Center for Language Studies

Announcing the Fall Language Festival

May 26, 2015
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CLS is excited to announce its first ever Fall Language Festival, which will take place this September! At the festival, new and returning students will be able to explore various language DUGS, cultural performance groups, language and culture clubs, and countless other language-related groups Brown has to offer. There will also be food, performances, contests, and prizes. Don’t miss out on this great opportunity to engage with the language community at Brown! You may even find your new favorite activity.

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Significance of culture in language teaching

May 25, 2015
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There has always been a lot of debate about whether culture is an essential component of language teaching or not. The four components that have always been focused upon in language teaching are; Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. However, recently there has been a lot of interest in integrating culture as a necessary component of language teaching. Dr. Thomas Garza, Director of the Texas Language Center at the University of Texas, Austin, also refers to culture as the fifth skill for learning a language after Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. He also brings to attention the fact that without the component of culture, language learning process would not be complete in true sense. Having said all that, it is apparent that cultural competence is emerging as an important skill of language learning. Cross et al, 1989 define cultural competence as “…a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes and policies that come together in a system, agency or those professions to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.” The term culture that has been used here implies the integrated patterns of human behavior that includes thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values and institutions of a racial, ethnic, religious or social group. The term competence refers to having the capacity to function effectively. Thus learning a language should not only restricted to the communicative ability but also the ability to communicate without offending any set of thoughts or beliefs of the particular people whose language is involved.

Nostrand, H.L talks about related issues in “Culture in Language Teaching: The Next Phase” and opines that to develop cultural competence in the learners, one needs to teach them to recognize the values, habits of thought, and presuppositions they can expect to encounter and then to act accordingly.  A big question that often haunts language teachers is how much time should be devoted to impart the cultural knowledge to students?  According to the ACTFL guidelines, the languages have been divided into four different groups for learners with English as the native language. They also prescribe the number of hours required to reach each stage in the inverted pyramid of proficiency. After a careful observation it becomes very clear that the gap between the number of required hours and the actual time devoted to teaching is huge. This means that in practice, no intensive teaching programme is capable of exposing its students to so many hours as prescribed by the ACTFL.

This situation makes it even more difficult for the language teachers to allocate time for cultural component. However there are certain ways through which we can communicate such knowledge to students. The first thing that comes to my mind is because one does not have sufficient time, it is necessary that cultural competence is not considered as a different and isolated part of language learning process and that it should take place simultaneously. Facts related to the art, history are very important parts of culture but they probably can easily be found out by the learners themselves and therefore the stress should be on things which you cannot find written anywhere and most of the times, that is what reflects the true culture. Reflecting on such issues, I think I can relate this to a few experiences I have had in my classes at Brown.

When I came to the U.S, there were a lot of things that almost gave me a shock during my initial days. The teacher-student equation is very different in the U.S as compared to India. While in India it is still very formal, it is very casual in the U.S. A student would never address a teacher by her/his first name in India and students still stick to the last name with proper salutations however it is the opposite in the U.S. I discussed this thing with my students as they should know that if they do this in India, the teacher might be surprised initially which braces the students for such behavior. Another big difference in American and Indian classroom is related to the eating habits. It is highly unacceptable for someone to eat something while the class is going on and so my job here was to make them aware of it so that they do not carry the same habit in India because it would be unacceptable. Even if they get through with it in some cases, they should know that it would not be the most desirable thing to do.

Postures of the students in American classrooms have never failed to baffle me. While it is good that they make themselves as comfortable as possible, that is not something that would be acceptable in India. A very liberal teacher might even overlook these things but sometimes I even saw the students putting their feet on the desk beside their notebooks which is bound to invite ire, if done in an Indian classroom. While I was making my students aware of all these things, my idea was not to direct them to change because that would have made no sense to them as these things were perfectly acceptable in their culture but I was making them aware of the differences in both cultures so that they know how to react appropriately when the situation demands.

Another incident took place while assisting my supervisor during one of the classes. A student dropped a page from her folder and it flew to the other side of the table. The student seated on the other side tried to get hold of the page with the help of his foot. As soon as he did it, the girl seated next to him, took the sheet of paper and touched it with her forehead. All the others were baffled as they did not understand what had just happened. This is when I told them that everything related to education like books, notebooks, pen and similar stuff is considered to be sacred and so people never touch it with their feet. I also explained to them that that people assume that disrespecting these things would be considered disrespectful to the goddess of knowledge. Apparently this had nothing to do with the language or communicative skills but the students were really glad to know the whole background. They surely would not require this knowledge in the west but at least they would not offend a native speaker or even if do so unintentionally, would realise their mistake. This was one situation and I got lucky that the situation led me to talk about all the background but such situations may not arise further and we would need to create them in the limited framework and time allocated for our language classes.

Another important cultural thing is related to a whole range of cultural paradigms about the usage of pronouns in India. Unlike English, where ‘you’ is used regardless of any age differences, Hindi has a well-defined set of pronouns to use according to people of different age groups. We use a different pronoun for the elderly in most of the cases. Friends and peers address each-other with a different pronoun. Failing to use the proper pronoun can lead to serious misunderstandings as it would be disrespectful if the pronoun ‘tum’ is used for elders instead of the suitable pronoun ‘aap’. I discussed these details while teaching them about pronouns.

I also told my students a few general things that they should certainly know about the cultural backdrop of India. Many people smoke and drink alcohol in India, but smoking and drinking in front of the elderly is still a taboo there. Besides it is also considered rude to pollute the surroundings with smoke especially when there are aging people around.  These are little things which seem very trivial but actually have great importance in the cultural set-up of a place and interestingly the students also enjoy getting to know about these things as they feel they are learning concrete things.

