December 13th, 2010
During this semester of Fall 2010 in MODL 5305, the Methods of Teaching Foreign Languages was covered. Both the material the professor used and the methods she had implemented in the classroom have granted me a threefold benefit. First, as a learner of English as my L2 language, I learnt how to learn a Second Language; secondly, as a Graduate Teaching Assistant of French at UTA, I was taught how to teach - ; and then, as a graduate student of Modern Languages, I have been ushered into the exploration of basic theories, methods and topics for the studies of foreign languages teaching and learning fields. In my final paper, I have a made twofold presentation. The first part was the review of some relevant materials covered throughout the semester; and the second part was my own reflection borne out of my own semester’s input in regard to my learning and teaching experience. However, the main point I have made in my a PowerPoint presentation was the topic of Culture and multimedia. This reflection is a summary of the my final paper.
1. Panoramic view of the semester
a. Course material
The Semester schedule has included articles, handouts, websites and textbooks. However, two principal tools that the recommended by the Professor, Dr Lana Rings. The first one is a textbook entitled: “Making Communicative Language Happen” by James Lee and Bill Van Pattern. This useful textbook puts forward a reflective teaching approach. The second is an online Methods course for Foreign Languages Teachers” This professional development resource focuses on practical aspects of foreign language teaching in a virtual classroom setting.
b. Classroom activities
The Active teaching approach that, the professor, Dr Lana Rings, has employed in the classroom has brought a considerable amount of input and real opportunities for interaction among students in a very friendly environment. The type of classroom we had was both teacher-fronted and small groups centered. This type of classroom has provided to each student ample and wide-ranging input and interaction opportunities for learners and teachers. Interaction between the teacher and students was well maintained by the teacher’s leading of the class with an active learning’s approach. We learned that having students work together in groups helps students – as future L2 teacher- start to practicing the art of teaching with their own material that the professor may have not put together. Student’s creativity and prolific imagination was displayed during every class session.
d. blog’s reflections
Blogs reflections have been a very important part of the course. Each student has implemented a blog page where his reflections for every major topic were posted. Observations, instructions and corrections from the professor as well as comments from peers have helped student to edit and amplify their work. Sometimes, class sessions used to start with a very relevant point that a student have made in his blog and the professor deemed it to be worthy sharing with the whole class. Since the professor allowed the work to be more personnel instead of a classical scientific paper or a textbook-based formal essay, the professor has gladly noticed that some of the topics brought out by students have never figured in her agenda for this semester class. That’s one of the reason she was encouraging students to read their classmates works.
2. My personal experience
a. Learning without motivation
As a learner of English as my actual L2, and the Teacher of French as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, the experience I have acquired from both areas earned me the understanding that the acquisition of a language has to do with four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. However, My MODL 5305 class has helped me understand that in order for someone to achieve a high level of mastery in these four areas of L2 learning, these are four things I was pursuing during my learning process at the in Congo. The teaching of English is officially incorporated in the High School curriculum in Congo from Junior High School to the terminal class of High School. , To obtain a High School diploma, Congolese’s students have to pass the “State Exam” that includes at least 15% of points for English only. Unfortunately, a typical English class in Congo is teacher-fronted and the covered materials were one grammar’s textbook and some dialog’s syllabi. This is the way I took my 4-year English classes during my High School formation. I knew little about England or the United States and their respective cultures. With limited access to internet, and for having never been assigned a web-based research or homework for my English class, they have no idea about such terms as “immersion”, “second language acquisition”, “exposure to the culture of the targeted language”. Etc. I had no motivation for practicing my English, no contact-hours with native speakers and I do not think I can mention any form of anxiety for my case. Moreover, I had never set a goal at that time for my learning of English. To me, English was “a class” for my studies requirement. I had nothing to do with English until I came to the United States, 8 years ago.
b. Grammar knowledge vs lake of Communication
From what I learnt in Congo from High School to University, I have acquired a wide range of vocabulary and sentence-level comprehension of phrase structure. But everything was mental, latent. I have never had opportunity for speaking practices with native speakers of English. I thought that coming to America will help me get my hidden knowledge out . Contrary, I had a serious problem for listening and speaking during my first days in this country.. I couldn’t decipher an entire phrase spoken by Americans or utter some correct sentences by my own words in English. The only way I could understand English was through my reading and comprehension. I could fill up application form for work or hospital without a help or by the help of a dictionary. Talking, engaging myself in a conversation was a just unthinkable.
