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Teaching Languages at School: Strategies?

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45 messages over 6 pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6  Next >>
druckfehler
Triglot
Senior Member
Germany
Joined 3460 days ago

1181 posts - 1912 votes 
Speaks: German*, EnglishC2, Korean
Studies: Persian

 
 Message 1 of 45
15 February 2014 at 8:16pm | IP Logged 
I've been wondering for a while now how the knowledge on this forum and the successful methods of self-learners can be implemented in a formal class-room setting, particularly in high school language classes. There usually seems to be a consensus that most high school classes suck for one reason and another, but that the teachers can't do all that much about it, because they are bound by a curriculum.

I refuse to accept the idea that high school language classes have to suck so much... Of course the curriculum greatly restricts a teacher's possibilities. They have to work with certain books which are structured a certain way and have to teach specific things. They couldn't chuck those books out of the window and have their students do extensive immersion AJATT-style, for example. But I'm sure there are ways to make language classes more fun and fruitful despite these restrictions.

I'm thinking of stuff like giving students more responsibility and choice in their own learning, while retaining structure, homework gamification with rewards, etc. Any ideas on how you would have liked to be taught languages at school or how you would go about teaching a class, taking into consideration the restrictions placed on teachers?
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Lizzern
Diglot
Senior Member
Norway
Joined 4501 days ago

791 posts - 1053 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, English
Studies: Japanese

 
 Message 2 of 45
15 February 2014 at 8:41pm | IP Logged 
That's a good question. I don't think they need to suck as much as they do to be honest... And I think part of the problem is that teachers are bound to do X, Y and Z in a certain way using certain materials to meet targets, and while those might be sensible things to learn (content-wise), the approach might not be. And they could chuck the books out if they were given the freedom, and if people trusted that they know what they're doing. (If the teacher doesn't know how to be a teacher then that's a problem...)

I think one of the primary things is to make it enjoyable, and when you have a large group of students with different learning styles in your class, that can be hard to do. Even expert advice in the language community varies widely - from the "speak from day 1" crowd to the "stop talking before you hurt yourself" approach of AJATT, for example. I would think that more focus on age-appropriate enjoyable input, like movies, would help. And some things would have to be optional, like word list study, because they seem to ruin it for so many people, even though others might be totally into it. Maybe grouping a class by learning technique parts of the time could work, so they could learn the same material in different ways.

I took a language class once that worked very well. It assumed zero knowledge of the language and started from there. We were speaking from day 1 and had homework that really pushed us, and then it got the red pen treatment by our teacher, but we learned a lot, and fast. I've been trying to pinpoint why it worked but haven't really been able to figure it out. But they definitely tried to make it fun and considered different learning styles by taking several approaches alongside one another.

Liz
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Bao
Diglot
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Germany
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Speaks: German*, English
Studies: French, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin

 
 Message 3 of 45
15 February 2014 at 10:45pm | IP Logged 
I think there's a number of issues going on there. In hindsight I don't think any of the books I've used in class were bad - all of them could offer a good starting point. No less, and no more. As for teachers, some might've known the language but couldn't really deal with a group of teenagers.

Some things, like the question of students reviewing, can be addressed with relatively simple measures like doing short vocab and grammar quizzes, with half of the material coming from the lessons since the last quiz and the other half from older lessons. And the marking being done once with the normal key (when you have to), and then the percentage known for old items and new items. And then let the students fill in each on a graph that has the previous percentages they achieved, so they see their long term and short term trends.
In some classes that could lead to a lot of grumbling by the students, because teenagers often think they've figured out exactly how school is supposed to work, and things like this aren't part of it.
That approach is said to even help such students who believe they are 'bad at' a particular subject, and whose own belief demotivates them and sabotages the effort they make.

There are a number of other widespread attitudes, like the belief that a particular language is difficult, that one can only learn to speak a language during immersion etc.
I think most people who study languages on their own have already found a way to deal with such attitudes for themselves - that is, we are like a group of those kids who believe they are the ones that are good at languages, and that while a language might be difficult, putting more time into it will make it manageable.

I don't think a teacher could convince all of their students that those attitudes are, um, less than grounded in reality. So I would opt for more activities that circumvent the most widespread attitudes (namely, ones about language aptitude or whether you could learn a language in a classroom setting at all). That means to make students not compare themselves to each other. (If they don't know how fast/accurate the students are who they perceive as the best or worst of a class, they can't alter their own efforts accordingly to stay where they believe they should be.) I'd also try to target activities at one skill at a time. So, if there's a set of grammar exercises, have the students do the exercises, then give them the answer key and let them correct their own mistakes, and only then have the correct solutions read out, and correct pronunciation when necessary. (Also, always provide additional exercises for those students who work faster than the rest.)
My French teachers did that with all written exercises, and I think it really helped us to figure out where our weak points lay. And, it spared us some of the embarrassment of making simple grammar mistakes in front of everyone else.