Use of authentic materials also helps the students to have a correct picture of the cultural background. So for my classes, I always preferred a video clip in which people were wearing clothes that are worn in India rather than clothes that do not fit in the cultural context. Similarly I gave them reading exercises which would correspond to the actual conversations of people and not some form of language that is never spoken. While showing them images of certain food items, I would make sure they see what those things actually look like in India and not something that is the famous version. These are very little bits and pieces of information but have a great collective impact on the language learner. They do not require an extra effort and makes learners culturally competent to a fair extent.

 

 

Riya Raj

Fulbright FLTA  for Hindi


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Turkish Culture Night

May 21, 2015
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Turkish_Culture_Night

 

The Turkish Culture Night, co-sponsored by Center for Language Studies at Brown, Turkish Consulate in Boston and TACSRI (Turkish American Cultural Society of Rhode Island) this year, took place on the 10th of April, 2015 between 6 and 8 pm. The event aimed at promoting Turkish culture and creating a sense of this culture in people by focusing on food, music and dance, and approximately 100 people came to this event. The night started with the food part, where the participants had the chance to taste some delicious Turkish food such as lokum, sarma, dolma, börek, mercimek köftesi, Çerkez tavuğu salatası, baklava and kadayıf. While everyone was in line waiting for their food, they also listened to some soothing and relaxing Turkish songs accompanied by photos from Turkey, projected on the screen. While having their food, they also had the opportunity to listen to a very short and informative presentation about Turkey given by the Fulbright FLTA of Turkish this year, which aimed to give everyone some basic information about Turkey regarding its location, geography, people and culture. So as to expose everyone to some Turkish music, it was time for some Turkish songs sung by two Turks who are interested in music and deal with it. Both the Turkish and English lyrics of the songs were printed for everyone to see and join the singing part of the beautiful performance of the musicians. This part was followed by a dance workshop where those interested in dancing were encouraged to come to the stage and learn some traditional moves of Turkish dance such as damat halayı, horon and Ankara havası with the help of the FLTA of Turkish. The last part of the night was dedicated to some popular and lively Turkish songs, and some came to the floor to enjoy the music and dance. The reflections on the event showed that everyone was pleased to experience the Turkish culture at an event where they could eat, listen to songs, sing and dance. This event will become a tradition at Brown and take place at around the same time of the year so as to give everyone the chance to experience the Turkish culture. If you like Turkish culture, you can learn Turkish right here at Brown during 2015-16 academic year. Here are some photos from the night which would help give an overall idea of how the event this year was like:

1 2 IMG_0074 (1)_Fotor_Collage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mediha Toraman
FLTA of Turkish
Brown University

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The Use of Translation in the Language Classroom

May 20, 2015
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This reflection around the place of translation in language teaching springs out of an elementary Portuguese course I took during college. The course met three times a week, MWF, and each Friday we would have a warm-up activity based on translation. The class was divided into two or three groups and the instructor showed us an image on the screen. The image could either be a comic book strip, a film still, or a popular saying to be translated into English. Then, a full class discussion would entail and we decided which was the most “authentic” translation. This example could serve as a starting point for an assessment of the pros and cons of translation exercises within the language classroom. A number of questions emerged from these exercises related to the suitability of translation activities for elementary students, the use of L1 in the classroom, and the practical use of the foreign language. In this reflection I will think of translation in the language classroom as an activity inextricably related to communicative language teaching theories.

According to most CLT theories, translation has little place within the language classroom. The negative connotation of translation derives from its association with the Grammar-Translation method, which emphasized automatic translation and left no room for communicative translation activities. Grammar-Translation method was the traditional way of learning Greek and Latin. It is now almost unanimously disused in that it consisted in the memorization of entire grammar rules and lists, and the literal translation of either historic or literary texts. Other common criticism to translation in the classroom points to the encouragement of L1 use. Whereas modern teaching methodologies seek to remove L1 from the classroom, translation activities depend upon the use, and sometimes the discussion in, the source language. Translation may also not be suitable for all levels of language learners, especially for beginning levels. As I was able to find out in our classroom exercises, translation encompasses a wide variety of linguistic areas such as register and idiom. Instructors take the risk of having elementary students miss the meaning of an entire text if it pertains to an unsuitable level.

Some other common criticisms to the use of translation in the classroom emphasize the specialized nature of translation, the confinement to a narrow set of skills, and the false idea of “equivalence” between two languages. Newson (1988: 2) criticizes the use of translation in the college classroom by arguing that translation is an art that should be taught in specialized institutions. Moreover, he lists a number of reasons for why translation should be excluded from the language syllabus: the interferences entailed in thinking in one language and transferring the thought to another, the disadvantages of working between two languages instead of within one, the enforcement of the belief that there is a direct correspondence between languages, and the minimization of spoken language in the classroom (6). Carreres (2006: 5) summarizes the main arguments against the use of translation in the modern languages curriculum: 1) translation confines activities to only two skills (reading and writing); 2) it confines students to thinking of the L2 through the prism of the source language; 3) it has no real world application; 4) it is an exercise that elicits more mistakes than accurate responses; 5) it is better suited for literary and grammar oriented students than for the average learner.

However, some scholars have shown that translation is not an isolated activity but rather a “functionalist” and interpersonal one (Nord 1997). In particular, Nord (2005: 161) has analyzed the different competences acquired through translation: linguistic competence in both the L1 and the TL, cultural competence (in the culture of the target language), technical competence in research, etc. Duff (1989: 7) has demonstrated that translation activities could be beneficial for the development of the four skills. Instead of spontaneous translation exercises, it is advisable that careful preparatory activities take place in advance. Reading, writing, listening and speaking activities are helpful to prepare for the main translation task. Contrary to the Grammar-Translation method, these preparatory activities establish translation as an interpersonal communicative activity that focuses on all areas of linguistic learning. Harmer (1991) emphasizes the importance of translation for the expansion of vocabulary items. But reducing translation to the memorization of lexical items would be to associate it with Grammar-Translation methodologies and miss the importance of translation activities within the modern classroom. Translation in groups is an activity that helps to trigger discussion around the uses (and misuses) of language, providing a more comprehensive understanding of linguistic meaning.

In addition to the intercultural and interpersonal components of translation activities, I would like to point out the possible relationship between translation and motivation. In a global environment where translation is progressively viewed not as a special skill but as a required competence, students are able to acquire skills necessary for daily as well as professional use. A case on point would be the use of translation from L1 to L2 for writing exercises. With more possibilities of accessing sources in their L1, students could use translation as a supplementary writing activity. A cautionary warning for this type of example is nonetheless necessary–students’ indiscriminate use of online applications such as Google Translate or overdependence on L1 could be detrimental for the learning of the registers, idioms, and styles of the L2.

All the objections to the use of translation in the language classroom are conclusive only when translation activities follow the traditional pattern of the Grammar-Translation method. If designed following a communicative language frame, translation can be a source of interpersonal, intercultural, and “real world” experiences. Traditional ways of teaching translation were beneficial only to students with literary or grammatical interests, whereas communicative approaches to translation are stimulating to groups of students with broad leanings. Translation in the language classroom should shift away from the learning of a specific set of skills, instead addressing the way in which translation helps to learn a foreign language. This transition entails a number of changes in terms of methodology, with the syllabus focusing not only in forming professional translators but also in fostering language speakers. Finally, translation should not be limited to higher language levels but should also include elementary students. For this it is important to destabilize the traditional opposition between translators and language students, thinking of translators as continuing language learners and language learners as inevitable translators.

 

Nicolas Campisi

PhD Student in Hispanic Studies

Brown University

 

 

Works Cited

 

Carreres, Angeles. “Strange bedfellows: Translation and language teaching. The teaching of translation into L2 in modern languages degrees: Uses and limitations.” In Sixth Symposium on Translation, Terminology and Interpretation in Cuba and Canada. Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council (2006): 1-21.

Duff, Alan. Translation. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989.

Harmer, Jeremy. The Practice of English Language Teaching. London: Longman, 1991.

Newson, Dennis. “Making the best of a bad job: The teaching and testing of translation.” Annual Meeting of the International Association for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. Edinburgh, Scotland. April, 1988.

Nord, Christiane. Text Analysis in Translation: Theory, Methodology, and Didactic Application of a Model for Translation-Oriented Text Analysis. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2005.

–––. Translating as a Purposeful Activity: Functionalist Approaches Explained. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing, 1997.


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Movement and Technology in the Communicative Language Learning Classroom

May 17, 2015
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Introduction | Screen-centered classrooms?

Many university level language acquisition courses emphasize the role of technology both in and outside the classroom. Incorporating technology increasingly produces creative and effective lesson plans for accessible to all types of learners. Many technological programs offer images, sound, and writing, binding many types of input and output together with speed like never before.

But how often is a language learning classroom becoming a screen-centered classroom rather than student-centered? How often is incorporating technology reduced to a PowerPoint presentation guiding the class day after day? Are students glued to their chairs? Following the inciting question of Shafaei (2011), is teaching language without the body teaching language?

These questions are not particularly new ones, yet there is not a lot written on movement—aside from nonverbal communication—in the classroom within second language acquisition scholarship. Even pencil and paper or textbooks present the problem of media-based classroom settings. My intention with this paper is not eliminate the media that have greatly enhanced the communicative approach, but rather to present movement as a medium for learning as well. There is a lot of potential in the human body to acquire a second language, which I hope to present here (including also unusual source material), leaving the question open to further research and practice.

Part 1 | The Benefits of Movement

            Let’s start small. Movement does not necessarily have to mean that students must get up from their chairs. Instead movement connects mind and body together, creating rhythms that reinforce mindfulness and presence in the language learning process. In Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, Brian Massumi elaborates upon the process of reading as one folded within movements and gesture: “Enfolded in the muscular, tactile, and visceral sensations of attention are incipient perceptions. When we read, we do not see the individual letters and words. That is what learning to read is all about: learning to stop seeing the letters so you can see through them” (p. 139). Attention in the classroom is one component of a so-called good student, but attention can take on many different forms that oscillate within the body’s responses to outward-projected activity. Attention should not be thought of as a stable state, but rather the quality of coming back to a stable center from distraction. We can think of distraction as fundamentally built into attention. Massumi writes further,

All of this equally pertains to inattention. Distraction, too, is accompanied by characteristic, self-referential actions: scratching, fidgeting, eyes rolling up or around in their sockets as if they were endeavoring to look back in at the brain. Every predominantly visual activity is an economy of attention and distraction, often with a pronounced tendency toward one or the other pole (2002, p. 139).

 

We can think of movement as a tool for students to check in with their own attention. In the language-learning classroom we can use the economy of attention and distraction to magnetize the students toward the pole of attention, cultivating bodily movement for self-awareness.

Another component of movement includes cognitive mapping. Using shapes and symbols around the classroom can reinforce learning. A study completed on “The use of path integration to guide route learning in ants” shows that discrimination is an important part of cognitive mapping. The researchers placed different shapes in a maze, and the ants had to effectively learn which shapes led from the feeding site to the home site. They were able to create vectors from one to the other with shapes (Schatz, et. al., 1999). This information can be used in a classroom setting. The students can use vectors of movement that take them through a variety of vocabulary and grammar that map onto their everyday lives. For example, the classroom can be symbolically set up as a house to describe daily routines, or as a market to learn vocabulary for traversing city businesses. Like the ants, the students can learn via “path integration” to help them navigate through the unfamiliar landscape of a second language.

Gestures and cognitive mapping are not metaphors. I think we can relate the ways that movement can potentially be integrated into the classroom following a lot of the research that has been conducted on yoga and neuroscience in recent decades.[1] Studies show that even changing your posture slightly can lift mood and raise awareness. Movement techniques can certainly add a positive boost to the classroom everyday.

Not only does movement enhance the classroom environment, but nonverbal communication can increase sociolinguistic linguistic competence. Movement is a communicative ability that produces coherence and cohesion in interpersonal interactions (Gregerson, 2005, p. 51). Even though not all movement can lead to effective communication, knowing how to move to express can be an important part of cultural competence as well. Ekman and Friesen describe four different types of gestures for effective communication: illustrators, regulators, emblems, and affect displays. Illustrators are the natural movements that accompany speech, communicating the meaning and context of a verbal message with hand gestures, smiling, and frowning. Regulators refer to the body language cues that serve to control turn-taking in conversation and organizes interaction patterns. Examples include physical gestures, changes in gaze direction, eye contact, and proximity between bodies. Emblems are nonverbal behaviors that intentionally transmit a message. These are the most subject to change meaning from context to context. Examples include nodding affirmatively or negatively, the O.K. sign, and thumbs up or down. Affect displays express emotion, such as laughing, crying, and posture. By thinking of these forms of nonverbal communication as expressive movement inherent in every communicative instance, we can encourage language learning that tessellates with learning communicatively with technology. The next step is to think about how to diffuse these movements deliberately with technological engagement in a classroom setting.

Part 2 | How Technology Can Incorporate Movement

So, how can we integrate movement with technology at the same time so that media and bodies are not seen as separate entities in the communicative language-learning classroom? (Especially when just using just movement or technology alone in the classroom already presents a challenge!) We can first start to think about the technologies that are already popular in second language acquisition classrooms and how each of them can incorporate movement.[2] These suggestions are a platform to continue thinking about how to use technology and movement together, often incorporating and combining more than one technological tool. Most of these suggestions apply to the beginner level of language learning.

  • Blogs: Blogs encourage students to develop long-term (or at least semester-long) threads of ideas. Blogs are also a great place for students to keep track of what inspires them. An idea for including movement in a blog format is for students to look at any movement art that within the country or culture of the spoken language. They can use the blog to describe the movement in a variety of writing formats: poetry, email, letter, newspaper review, or creative prose. Students can also replicate each other’s movement according to their peers’ language.
  • Digital Storytelling: Digital Storytelling can create comics, animation, cartoons with digital platforms. Students can use these platforms to describe movement through storytelling, portraying characters moving.
  • Discussion Threads: Discussion threads utilize the online platforms provided by the university to connect students outside of the classroom. Students can use a discussion thread to explore topics more closely. For example, students can each share one nonverbal cue that interests them on the discussion thread. The next day in class, the instructor can hand out cards with one of the cues on each card to each student. Throughout class that day, the student must incorporate as that nonverbal cue as much as they can. It can turn out to be very entertaining, but keep control that the cues are positive!
  • E-Portfolios: E-Portfolios are an exciting way to share students’ work widely, so it is important that students create work in the language-learning classroom that they can be proud of. Students with artistic propensities can share the work they make with descriptions in the target language. Students that write poetry or any other form of creative expression can experiment and share in the target language. Students that feel they do not want to express creatively in their native language may actually find it freeing to create work in another language!
  • Mapping Software: Mapping software, such as Google maps, correlates physical movement to an interactive image. Students can explore with direction words and navigating through foreign cities.
  • Presentation Tools: Presentation tools are, in my opinion, the greatest limitation of movement in the classroom. Students are expected to sit and fix their eyes upon the screen and respond when the screen tells them too. But, as we know, presentation tools, like PowerPoint, Prezi, and SlideShare, are incredible for visual learners. It is important to have slides that encourage breaks for group work activity and movement in between slides with visualized input. If students see vocabulary input for restaurant etiquette or grammar practice with modal verbs, the next slide could prompt a dynamic activity where students move around and talk to each other.
  • Video Hosting: Video hosting, like Vimeo or Youtube can develop students’ ideas in visual time-based film formats. The possibilities are endless: short films, video diaries, stop motion animation, dance, documentaries!
  • Videoconferencing Platforms: Videoconferencing platforms connect students with other classrooms. Students can use videoconferencing on smartphones or iPads to exchange tours of a building in the target language within their university with another university.
  • Wikis: Wikis facilitate online collaborative class discussion and organize topics. A way to incorporate movement is to have students create a wiki for traveling abroad to a country in which the language is spoken. Each topic in the wiki can include student’s photos and videos for how to interact in that country with the corresponding verbal language.

There are also physical computing technologies that inherently can require movement and haptic interaction.[3] These are bit harder to access, but are becoming increasingly more available at universities. These require a bit more knowledge to use. Here is a list to explore using in the classroom; some of these ideas are from Martinez and Stager (2013):

  • Arduino
  • CAVE
  • Dance Dance Revolution
  • LEGO engineering
  • Lilypad Arduino
  • Oculus Rift
  • Processing
  • Sony Eyetoy
  • Theremino
  • X-Box Kinnect

 

Coda | Movers, Makers, Communicators

            Part 1 explored how movement can be beneficial affectively and how focusing on the intricacies of the affective atmosphere in the classroom can enhance learning. Part 1 also elaborated upon how sociolinguistic competence and cultural competence includes gestures, movements, and affects. The classroom and the cultural context can be seen as nested realms to explore movement. The classroom can be seen as a creative lab to experiment with movement and technology together. Part 2 suggested technologies, activities, and tools to help foster the classroom as a meaningful context to learn a language creatively.

If instructors only use technology to keep the classroom seated and postures slouched toward the screens, they are not investigating the full potential of appealing to the many facets of language learning and communication. Technology and movement can enhance all the competences in language, if the activities are designed appropriately. By using the body to both move and express nonverbal communication—along with the effective speech, listening, reading and writing—students can communicate meaningfully in the classroom and in the world.

Bibliography

Arndt, H., & Janney, R.W. (1987). InterGrammar: Toward an integrative model of verbal, prosodic and kinesic choices in speech. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Butler-Pascoe, E., & Wiburg, K.M. (2003). Technology and teaching English language learners. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Allyn and Bacon/Pearson.

Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. (1972). Similarities and differences between cultures in expressive movements. In R.A. Hinde (Ed.), Nonverbal communication (pp. 297-312). London: CUP.

Gregersen, T. (2005). Nonverbal cues: Clues to the detection of foreign language anxiety. Foreign Language Annals 38(3), 388-400.

Gregersen, Tammy S. (2007). Language learning beyond words: Incorporating body language into classroom activities. Reflections on English Language Teaching: Vol. 6, No. 1 (pp. 51-64).

Igoe, Tom; O’Sullivan, Dan (2004). Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers. Premier Press.

Kellerman, S. (1992). I see what you mean: The role of kinesic behaviour in listening and the implications for foreign and second language learning. Applied Linguistics 13(3), 239-258.

Knapp, M., & Hall, J. (2006). Nonverbal communication in human interaction. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth. Pennycook, A. (1985). Actions speak louder than words: Paralanguage, communication, and education. TESOL Quarterly 19(2), 259-282.

Martinez, Sylvia Libow & Stager, Gary. Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Torrance, CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, 2013.

Massumi, Brian. (2002). Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham, NC & London: Duke University Press.

McNeely, Ben. “Using Technology as a Learning Tool, Not Just the Cool New Thing.” http://www.educause.edu/research-and-publications/books/educating-net-generation/using-technology-learning-tool-not-just-cool-new-thing

Schatz, B., S. Chameron, G. Beugnon, & T.S. Collett, “The use of path integration to guide route learning in ants,” Nature 399, 769-772 (24 June 1999)

Notes

[1] See for example: Sat Bir Singh Khalsa & Jodi Gould, Your Brain on Yoga (RosettaBooks: 2012). Rick Hanson, Buddhas Brain: Practical Neuroscience Happiness (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2009).

[2] Columbia University has a great online resource listing different technologies for both teachers and students: “Technology Resources for Language Teaching and Learning” http://www.lrc.columbia.edu/technology-resources.html

[3] See also: Igoe, Tom; O’Sullivan, Dan (2004). Physical Computing: Sensing and Controlling the Physical World with Computers. Premier Press.


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Hindi-Urdu Night

May 17, 2015
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Hindi-Urdu Night

 

The Hindi-Urdu Night coordinated by the Hindi-Urdu program and sponsored by the Center for Language Studies is a small gathering of students learning Hindi-Urdu.  It is an event that provides a wonderful opportunity to the students to showcase their talent in the most creative ways and also to enhance their learning while doing so. It is usually organised towards the end of the academic year. This year, it was organised on May 1, 2015. As a tradition, this event is usually followed by the festival of colors (Holi) which is mainly observed in India and Nepal but now-a-days is becoming exceedingly popular in various parts across the globe that have substantial Indian population. Holi celebration starts with the Holika bonfire on the eve of Holi. It symbolizes the end of evil forces. The festival also signifies the victory of good over evil. During Holi, people throw colors at each other. Children also play with water guns and a lot of delicacies are cooked in every family as food is an integral part of celebration across the globe. The Hindi/Urdu Night offered some famous Indian delicacies for everyone present. The students put up various performances like skit, classical Indian dance, classical Indian music by members of Raagmala, a fusion duet combining English and Hindi songs and Bollywood group dance.


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Being a native speaker and teaching: reflections on the interrelated terms

May 16, 2015
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Brand-new experiences in a classroom bring about new skills to be gained, different strategies to be used and many wonderful moments to be experienced. That is what exactly I, as a teacher of the language I am a native speaker of, have experienced here at Brown. Teaching Turkish for the first time at a context which I was not quite familiar with helped me gain different perspectives, particularly regarding language teaching.

When you are the native speaker of a language, you never think about the rules of it consciously as you just learn it in its natural way. Having no experience in teaching Turkish, I had some doubts whether that would be a problem for me. As Turkish is quite different from English linguistically, there was no way for me to relate the rules of Turkish to the ones in English, which was actually what I was trained for in my previous education. Many times I found myself questioning the underlying rules regarding specific grammar points in Turkish, such as with ‘ cases’. I had never thought when and how we assign certain cases to nouns in accordance with tense and aspect in use. We even discussed certain topics similar to that with my other Turkish FLTA friends at some points when we were not sure what the exact answer was to our questions. I went through all these as I had never felt the need to be conscious about my language because I just acquired the language. This part of the experience made me realize once more that first language acquisition is totally different from second language learning. Once I started thinking consciously about something I had never done so, the process of formalizing the underlying reasons to explain certain rules in Turkish became a lot easier for me, which is one of the huge differences between my first and second term. Although it took me a lot of time trying to get ready for my teaching previously – partly because it was my first time teaching the language – I felt teaching Turkish was easier in the second term.

It is true that a teaching context necessitates the teacher to make use of every teaching method in accordance with what the objectives are. Similar to the case of teaching English, I also resorted to many techniques while teaching Turkish, which was what I was expecting to do. However, with agglutinative languages like Turkish (the languages that work with morphemes added to the roots of the words to form new ones), there is more need to focus on the roots of the words, give information about the etymology of these words and discuss them in more detail as that way it becomes easier to gather the different words that share certain characteristics in one place, thus it becomes more effective to learn vocabulary. As human brain is more successful at recalling the words that are placed in certain categories with regard to their shared features, discussing the roots of words in more detail became more helpful in Turkish.

In almost every phase of my education, I have come across with the words ‘language and culture’, ‘the effect of teaching culture on teaching languages’ as these two terms have always been considered to be indisputably linked to each other. Another important aspect regarding teaching Turkish at Brown is how this culture aspect of the issue had a great impact on my teaching. It is widely acknowledgedthat culture should be integrated into the process of teaching a language. What was interesting to experience regarding teaching Turkish was that this was the starting point for me to teach many points in Turkish. As the students I had took my class mainly because they were interested in the Turkish culture, it was a must for me to use this to motivate them and to have more enjoyable and effective classes. As I stated earlier, what you do in class as a teacher is very much about the goals that you set from the very beginning. If your students want to take your class to learn about the culture more or because they have already been exposed to that culture and fascinated by that, it becomes your responsibility to start from there. With that in mind, I generally tried to plan everything with something that would show an aspect of Turkish culture, which was also enjoyable both for my students and me. This in a way helped me reflect on my teaching experience as an instructor of English. Would it be more effective and motivating to create a sense of liking of the target culture in students before starting to teach something? Should culture actually come before the teaching part? These questions constantly kept lingering in my mind as I was teaching because motivation is the very first step to be able to learn a language.

Teaching your native language might sound easy – actually it really is at some points, but sometimes knowing that you have a command in that language might lead you to take some points for granted. I have already discussed this issue with my experience of explaining certain rules in Turkish. There is also another side of the issue while teaching your native language: being under more pressure because you are expected to know everything as a native speaker of the language, which might require more preparation for possible questions. With linguistic questions, it is a lot easier to think and come up with an explanation – although it might sometimes take more time to think of some other examples and come up with a plausible answer, but with questions regarding the history and culture of your country, in which the language you are teaching is spoken, there is no such option. This ultimately necessitates more preparation on the part of the teacher, which is not quite the case in teaching a language you have also learned as a foreign language.

Teaching a language was always a concept that is so universal and at the same time so context-specific to me. Looking back at my first-time experience of teaching Turkish, it started to get the shape of being more of thelatter kind. It was fair to be able to reflect on my previous experience as an instructor of English and shed a light on my future practices and see how similar and different teaching different languages is. One important point I learned out of this experience: learning never stops for anyone, yet with teaching, it constantly deepens and comes into prominence.

Mediha Toraman
FLTA of Turkish
Brown University


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#FutureMindedOrganizing: Using Blogs to Archive Language Teaching Resources

May 15, 2015
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Every semester, when I begin teaching, I try out a new organizational method to help me not only keep track of what I will do and have done during that semester, but also be able to find and reuse these materials in the future. The last time I taught, my method involved making an extra printout of every assignment that I gave, every agenda that I used, every handout that I passed out, and putting them all in order in a binder. The semester before that, it was naming everything with a specific formula in my computer: Date_TitleOfAssignment.docx. The semester before that, it was naming everything as Chapter#_Day#. Before that… well, I can’t even remember what my method was.

Each of these organizational methods has its advantages and disadvantages. The first allows me to flip through a binder with the materials in front of me until I find the page that I’m looking for — which, as an aspiring literature scholar, will always have its charms for me — but isn’t searchable by a computer. The latter two, although searchable, require me to remember exactly how I filed each assignment. If I can’t remember, I’m stuck opening up file after file until I find the one that I’m looking for.

How often has this happened to us as teachers? We know that we’ve already created an assignment that would be just perfect to review the subjunctive, or that has a cultural element to it that would make it fit in well with a unit on the French Riviera, but we just can’t find it. So we go online and search for a new activity, flip through our textbooks to find something similar, or create a new activity altogether.

The next time I teach, I’m going to try a new method, one that, hopefully, will combine the best points of each of these different methods. That method: keeping a blog.

Why a blog, you might ask? Blogs are used for communication and for sharing ideas! Sure, that’s true. But I’d like to take advantage of an organizing principle that began with blogs and that social media such as Twitter now use to organize even people’s tweets: tags.

The problem with all of the methods of organization that I’ve used in the past is that they always have their blind spots. Three-ring binders aren’t searchable by a computer, take up a lot of physical space, and can’t be backed up; moreover, I have no idea what system I used to name the file in my computer. The latter two methods, although searchable and labeled via a specific scheme, require me to remember either the particular title I gave to that assignment or the specific day that I used it. You could just label your file names with every relevant keyword, but how useful is that really when your computer can only display names of up to a certain length?

Blogs, whose posts can be tagged with any number of different identifiers, will allow me to label each assignment, handout, or exam with any number of potential keywords that might help me find it later on, so I can search for a keyword that I think I labeled an assignment with and all of the relevant results will pop up. Even if I don’t remember the keyword, I can even use the blog just like I use my binder: I can scroll through the past entries just like I flip the pages of my binder until I find the activity that I’m looking for.

As an example, let’s take a handout that a classmate and I put together for our microteaching this semester and think about how it might be labeled so that I can access it easily in the future to reuse it in another course.

And here’s the exercise in question:

———

Complétez les phrases avec le pronom relatif qui convient : qui, que, dont, ou .

  1. Le désert est l’endroit ______ le narrateur rencontre le petit prince.
  1. Les grandes personnes ne voient pas l’éléphant ______ est dans le boa.
  1. Le premier mouton ______ le narrateur a dessiné était déjà malade.
  1. Dans la caisse se trouve le mouton ______ le petit prince a besoin.
  1. L’astéroïde B 612, c’est la planète ______ habite le petit prince.
  1. La découverte de l’astéroïde est le sujet ______ l’astronome turc a parlé.

———

Pretty basic, really: the activity requires students to fill in the blanks with the appropriate relative pronoun. It uses sentences that are based off events from the story that they had been reading, Le Petit Prince. I used this in FREN 200, the second semester of the elementary-level sequence here at Brown, on Friday, April 17, 2015. It focuses on reading more than any of the other four skills.

