Indeed, it can give a good amount of insight as well into the way your students’ minds work; linguistic and cultural differences will influence anything from how students will form phrases, to how they will think about activities and projects, to how they view you as an instructor, along with an infinite list of other  possibilities. An educated instructor will know a bit about the language, in order to know how a student may be affected by their cultural and linguistic background, and why they therefore may act and/or react in a certain way. Another perk of knowing the language of the students you are teaching is to know which words will be understood easily, such as cognates, or words that have already been integrated into their vocabulary because of the globalization of the English language.

The main question of the language in question is not, in reality, a question of knowing the language, but of when to use it if you do. The aforementioned uses of the knowledge of your students’ language are practical uses, but ones that involve no production of speech on the part of the instructor. The debate over a mother language in second language classrooms is focused on whether or not the instructor should speak to students in any other language than the one they are attempting to teach, and if so, when would be the appropriate times. In most cases, I can say with certainty that translation is not an effective method of instruction. Translation lends itself to a very rigid way of considering language, one that encourages the lateral movement of meaning from one language to the next, which is not at all how language instruction should be approached, if for the simple fact that no two languages are directly interchangeable. There is a certain time and place for translation, but other methods can easily be implemented and prove to be much more effective and useful, not only for your students’ comprehension of the term or construction at hand, but also for their overall skills of comprehension and deduction. For this reason, I believe that, to a certain point, all instruction should happen in the target language.

The instances in which you may find yourself wanting to use your students’ language are usually ones of explanation— describing the formation of a tense or grammatical point, to give directions on an activity or project, etc. Although there are these situations in which using the mother tongue may seem, or may even be preferable for the immediate cause, the theory I follow is that the more a class exposes a student to a language, the more accustomed the student will become to listening to its distinct rhythm and vocabulary, and the more students are forced to really listen and understand, the more they will retain and recognize. I have found this to be highly dependent on the level and age of your students, however.

Adults Vs. Children

22 Apr

Adults are incredible learners, with experience in many fields, with the ability to conceptualize abstract ideas and concepts, and to recognize patterns. However, they are also disproportionately preoccupied, their minds filled with a slew of other concerns and thoughts, often stressed and convinced that their time to be a quality language learner has long since passed them by. The trick that I have found is that, to maximize learning, you must treat adults like children, and children like adults.  Adults will most likely respond positively to having to play games, move around, learn in creative ways, and let loose a bit. There is a probability that they will take a good amount away from a lesson that puts them in a situation that fully immerses them in a language, gives them no way out but through, like how a child learns a language as an infant. They will not be able to do these things on their own, however; the right kind of instruction must be laid before them.

When considering conducting classes for children, you should employ an approach that allows you to treat them with respect, and ask for respect back from them. We are, of course, not merely instructing just language at any given moment. Especially in terms of English as a Second Language instruction, interpersonal connections are being fashioned, which will hopefully result in global connections (with the lofty goal of enhanced worldly understanding and, ultimately, peace!). The way we approach teaching children in language classrooms should be the same way we would approach teaching children in any other classroom, or in any corner of life; the approach should include modeling compassion through listening and patience. For this reason I say that we should treat children as adults.

Children are forming their identities. This formation of identity is something that each and every instructor has experienced. It is more difficult to remember what it was to have been a child than what it was to have been a language learner, but it is incredibly important to try. Children do not want to be reprimanded, and chances are that it is not what they need. If scolding must be exercised, then apologies should be also; children deserve and appreciate respect as much as adults do. They are humans, after all. For reprimand to not be a large part of your classroom experience, the target language may need to be suspended in order to focus children’s minds and energy.

Children will, because of their nature, not want to sit and look at the chalkboard for hours at a time. The utilization of games will, at times, be necessary. The truth is, however, that even the best-planned and poignant games may easily turn into a disaster, with running and screaming and utter madness ensuing. Children need games, of course, but do not underestimate the power of a child’s mind to glue itself to the right kind of instruction, and to flourish during organized class time. The right activities, projects, and lesson plans may be more difficult to think up for children than for adult learners, and you may need to navigate the class with some instructions and explanations in their language. Children are capable creatures, and must be seen and taught as such.

Learning Styles

22 Apr

There will be exceptions, of course, to any method you set into motion. In some cases, for example, you may even be presented with age differences or differences in levels of students that are not conducive to providing uniform instruction to all students present. There will always be the paradox of the best student and the lowest-level student in any given class as well.  To deal with this, you may want to divide your efforts between speaking the target language in front of the class as a whole, while thereafter taking the time to explain more slowly, or if necessary, in their language, to certain students who have not understood. This will give the more advanced students the opportunity of hearing and understanding the entirety of the instructions or explanation in the target language, while showing the students who need more help that you are there to support and aid them with their challenges. Clarity is also crucial for students to feel well-supported; the provision of written along with oral instruction, such as  examples and rubrics, is a structural consideration for any lesson.

There is nothing more frustrating than being in a classroom and not understanding what is going on. The occurrence of this frustration is more likely in language classrooms than any class of another course of study, because while in other classrooms you may find the subject difficult to understand and master, at least you are being given instruction in words that you understand and in which you can ask questions. In a language class, if you have not understood, there is a chance you will feel more than a lack of understanding, but an actual feeling of being lost. Inclusivity, therefore, is directly related to understanding. Inclusivity is the natural responsibility of the instructor. Making sure that all students understand, participate, and reach a certain level of success is a challenging but necessary part of language (indeed, any) instruction.

Behind these situations lies the truth that no two people are going to learn at the same pace, to the same degree, or in the same manner. There are certain instructional devices that can benefit all learners, which include repetition, and the use of original sources. A combination of a variety of activities and exercises can benefit the group at large. Whether a person learns best through visual, oral, reading, writing, or any other number of learning techniques, everyone can benefit from a solid mixture of all of these components. Although some techniques will not be good for certain students— excessive writing or reading practice, or working in groups, may not be operative for certain students, for example—the same techniques may have maximum effects on others. It all depends on their distinct and different learning styles, which are important to consider and tend to.