Five Valuable Lessons Learned in 2016
By María de la Lama E.
One of the things I’ve really enjoyed through my teaching career is that our classes provide indeed the best opportunity to find out about how people learn foreign languages. As reflective teachers, every day we have a chance to see how new generations incorporate new techniques to their learning style while keeping, at the same time, those techniques that have proved to be effective when dealing with a foreign language. Let me share with you my observations on how students seem to react in class when dealing with: communication, error correction, usage of textbooks and the acquisition of new words.
To enhance communication, bringing the real world into the class does pay off. By engaging the teaching and learning of a foreign language with the written media, TV, literature and music, the learning of a foreign tongue becomes a fun and interesting experience which makes the desire for mastering it sustainable through time
1. To communicate is still the most important goal for our students. No grammar exercise, reading or writing activity can produce in them the thrill to engage in a real communicative situation. Being able to connect in a foreign language is one of the most powerful sources of motivation.
2. Error correction: When correcting mistakes, students seem to prefer the teacher not just supply the correct form, but to guide them in discovering and solving their mistakes on their own. By the same token, our students seem to prefer us to furnish them with strategies to learn on their own rather than being spoon fed with language knowledge. It’s important to reject a still unfortunately common idea: that the very manner in which we learnt (many years ago) is the best way for our students to learn. We can realize how wrong this idea is if we consider that today most of our language learners belong to the Y generation.
3. Using the textbook: A recipe that never fails is to constantly innovate the way we do things in class. As I said many times to other colleagues, “predictable” teachers who tend to stick to a textbook seem to have more difficulties to connect with their students affecting their rapport with them. The idea is NOT to stop using the textbook but to use it in a creative way. It’s incredibly boring for students to know that after exercise A, the teacher will continue with exercise B and C... This can be done by inserting in the lesson plan activities based on different sources; much better if they are authentic materials.
4. Learning new words: Teaching collocations has given way to a more effective way to improve the vocabulary of our students. Thus, instead of providing them with a set of new words, even if they belong to the same semantic field, students seem to learn more easily a new word if this word is learnt with the words that usually go with it. Thus, instead of “wine” students can learn: red wine / a glass of red wine, etc. In this manner they do not only increment their vocabulary but their recalling of new words seems to improve. Most importantly, the learning on collocations contributes to their fluency.
5. Pronunciation: the ugly duckling? Quite contrary! Adult students, in particular, highly appreciate the teaching of pronunciation since they need simple explanations, rules and demonstrations of how the phonological system of the language being learned works and what are the main differences with their own native language.
DE LA LAMA, MARIA, holds a Master´s Degree in Applied Linguistics and Bachelor´s Degree in Theoretical Linguistics from the University of California; MBA Universidad del Pacífico. Current Director at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacifico.