When I first entered the classroom in August, I was a bit apprehensive about a language teaching course. I do not plan on being a teacher and have always been on the student side of things my whole life. One of the first assignments that were given to us by professor Rings was to simply write our ideas about text, culture and meaning and/or how these are related. This seemed easy enough but in the end what fascinated me was that every one of these things has many differences in interpretation. At the beginning of the class I believed text was simply written words in a book or on a computer screen. I found out that many scholars see pictures or objects as text as well. Culture is different all around the world and depending on which part of the world a person comes from, they will bring different ideas and values with them. As for meaning, we examined a pledge of allegiance. Growing up in the United States we understand what the pledge means for the country and that it is an important part of a student’s everyday life as they repeat it each morning at the beginning of class. Except this pledge only had the same format as the one used by the United States. This pledge was referring to saving the planet and being green. We saw that someone growing up in another country had no idea what the pledge of allegiance was and what the green website was referring to. I had never thought of this topic before. The idea that a non native will not pick up on references to various cultural topics was new to me.
I wanted to put myself on the opposite end of the spectrum because I thought that if one knows something, then they will be able to teach it with ease. However, I was proved wrong time and time again! I am fluent in Polish but teaching it was another story. We were assigned to create various teaching segments for students each week. Sometimes we would stay with the same topic and activity for a few class periods which I believe helped develop the activity.
My favorites were the small presentations that we had to do in front of the class. The assignment was to find pictures that were culturally important and explain them. The very first one that I chose was a picture of a highway. The students did not respond very well because I used too many words for them, which was frustrating for all of us. I then chose American football and soccer. My idea was to do a comparison between these two similar ideas using pictures of the players actually playing the sports. It was fun to watch the students trying to understand what I was talking about, as I pointed to the different colored jerseys or the different body parts students reacted positively answering correctly. Another fun activity was to find a short clip from the culture and share it with the class. Many students used commercials. I used a very famous Polish car commercial. Poland is not known for their cars at all and the few that they did build are somewhat of a joke. The video showed attractive women modeling around these ancient cars making it a parody.
The best overall teaching activity had to be on the topic of children’s stories. We also stayed with this subject for a few weeks and I watched my group go from a big headache the first time around, to actually interacting and remembering my characters and vocabulary! This was really fun and made me feel really accomplished that I was able to share my language with people.
From my other group mates I picked up a lot of Spanish and Portuguese which I never thought would be possible by doing small children’s activities. This really made me question the way people go about learning a foreign language. It does not have to be scary or boring, as long as you are presented with somewhat of a challenge and keep the studies at a level higher than you are at. We did not require huge vocabulary lists or too much grammar. What we did have was a lot of repetition and real cultural ideas being shared within the stories.
The activity which I probably enjoyed the most was that of the Portuguese students and their simulation of a restaurant. This really made you use the language and gave you a real life outlook on how things would be if you were to order food in Brazil.
Another aspect that opened my eyes about many focus points was when I was introduced to the many online modules from various professors. Topics included things such as vocabulary, culture, technology, listening, classroom management, writing, grammar, and assessment. These professors had very in depth ideas about these topics.
Dr. Nancy Guilloteau believed in her module on vocabulary that the words should be repeated over and over and later introduced into richer texts. Dr. Thomas Garza had the fascinating idea that culture is almost like a fifth skill. Students cannot just plainly learn to read, write and speak the language, they must also learn the culture and embrace it or else they may do some cultural blunders. Dr. Orlando Kelm spoke of technology and how it can be used to help in the study of languages. Dr. Mahmoud al-Batal had various ideas on how extensive listening was correlated with extensive reading. Dr. Esther Raizen spoke of classroom management and how it is more a sense of controlling the class and keeping them on task rather than actual management. Dr. Zsuzsanna Abrams had many activities to develop a student’s foreign language writing. Dr. Rafael Salaberry’s module of grammar showed us that it is very important to realize with whom or for who the text is being prepared for. What age level are we speaking to or from what region the people come from. Things like this are very important when deciding what words to use. Lastly, Dr. Lia Plakans spoke of assessing a student. Her idea that there are three things the teacher must ask themselves before preparing a test, why are we testing the students, what are we testing and how will it be tested.
I never realized how much goes into the studies of these topics but it is great to know that so much is going into the idea of language learning and teaching.
After taking this class I realize that culture is the most important thing that one can possess. It is what makes us different and worth studying. More and more people are beginning to understand the fact that a language cannot be fully taught without some kind of cultural emphasis. Maybe I am optimistic but I believe that very soon the days will be gone of the textbook with only a few pictures of the foreign country. I can only imagine what future students will be exposed to once technology is controlled and used properly inside of the classroom. Maybe it will be normal for students to be trilingual because learning languages will be more easily accessible. In the end I believe that the most important aspect of learning a language is repetition. Keep repeating terms and topics throughout your studies so that they will stay in your long term memory and eventually you will be surprised at how much you retain and know.