It is my last official month as a teacher (for the time being), and I am going through waves of happiness and sadness. Excitement for what the future holds mixed with a bit of sadness that I am leaving this amazing career. While reflecting on the last two years of teaching over 250 students, I have gained such fascinating insight regarding optimal language learning at a young age. Whether you are learning a language, teaching a language or simply interested, these are some of the activities that I found really to improve the way students learn, love and take risks with language.
- Finding meaning for language learning. Enthusiasm and having an understanding behind the reasoning and benefits of learning a language will (hopefully) motivate people to understand why they are learning it. We accomplished this by having active conversations about the brain benefits of language learning, seeing which other regions in the world speak French, and researching the relationship between French and words in different languages. While making language trees comparing words in various Romance languages (French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian and Portuguese), students began to understand how having a basis in one of these languages can help you have a basic understanding in another. It gives you the ability to learn these languages much easier, and connects you to the world.
- Using a dictionary, thesaurus and verb conjugation guides. Almost every student in my class had no idea how to use a dictionary. Going back to the basics and learning how to use a paper and online dictionary, as well as learning how to read the given information is necessary to develop independent language skills. The same applies to thesauruses and verb conjugation guides (such as ‘Bescherelle’), guides that help with verb conjugations.
- SPEAKING. A piece of advice that I need to apply to my personal language learning is actively practicing a language. The best way to gain confidence, be okay with making mistakes, learn to get creative with vocabulary and hear what sounds right is to speak. This is done through conversation circles, games, and presenting projects.
- Grammar. Known to be “the boring” part of language learning can actually be the most important. Learning to conjugate verbs, understand the difference between homophones and comprehending the concept of masculine versus feminine words builds a deeper understanding of language use. We learned this by creating our own grammar guides, doing “grammar challenges” and editing our work.
- Editing. If you don’t learn to edit your work, you’ll never see anything wrong. Teaching how to edit (what to look for while editing) and having friends edit, teaches the importance of taking time with your work and learning that writing is never perfect the first time.
- Playing language games. Making language learning fun is my favourite things. I believe that when you can play around with a language — you have mastered it. Whether it’s learning international tongue twisters, playing improv games, making and presenting ads in different languages, pretending to run their own shops, and presenting “genius hour projects” on any topic they want in any medium. Feeling confident, having fun and practicing in a non-pressured environment is the key to success.
Unlike adults, kids cannot “fill-in-the-blanks” with language learning. They cannot read a text they semi-understand and connect the dots to figure out the general meaning, the opposite happens — they freak out and shut down, known as an “amygdala hijack”. Despite teaching language, the best thing teachers can do is teach the skills of focus, organization, and persistence for students to overcome adversity. You don’t learn a language in 5 minutes — but there comes a moment through actively practicing and setting time aside to study, where it just clicks! Language makes sense and the hard work pays off. So have fun and find meaning to your teaching and learning.