In this class, we reviewed the teaching languages methodologies that have been used and are used currently. We also learned vocabulary and culture of other languages: German, Portuguese, French, Polish, Russian and Spanish; and had the opportunity to practice with games and exercises. We also explored the advantages and disadvantages of using technology when learning a new language. The textbook “Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen” by Lee and VanPattern, the “Foreign Language Teaching Methods” (FLTM) online course from the University of Texas at Austin, and several articles with topics related to second language acquisition were part of our curriculum. I learned new terminology and identified the “main ingredients” that are required to learn a second language. This class was fantastic! It motivated me to reflect a lot about education. What determines a person’s ability to become bilingual? I will outline below some of the terminology and activities that I most enjoyed.
Language Teaching Methods
Most of us learned a second language through “The Atlas Complex”, in which teachers assume all responsibility and students grant the teacher all authority. Students learn from the explanations teachers provide. Or, “Audiolingualism” (ALM) which is pretty similar to ATLAS, but includes more ‘oral’ activities that mainly consist of memorization and repetition of vocabulary and dialogues. Dr. Rings explained in class the importance of learning vocabulary through images related to the culture. The first exercise in class was “The picture game”: The class was divided into groups of two. One student had to describe a picture to his partner, so he or she would have to draw the image without seeing it using only the description of the partner. This game develops student’s imagination and the possibility to learn more vocabulary in the target language.
Pragmatics refers to the way people communicate and interpret their intentions. It is important that students to adapt to the socio-cultural norms attached to the target language. “Learners o a foreign language must be aware of the pragmatic expressions and interpretations that differ between their own native language and their second language (Koke, FLTM).” In the case of Spanish, some cultural norms will fit well in Spain, yet not so with the cultural norms of México. For example, Spaniards answer the phone with “diga” (‘say’) while in México the norm is to answer the phone with some sort of greeting such as “Buenos días, ¿con quién desea hablar?” (‘Good morning, whom do you wish to speak’?) It is important to know that one language is not tide to one specific cultural group.
Nancy Guilloteau, the Language Program Director in the Department of French and Italian at the University of Texas at Austin, addresses the importance of actively teaching vocabulary in the second language classroom: “Teachers often assume that their primary role is to teach grammar, and the vocabulary will somehow take care of itself.” Teaching vocabulary is an essential component for successful communication in the second language. Although grammar is important, a lack of vocabulary may result in complete failure to communicate a message. If a student knows enough words in a foreign language she/he would be able to begin a conversation even if his/her grammar is incorrect. “Students that have an opportunity to practice their vocabulary will be more successful communicating than to those who only receive traditional teaching training”(Lee and VanPatten, 49-50) . This text also references the research done by Savignon in 1972 on college level French students. She divided these students in three groups. All of them received “Audiolingualism” as the main resource of learning education. The first group spent one additional day per week doing practices at the language laboratory. For the second group, the lab hours were replaced by cultural activities such as watching movies and pictures, and discussing French culture. The third group spent their extra time discussing what it meant to communicate and how nonverbal communication played a role in personal interactions. They also participated in activities that focused on common phrases used in greeting, departing and information sharing among others. After taking several communication tests, group number three scored higher than those who only studied grammar and spent hours at the language laboratory.
Chapter 11 on Lee and VanPatten Text and the Reading Module on the FLTM website both devote a special part about the importance of the cultural background on reading comprehension. Texts are understood in different ways by different readers and this is due to the fact of a culturally different interpretations. “Schemata Theory” refers how readers contribute to comprehension. The success of a foreign language student to grasp the information will depend on the previous knowledge that he accounts. I also learned from this class that is not necessary to translate every word of any given text in order to understand the context.
Literature, Literacy and Cultural Background
Richard Kern article “Reconciling the Language-Literature Split through Literacy” discusses the importance to teach literature to L2 students from the first two years in College, so that they may be able to develop communicative ability in the target language. On the other hand, in her book “literature and Language Teaching”, Lilian Lazar suggests certain methods that should take place ‘before, during and after’ a literary text is approached to give the student a better understanding of the reading. She explains that before giving a lecture, a teacher should previously prepare them with a cultural background related to the literature and stimulate the student’s interest in its story and then prepare the students with the vocabulary, especially with words that may be difficult to understand. Teachers should help the students understand the plot throughout the reading, as well as help them understand the psychology of the characters. They should also explain certain “idiomatic expressions” that may be present in the story. After reading the text, the teacher should assist the students in interpreting the story to understand the narrative, with follow ups that will develop speech fluency and writing skills.
Learning French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Polish and more Spanish
It was great to learn vocabulary and culture from several languages: ‘la poupée’ is ‘the doll’ in French, ’Haus’ is house in German, ‘ба́бушка’ is “Grandma” in Russian, and ‘kochasz’ is “love” in Polish; And, the ‘festividade brasileira’ and soccer are very important events in the Brazilian culture. I must admit that I might not be able to retain all the vocabulary learned in the class. However, it was a great learning experience and it helped me to enrich my knowledge about different cultures. I am also glad to know that so much research has been done in recent years concerning the importance of the cultural background and how this influences the learning of a second language.
Dr. Mahmoud Al-Batal, Pofessor in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies, discusses the importance of listening skill and how this can be implemented during class. According to him, “Listening is a significant ingredient of communication. Extensive reading is similar to extensive listening. Listening is like reading through your ears”. Listening occupies a major part in communicating. For example, the time we spend listening people’s conversations, listening to the radio, watching the news, TV, movies and so on.
Orlando Kelm, Instructor of the Technology Module in the FLTM website addresses the significance of applying technological tools to language teaching. This module focuses on how teachers can implement technology in their classrooms. Technology helps greatly foreign language students to be exposed to authentic language speakers. In traditional classrooms, students are limited only to listen to instructor’s pronunciation. Also, Dr. Kelm emphasizes that students can learn faster with the help of technology. Throughout the module, he demonstrates several tech tools that he utilizes to teach in his classes like educational websites in Portuguese, the DocCam and GoogleDocs. “The Portuguese Communication Exercises” features over 300 online video clips where native Portuguese speakers from different places of Brazil and Portugal discuss a variation of topics. The topics are classified into four general levels of difficulty and all of them are transcribed in Portuguese and translated into English. This website also includes speakers from several regions of Brazil and Portugal to demonstrate different variations of the language. Online videos can be used to reinforce teaching activities in class. New technology is the essential for the education of these days. Technology allows students to listen the foreign language almost anywhere and at any time.
I am not a teacher, and even though I didn’t have an opportunity to practice all the different and fun activities that we learned and did in class, I learned to be more persuasive and analytical. I started to observe the different ways in which people communicate as well as the kinds of words they use according to their age, cultural background and so on. I have a cousin who is an English teacher in Mexico, so during my last visit, I asked her how she prepared her classes as I wanted to know if teaching methodologies had changed much from the time I was in elementary school. She told me that for her first grade students she uses mostly images, and has them repeat and memorize vocabulary. I believe in my time they used to use the Atlas method, and now they are moving to the ALM methodology. I also found that the text book used for high school students hasn’t changed much either. The grammar and reading exercises remain basically the same, except for the fact that there is no longer use of the lab which used recordings with ‘not so real’ voices. They use technology like researches from the Internet, but in my opinion, the use of technology isn’t maximized yet. And lastly, as I shared with you earlier, I told my niece Sofia of 6 years old a story in English, but before doing so, I prepared the vocabulary with images and sentences that were more difficult and were included in the story. During the reading, I had her repeat selected words and sentences. The truth is that I felt very satisfied with this experiment because she was very attentive and she could answer all my questions. I believe she learned a lot in a short amount of time, and it was fun!
Learning a language is much more than reviewing vocabulary and memorizing grammar and dialogue. It is very much a process that requires several components, starting with the most basic skills: grammar, vocabulary, reading and writing, listening and speaking. The teacher should know not only the language but the culture as well, including its pragmatic expressions. Also, I believe teachers should understand the student’s motivation for learning a certain language in particular.
Although I am not a teacher, I found this class to be very interesting and fun; we actually learned methods for teaching a foreign language. However, I’m sure that those who are or intend to be teachers find these exercises very useful and practical.