Thursday, July 9, 2015

June 10 2015

One thing that really struck me about Wednesday’s class was the statement, “We tend to teach the way that we’ve been taught.” This thought frightens me, because what we did after that in class (recount our L2 learning experience) was even more frightening to me as a teacher. I learned Spanish in high school. I learned from three different teachers. Two of which were non-native speakers – one German and one Canadian – and one of which was a native speaker from Cuba. My intro to Spanish class was quite simple, and at the time I enjoyed it. Because it was comfortable. We had a textbook, and we went unit by unit memorizing vocabulary and taking vocabulary translation quizzes. The teacher would call out a word in English, and we’d have to write the Spanish translation. Those were 25% of our final grade for the course. Participation was another 30%. So if I answered 90% of the questions (from the book) that the teacher called on me for, I got my points for the day. It simply involved paying attention. I don’t remember doing anything else other than a whole lot. Maybe once or twice we were required to memorize a dialogue and perform it, but it wasn’t taken seriously. I enjoyed this because I was quite good at memorization – I was a piano player at the time and memorizing music was my thing. So this was one more challenge. I enjoyed learning new vocabulary, labeling items in my house in Spanish, and using Spanish in a joking way at lunch with my friends that were also taking Spanish. I did this for five years into the future. Three more in high school and two in college. And do you know what I learned? I learned that answering questions from a textbook or doing direct translations do not make me a conversational Spanish speaker. I am not conversational today. I can tell you what this means in Spanish, and I can understand a lot of what is said to me, but when it comes to communicating in my L2, I completely fall apart. Is it anxiety? Is it confidence? Or is it that I haven’t been given the skills to do so? I really don’t know. I do really want to work on this because I know as a TESOL teacher in GA it is almost required that I know a second language.
I say this now because when I started teaching English, I was most comfortable with teaching when I had a textbook, and a plan, and I taught vocabulary with a picture dictionary, and I made my students answer questions. I suppose this method is OK for a beginner. It did get me to learn A LOT of vocabulary. We teach how we were taught. I still teach my group of adults with the Cambridge Interchange series (adopted by my school) and we still work our way through 8 units of beginning English vocabulary and basic grammar rules. We write sentences in subject + verb + object form, and we learn prepositions. But I still can’t help but wonder: IS IT ENOUGH? What else can I be doing to facilitate conversation? Will my students be conversational in the time frame that they want to be? We talk in class about topics of high interest. The motivation is there for them to WANT to speak and get their thoughts heard, but always some more than others. What else should I be doing? I suppose that this is why I am pursuing and MA TESOL degree. I will work my way through a program at GSU that will give me this skills, ideally. Is it enough to take class? Or must one converse in the language and engage in the culture of the L2 one is trying to learn 100% of the time? 
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