ATTITUDE Sub-competency

Teachers Need to Hold Attitudes of Engagement
in Understanding Language


1_EAL_Grammar Reflection
2_EAL_Power of Language

One of the joys of learning language is to learn the differences among them for saying the same thing. Often, it is not possible to express thought in similar ways from one language to another. Often there are no adequate words in other vocabularies. E.g., how the concept of time affects language structure. A culture may have a different concept of time than ours, or none at all. 

Some cultures, though, appear to have little or no time orientation, and tend to exhibit not so much a relaxed attitude to time as no attitude at all. The Pirahã tribe of the Amazon rainforest is often mentioned in this context. The Pirahã have an extremely limited language based on humming and whistling. They have no numbers, letters or art, no words for colours, no specific religious beliefs and no creation myth. They also appear to have no real concept of time. Their language has no past tense, and everything exists for them only in the present: when they can no longer perceive something, it effectively ceases to exist for them.

The peaceful Hopi tribe of Arizona, USA, as well as some other Native American tribes, also have a language that lacks verb tenses, and their language avoids all linear constructions in time. The closest the Hopi language comes to a sense of time are one word meaning “sooner” and another meaning “later”. The Hopi appear to have little or no sense of linear time as most of the Western world knows it, and it comes as no surprise to learn that their religious beliefs include a cyclic view of time, similar to ancient Hindu and Buddhist belief in the “wheel of time”
— Time in Different Cultures, from

Understanding the chrometics of a culture will help to understand its linguistic applications to the concept of time and create a path to socio-cultural, transformational relationships.

We as teachers need to be open to full engagement in language, and we need to enable our students to be fully engaged. The how is the task we scaffold for the student. Creating a why, beyond the student needing to pass a test, is the task we give ourselves. Students from different cultures approach learning in different ways. Our capacity to listen actively, and to learn cultural norms (including educational methodologies students are accustomed to), becomes our own cognitive development for full linguistic engagement.

A study being carried out at the Université H. Poincaré is investigating the effect of choice on cognitive and affective engagement during listening tasks. The study compares two groups of English language learners specialising in other disciplines. The aim of the study is to attempt to clarify whether “unrestricted” choice genuinely enhances positive affective perceptions of the listening experience compared to denied-choice and control groups. A further question concerns cognitive engagement and whether any increase in favourable affective perceptions automatically leads to heightened cognitive engagement.
— Language learner Motivation and the Role of Choice in ESP Listening Engagement, David N. Brown
The personal can never be divorced from the professional. ‘We teach who we are’ in times of darkness as well as light.
— The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, Parker J. Palmer

Herein lies the art of teaching language.

Self-knowledge is crucial. Beyond linguistic knowledge, what do we bring to our teaching that affects our students’ learning? It’s a bit like taking a dragnet through our sub-conscious. What do we gather from our own cognitive memories? There is some research into many familiar patterns of language teaching. Leaving the argument that one cannot provide “scientific” research to art, there are methodologies purported as “proven,” which have become ingrained as “most effective.” To have some “pun,” ingrained methodology might not lead to germination. 

Phonological differences are revealing. Some L1 speakers will find certain consonant combinations of English, tongue twisters. To help them most effectively, we can engage with their L1 for clues to these difficulties. A student’s L1 can also provide clues to the errors in their interlanguage. 

Language is also physiological. English pronunciation may be so different from the student’s L1, that they need particular help through close observation of facial muscles and learning to mimic them.

I engaged my entire internship class in muscle exercises. Although they applied to only one - or a few - students, I wanted the class to form a community: to know that every one of their language difficulties was respected, and that they could effectively help
each other. I recorded their voices (which they thought hysterical). By hearing their externalized speech, they were able to hear differences in sound more easily.

By careful observation, by careful listening, to my students with ingrained, cultural affective filters, I was able to ameliorate many by engaging fully in their language learning process.