c. Coping with anxiety
Everybody at work did not know about my University credentials. All they knew about me was just an alien who is incapable to understand the supervisor’s simple instruction or a greeting from teammates. That‘s made me feel like a stupid. I could not bring a rational idea to the team work or introduce myself to them as I could. From that time, I felt intense anxiety then as but also I started developing some myths in my mind about my own supposed “natural inability to acquire a second language”.
d. Motivation and immersion
Regardless of my anxious feelings, a pressuring need of communicating and interacting at work was strong. I was forced to choose between a fight and a flight! Having a wife and kids to take care of helped me master my anxieties for speaking. I was ready to appear as stupid man who does not speak perfectly but who make his thoughts known…that’s communication! Once I started catching up with the utterance at work, interaction with native speakers was put in. In fact, I did not figure out that I was being “immersed” with English in a daily basis at my work place. It was a surprise for me when I found myself, hearing, understanding, speaking, and even filling up the company’s daily business report…in English. I even went to College for credit classes without going through some developmental language prerequisites. This miracle happened just a few months after I got a job.
e. Technology and Culture
For teachers and learners alike, cultural competence is a very crucial part of a L2 learning process. The learning of L2 is consisted of several subparts, including grammar knowledge, , communicative mastery, language proficiency that is the ability to interpret a text and a context based on the culture of the targeted language. The knowledge of the social schemes, convention, customs, values, and systems of meaning of others, is undeniably what we can call culture. If a learner want to understand a L2 language, an integral part of learning it will be to also learn a culture of the people and the region that bring it to life. It is justified that many teachers have made it a goal to include the instruction of culture into the foreign language set of courses. Communicative competence in L2 teaching put emphasis on the role of context and the real life situation under which language can be used accurately and appropriately. Actually, since society and culture are the wider context of language it is important that the teaching be focused on tit too.
In fact, the knowledge of the grammatical system of a language is not a bad thing but it has to be go together with the understanding of culture-specific interpretation . language with a social “hue”; nevertheless, paying lip service to the social dynamics that undergird language without trying to identify and gain insights into the very fabric of society and culture that have come to charge language in many and varied ways can only cause misunderstanding and lead to cross-cultural miscommunication.
I my opinion, L2 language learning should always go along with foreign culture learning. It is true that any targeted language is an element of a particular people. But teaching language is not teaching culture ipso facto.
The main point that I will be carry on in my coming up researches is that we cannot go about teaching a foreign language without at least offering some insights into its speakers’ culture. If we teach language without teaching at the same time the culture in which it operates, we are teaching meaningless symbols or just symbols to which the student attaches the wrong meaning . Web-based multimedia is a right tool to use if we really need to teach culture in the classroom or elsewhere.
November 29, 2010
Textbook analysis questions
This reflection deals with the textbook analysis questions. The book I am using for that purpose is the instructor’s edition of Vous y êtes: French for Proficiency by St. Onge Terry. Thirty questions have been asked to help me determine if this textbook could help students find something to interpret as an actual text. This will include an analysis of all aspects of acquiring a second language: listening, speaking, writing, reading and culture. Before going further, let’s make it crystal-clear that a “text” is not a textbook! The major issue here is to read the textbook and conclude if it contains something that may help student interpret the material, not in a sentence level but in a global real-life situation simulated or virtually depicted by the text.
After I took a panoramic look at the manual, I have found that its chapters are structured with the purpose of helping student s to acquire a communicative fluency. However, the material used in order to reach that goal is not effective enough. This is a book full of grammar rules, exceptions and many kinds of “sentence level interpretation and analysis”. It is very obvious among Second Language acquisition searchers that all language production, be it productive or receptive, occurs in a context and for a specific function. A text has a context that helps for interpretation and meaning. A learner is expected to react personally, based on a context within a global view of the materiel called text (poem, letter, video, audio, etc.). This is not what I have seen in the textbook Vous y êtes!
Vous y êtes! presents four proficiency levels: grammar, vocabulary, structures and functions. I found its proficiency guidelines to be grammar-based as it urges students to internalize and use with relative accuracy the grammatical and lexical elements. The grammar and structures material introduced in Vous y êtes are those students must master, memorize, and practice regardless of non real-life-situation context. In my understanding, this textbook is not giving to student a “text” that can be used as effective materiel for language teaching/learning.
November 15, 2010
Technology and virtual cultural context
Dr. Thomas Garza’s module on “Culture” found on the University of Texas Foreign Language Teaching Methods website is very engaging. After running through some of his key thoughts, I would like to write about how technology can provide a learner of L2 with much time on task or immersion through “virtual cultural context “.
