Teachers Need to Hold Attitudes of Engagement
in Understanding 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.
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.
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.