All of these characteristics (and more) are ways that I would likely remember using or labeling this activity, and that I might help me find this activity later on.

How did I actually label this activity in my computer, you ask? The filename was Microteaching_FREN200_Handout.docx. Not the most helpful nor the most recognizable of names.

In order to find this file later on the way that it is labeled now, I will have to do either one of two things: either find it myself by remembering that I put it in my LANG 2900 folder which is inside my Spring 2015 folder which is inside my Coursework folder and so on and so forth, or remember how I labeled it so that I can search my whole computer for it. Both of those possibilities are somewhat unlikely. Maybe I would have remembered to search for microteaching, but if I were to search for a filename containing the term “relative pronouns,” I would be out of luck.

But if I were to post this activity to a  blog, here are just some of the tags that I might use to label and, later, search for and find it again:

#relativepronouns #que #qui #ou #dont #fillintheblanks #questionsets #lepetitprince #reading #fren200 #basicfrench #lang2900 #microteaching #april2015

Instead of being restricted by a single filename, this organizational system will allow me to find that assignment using any of those search criteria.

What’s more, when I search for those criteria, I won’t just come up with this one assignment: I’ll find all of the assignments that I’ve posted that fit into those categories. How many assignments have I already created that I’ve already forgotten about and that might even be better than this one to review relative pronouns, for instance? Maybe I need something more general outside of the context of Le Petit Prince, and maybe searching for all of my assignments labeled #relativepronouns will help me find another assignment that I didn’t even remember making.

Moreover, we can do more than upload files to a blog: we can also add links to online resources, such as videos, that already exist, and label those as well. In this way, we aren’t restricted to having a particular file stored in a particular folder, taking up space on our computers: blogs can help us link our own work to what is already out there and that, once linked, will be far less likely to become lost.

And perhaps best of all: this sort of organization can make these documents accessible and searchable for our students, our colleagues, or anyone else, for that matter. This is where the communicative aspect of blogs come in: by organizing and archiving our resources in useful, searchable ways, we can disseminate knowledge, in the form of our teaching resources, that might otherwise be restricted to use on one single day in one single classroom. With the above activity tagged this way on a public blog, anyone searching for practice with relative pronouns or for activities related to Le Petit Prince might find it. In this way, others will also benefit from our future-minded organizational teaching methods.

Being organized in the present, for the current semester, is one thing. But if we as teachers are organized for the future as well, we will significantly reduce the amount of time that we need to spend searching for and remaking assignments that we, or others like us, have already made. This will allow us to focus more on what’s important to us: meeting with and engaging students in real time in those personal interactions that are so vital to the language classroom and that the web, despite all of the innovative ways in which it does manage to connect us to one another, still has yet to be able to fully replicate.

Benjamin Fancy
PhD Student in French Studies


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Teaching Intercultural Grammar Concepts

May 15, 2015
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When I was reading the article “Intercultural Communication” by Claire Kramsch, I suddenly, stopped, totally struck by one paragraph:


In their first book Narrative, Literacy and Face in Interethnic Communication (Scollon and Scollon 1981) they [the authors] document the different nature and value attributed to literacy and orality practices among Anglo-Americans and Athabaskans. In the way they told stories, their own three-year-old daughter, Rachel, and her ten-year-old Athabaskan friend, Big Sister, were differentially literate. Even before she could read and write, Rachel told stories she made up according to a tripartite pattern (orientation–complication–resolution) familiar to her from the English bedtime stories she was read by her parents. By contrast, Big Sister’s spoken and written stories conformed to a four-part, repetitive pattern favoured by members of her culture.


I was instantly intrigued, as I’ve always been when I come across examples of grammatical or linguistic concepts that differ in some radical way from culture to culture. For example, many languages have the grammatical features sentences, dependent and independent clauses, subjects, direct objects and indirect objects. However, there are many other concepts that, while still common, are less readily comparable between languages: multiple noun cases, verb conjugation to varying extents, a wide variety of verb tenses. Obviously this is a fluid spectrum—to the best of my knowledge, it is impossible to say there is any one most “basic” grammatical concept that is common to all languages. Our idea of what is “basic” is totally dependent, as well, on what language or languages we grew up familiar with. For example, I personally have had a good amount of exposure to the Romance languages and to Slavic languages, so I consider the case system and the verb conjugation system “basic,” the fact that nouns have genders “basic,” the idea that there are several different noun declension groups, verb declension groups, and so forth—all of these seem natural and intuitive to me. Yet these concepts don’t exist in English, and they require involved explanations.

For example, explaining the way numbers interact with the case system in Russian requires a longer explanation. Russian has three different noun cases used with different numbers when counting amounts. The number 1, or numbers ending in 1 (such as 21, 31, 141 . . .) take nominative singular; 2-4 or numbers ending in 2-4 (such as 3, 42, 63, 224 . . .) take genitive singular; and numbers ending in 5-15 (such as 8, 13, 55, 607, 716, 3047 . . .) take genitive plural. Other Slavic languages have a special dual form used with the number 2. But English uses at most two different forms of noun, such as “one cat” and “two cats, four cats, eighty-five cats” and Japanese doesn’t use any plural forms of nouns, just the same noun—as if you would say “one cat, three cat,eighty-five cat.” Comparing the overlaps and differences between the grammar systems in different languages could go on practically infinitely.