For years, I used to think that the only way get immersed in a cultural context of L2 is to visit that country, stay there for years. Obviously, this will not going to happen to every single learner. If the only way to be exposed to the culture of the targeted language is studying it abroad, then the majority of the learners will never be immersed. Fortunately, technology is bringing to the learner diversity of real-life virtual situations without necessarily travelling abroad.
There is no need to demonstrate the benefit of learning a language in the country of its birth. Indeed, there is an experimental advantage in learning a language in the territory of its birth, being exposed to the very culture that framed it, through the people that invented it. Studying abroad is far more than a simple tourism. It enhances the achievement of important goals by allowing students to learn a language in the native country where it is spoken, to live and participate in the daily routine that keeps on extending the lexical domain of the French language in a daily basis. Every learner needs to be exposed to the right pronunciation, the proper tone, the linguistic subtract and to different accents of the French language, in France by Frenchmen. This would help him correct his/her own L2 and improve his listening and speaking ability. L2 learners need to visit some of the places they heard of and whose images they watched only in a classroom PowerPoint projection. Observing things firsthand in Paris may change someone’s point of view on many topics and make the French world and language a lot more interesting and grasping to himself before he teaches it to others or use it in his profession.
However, along with Thomas Garza, I am aware of the fact that one may not travel abroad and yet still get immersed or exposed to the native accent and way of using the targeted language by using technology. But I was wondering, what is technology? What kind of technology are we going to use in order to get immersed or exposed to the practice of the language or interact with the native speakers in some real-life situation? What items, what device, what web-based material? In my opinion, the choice of any technology’s tools for learning and teaching depends on the level and the load of study people will be engage in themselves.
November 8th, 2010
Culture to be learnt from day one of learning language
Some of the interesting points made by Dr. Garza in his module were: the importance of cultural competence to communication in a language and the importance of integrating culture into every activity possible, in order to maximize efficient use of class time. Before going further, I will try to determine or define what culture is.
What is culture? Culture is an “integrated pattern of human behaviour that includes thought, communications, languages, practices, beliefs, values, customs, courtesies, rituals, manners of interracting and roles, relationships and expected behavior of a racial, ethnic, religious or social group, and ability to transmit the above to succeeding generations” it is necessary to learn the culture as you learn the language.
Why learning culture? Learning the culture of a language allows the learner to communicate to native speakers in a proper way. Knowledge of L2 culture avoid communication breakdown when interacting with native speakers”. Learners cannot pretend to master a language before mastering the culture of this language. Learning the culture of a language allows the learner to communicate to native speakers in a proper way.
Knowledge of culture avoid communication breakdown when interacting with native speakers”
Learners cannot pretend to master a language before mastering the culture of this language
What kind of material ? The use of authentic material from the target country is necessary to put the language in context. Let’s specify that ‘text’ is not ‘textbook;’ a text is an extended unit of language, or discourse, like a poem, a story, a news article, a phone call, an interview, a conversation, a letter, a recipe, a video,etc. The use of authentic material from the target country is necessary to put the language in context. Films for example, connect cultural behaviour and language. CDs or videodiscs or computer animating are authentic materials. The web also is an important resource for language teachers”.
By using multimedia, learners can be “immersed ”in or get exposed to real-life situation in the L2 without necessarily travelling abroad for some years of learning in the native country of a L2 . Multimedia materials provide a combination of sight, sound and movement. Students can experience the language in an accurate cultural context. Learners can be “immersed ”in or get exposed to real-life situation in the L2 without necessarily travelling abroad for some years of learning in the native country of a L2 .
October 25, 2010
Listening is not a passive activity
Lee and Van Patten bring this topic in Chapter 10 of their book “Making communicative Language Teaching happen “regarding listening. The argument they have made is that not a passive activity. In that regards, the input of any language from auditory material or spoken words are not a waste of words. Listeners are involuntarily or unconscientiously keeping in their brain what they here, understood it or not. After cumulating this auditory material, their brain system will try to process or decide what is worth to be decoded and what can be ignored. The word Dr Rings is using for that second activity in the listeners brain is “deciphering”. After receiving from people, from media like radio or other auditory tools, a L2 learner may be able , naturally, to decipher those words receive as input and use them as an output from his unconscious natural word processor. That why Lee and Van Patten find that listening is rewarding, not a passive activity. That ‘is one the advantage of being immersed in a flux of language debited by native speakers. Ik my French class, I am telling student to not worry if they don’t understand any French word uttered by a professor. All they need first is to listen, and this is a rewarding activity as they will become used the pronunciation, the accent, the gestures, the picture or illustration that come along with this new or unknown word. In a matter of time, they will decipher, not everything they heard but what their brain will need to get out for some reason.