As for speaking practice, I think grouping the students for discussion does not work in many cases, because in my experience many of the groups switched back to German when they encounter a problem, and then stay with German. What worked in my classes was having a base dialogue, being tasked to change it (have it corrected) and then memorize our lines and play it out. (Embarrassing, but when everyone has to do it it's manageable.) Also, I think it's actually not a good idea if the teacher asks a question and waits for one of their students to put their hands up. I'd rather have the teacher select students randomly, and either ask questions every students should be able to answer without hesitation, or ask difficult questions and encourage the student to paraphrase and to use the kind of conversational strategies an intermediate speaker needs to use with a native speaker - could you please repeat this more slowly; I don't understand your question could you please rephrase it etc.

Edited by Bao on 16 February 2014 at 6:12pm

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Gemuse
Senior Member
Germany
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 Message 4 of 45
15 February 2014 at 11:14pm | IP Logged 
druckfehler wrote:
self-learners


That is the whole problem with high schools. In a typical classroom, some will be
motivated learners, many will be slackers. The self learner tactics are only useful for
motivated self learners. If you help the motivated students, soon (very quickly), they
will outpace the majority slackers. So you essentially need to have two tracks, more
for motivated kids, and one for slackers.
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Lizzern
Diglot
Senior Member
Norway
Joined 4501 days ago

791 posts - 1053 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, English
Studies: Japanese

 
 Message 5 of 45
16 February 2014 at 12:14am | IP Logged 
Gemuse wrote:
druckfehler wrote:
self-learners


That is the whole problem with high schools. In a typical classroom, some will be
motivated learners, many will be slackers. The self learner tactics are only useful for
motivated self learners. If you help the motivated students, soon (very quickly), they
will outpace the majority slackers. So you essentially need to have two tracks, more
for motivated kids, and one for slackers.


Some students in language classes become slackers because the class sucks the motivation out of them. I know several people who started the class superkeen to learn to speak and ended up hating it and becoming slackers. That said, I'm not disagreeing with your point at all. Some people in a language class will be genuine slackers who aren't and won't be that interested. It's just a shame that some people lose interest because of how the class is taught...

Liz
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Bao
Diglot
Senior Member
Germany
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Joined 4358 days ago

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 Message 6 of 45
16 February 2014 at 12:18am | IP Logged 
Gemuse, Big-fish–little-pond effect
Motivation doesn't exist in isolation.
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beano
Diglot
Senior Member
United KingdomRegistered users can see my Skype Name
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Speaks: English*, German
Studies: Russian, Serbian, Hungarian

 
 Message 7 of 45
16 February 2014 at 12:28am | IP Logged 
In Scotland, even the kids aged 16-18 who take languages at higher levels seriously struggle to build
sentences involving common verbs. As for conditional tenses, forget it. Now, we are talking about intelligent
young adults here who have purposely chosen to study a language, not 14-year-olds with poor academic
ability who don't give two hoots about learning French or German.

Something is wrong somewhere. I think part of the problem is that there is still far too much emphasis on
reading texts and answering questions about them (in English).

Edited by beano on 16 February 2014 at 12:30am

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Michel1020
Tetraglot
Senior Member
Belgium
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365 posts - 559 votes 
Speaks: French*, English, Spanish, Dutch

 
 Message 8 of 45
16 February 2014 at 12:33am | IP Logged 
They shouldn't teach languages - they should teach how to learn languages.

Learning languages is something you do at your own pace - this does not fit with classes.

What I would do - first, asking my students what movies, tv series and other tv show they watch and rewatch on tv, computer or what other screen. The question could be something like : what would you like to watch 100 times a week ?

I would then give each student a mp3 of the soundtrack of the show they love or something similar if their show doesn't have enough conversations.

Better I would teach them how to create their own mp3 out of their choosen shows.

Then I would tell my students to listen to the mp3 at least once every day. Play with speed and looping. Don't worry about understanding. Just listen to the music of the language. Listen many times and you will end up identifying sounds then words and so on. Remember how long you listen to your native before you start to understand it.

The next class I will test 5 students - asking them questions about their mp3. Questions could be did you recognise any words (student could first identify words that sound like a word in their native). Another question could be what character take part in a conversation ? Did you understand the name of the guest character ?

I would put a goal and first step - to understand as much as possible - don't try to speak, to write or to translate.




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