Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ambiguity and Language Learning

I am reflecting today on the following statement: “A student who doesn’t tolerate ambiguity well is not going learn a language well.” I don’t exactly know why this statement jumped out at me, but it did. I began to think of my early language learning self. I think this is the reason why I am not fluent in my L2. When I started to learn Spanish, I was 16 in tenth grade. I was a student that loved following directions and I loved rules. (I credit the ISFJ in me, but that’s just one measure how I relate to my world, I realize.) I did really well memorizing vocabulary and the rules of grammar that were regular. I didn’t like stem-changing verbs because they defied the rule. I did not tolerate ambiguity. I did not like things that were not stable. As I progressed through Spanish, I think I was also getting older, and with age come maturity and an awareness of my learning style. I didn’t think I was truly aware of my learning style until after I graduated university. I have become a little more tolerant of ambiguity just out of necessity of the work and I would like to apply this to re-learning and further learning in my L2. I haven’t had a lot of time to dedicate to Spanish learning over the last few years but when I do start studying again I think I will keep this in mind.  

I also was struck by the IPA debate. I had no idea how heated people felt about this. I didn’t say anything in class because there were so many varying opinions and I didn’t want to make the issue any more confusing. I come from a speech pathology background, where the goal there is nothing BUT pronunciation and intelligibility. One of the reasons I switched fields is because I think there was TOO much emphasis on IPA and pronunciation. In my linguistics and phonetics courses we had to learn and memorize IPA symbols. And you know what I learned? There is NEVER agreement among professionals about how to transcribe a word in IPA. I had classes where we would debate one syllable for an hour. I thought it was always ridiculous because pronunciation varies by region anyway. It always seemed pretty ridiculous arguing about these because I can always tell what was said. I figured out that my view on pronunciation is that as long as it’s comprehensible I don’t do any correction. If I can understand it, it is fine, because after all that is the goal of communication, right? So I will probably never use IPA again as long as I’m in the ESL/EFL field. There are other ways to do it. The beginning book I taught from last session had a series of spheres to tell students where the emphasis of the word should be placed. The large sphere is over the syllable with the most emphasis. It was much simpler than trying to decode a whole other set of symbols. Maybe my view will change as I continue my career, but with my current experiences, I will remain here.

 I will also add that I started teaching a new class last night, and it is the first time I will have taught advanced learners. It is also the first time I will be teaching students who are a similar age to myself. In the past, I have either taught students who are way older or way younger. But I thoguht back to the discussion on the role I want to play in the classroom and fought hard not to break out of the friend role. These learners (there are 5 of them that are very close to each other becuase they have studied together for a year and there is a husband and wife team in the mix). They are very much professionals looking to break into the professional workplace here, and one is a human resource professional qualified to give the Myers Briggs. Because the unit yeseterday was about personality, I decided it would be a good idea to give a modified MBTI test as an intro. It was a great activity, and led a great discussion, but I wonder if maybe I relinquished to much control to my student becuase I saw her more of an expert than I was in that field. I am excited about the possibilites with this class, but worry about boring them to tears since my experience has always been with beginning learners. 

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