However, when we think about second language teaching, we come to the question of how to teach these more complicated grammatical concepts—more complicated because they bear less relationship to structures that exist in the students’ first language. Depending on the students’ first language and on other languages they know, certain target language concepts will be more or less difficult to extrapolate and learn. For example, even though English does not have a noun declension system (except to a certain extent with some pronouns), the idea of different case endings for different noun uses is not a huge leap. However, even though English has multiple past tenses, the idea of perfective versus imperfective verbs that exists in Slavic languages (as well as others) might be much more involved. Teaching the concept of an imperfective verb to English-speaking students inevitably requires some kind of involved explanation describing various potential scenarios. For example, looking at the unfinished verb that means “to read,” a teacher might say to students, “Here’s when you might use the imperfective verb chitat’ (to read, imperfective) vs. prochitat’ (to read, perfective)

  •  someone asks you what you were doing yesterday, and you were reading – it’s what you filled your time with
  • You want to say that you spent a lot of time reading the book, but you didn’t finish reading it
  • You want to say that you have read it as opposed to not having read it, emphasizing the book as the direct object rather than emphasizing the act of reading.
  • You’re describing something that took place repeatedly in the past—“when I was on vacation in Hawaii, I would read on the beach.”

There are many other such examples of contexts.

When I was thinking about how to teach this concept, I realized that the explanations all involved very detailed scenarios—almost telling a brief story about the activity, and I began to wonder how culture in and of itself influences the nature of these scenarios. As Scollon and Scollon write in their book, these type of scenarios are actually examples of a fuller discourse; the main thesis of their book is that communication involves a much broader idea of “discourse” than just lexicon. Discourse unites a person’s perspective, status, culture, and background with the setting in which the communication is taking place. This led me to wonder how discourse can be most effectively presented via communicative language teaching. Understanding how a specific setting or scenario contributes meaning to an exchange is necessary to get the full picture of what language is trying to convey.

This is true even in very basic exchanges, such as one might learn in an introductory language class. One example that Scollon and Scollon present is about asking and telling the time. The sentence “Do you have the time?”, phrased as a question, usually indicates that the speaker wants to know what time it is. But on page 28, the authors note that in discourse taking place in a language classroom, when a teacher says “Do you have the time?”, it doesn’t mean the teacher wants to know the time. Instead, the teacher means “I want you to show me that you have learned how to respond correctly to the question ‘Do you have the time?’ with the correct time expression.” And the student’s response doesn’t mean that it’s 2:00 p.m. The student’s response means “I have learned how to respond correctly to the question ‘Do you have the time?’ with the correct time expression.” This is an extremely explicit way of phrasing a classroom interaction, but as the authors point out, many similar expressions have this kind of “secret” meaning. For example, asking a stranger “Excuse me, do you have a watch?” is a very polite way to say “Please tell me what time it is” and it would bizarre to answer “Yes.”

Explaining this kind of scenario, which can vary depending on culture, is different from simply teaching a grammar point using communicative methods. I wanted to compare this type of analysis of discourse to a more straightforward communicative grammar teaching method. In the brief article “Integrating Grammar for Communicative Language Teaching,” Bayram Pekoz outlines examples of a communicative approach to grammar. Pekoz points out that even though direct grammar instruction is still common, communicative techniques can be easily adapted to grammar. Communicative language teachers should emphasize the pre-, while- and post-stages of teaching the point. As an example, Pekoz suggests strategies for teaching the past-tense construction “used to” in English. A teacher could use communicative methods by first, in the pre-stage, providing a meaningful topic that contextualizes the setting for use of the verb form: “changes in people over the years” and discussing this topic with the class – presenting pictures, and describing and discussing the pictures. Then in the while-stage, the teacher primes students to focus on the new verb form by telling them that they are learning a new structure. The teacher would discuss the same topic, but using descriptive phrases including the “used to” past-tense construction. To explicitly articulate the rule, the teacher would ask students to formulate the rule on the board – the students should come up with the rule, Subject + “used to” + verb. In the post-phrase, students would share their own stories about themselves relating to the theme of “changes in people over the years” by using the phrase “used to.” I thought that this article presented a very helpful and clear example of how to use communicative methods for grammatical points. But we can also observe the role of discourse: the examples from input, describing what a person “used to do” at a certain stage of his or her life, involves envisioning a scenario in which the action is taking place—which would presumably vary depending on culture.

Ultimately, what interests me most is how thinking about this type of discourse context for foreign language grammar points varies between cultures. My favorite example of a culturally idiosyncratic grammatical structure has always been the example of languages that don’t use egocentric coordinates such as “left,” “right,” “front” or “behind,” using the cardinal directions instead (these comprise some aboriginal Australian languages and other Pacific languages, among others). People who speak these languages develop what seems like an extremely attuned sense of orientation to speakers of egocentric-coordinate languages, whereas it’s normal rather than impressive to This aspect of grammar – directions—seems that it would be more difficult to teach because it relies so heavily on a very culturally specific context. But on the other hand, it might be easier to teach in a communicative fashion than by direct explanation, because it is so deeply embedded in a particular culture– People who grow up in the cultures using that type of directionality can always tell where they. This type of idea can be learned most fully in the implicit manner. As I continue to explore this topic, I am looking forward to seeing how the communicative approach interacts with cultural variations in language structure.

Phoebe Heyman
Ph.D. Student
Department of Slavic Studies
Brown University

Sources:

Allen, Kim. “Japanese for the Western Brain: Japanese Numbers.” Accessed May 13, 2015, http://kimallen.sheepdogdesign.net/Japanese/numbers.html.

Deutscher, Guy. “Does Your Language Shape How You Think?” August 26, 2010, Sunday Magazine, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/magazine/29language-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=2&.

Kramsch, Claire. “Intercultural Communication.” The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001, http://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/cupteacheng/intercultural_communication/0

Pekoz, Bayram. “Integrating Grammar for Communicative Language Teaching.” The Internet TESL Journal, accessed May 13, 2015, http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Pekoz-Grammar.html

Scollon, Ronald and Scollon, Suzanne Wong. Intercultural Communication: A Discourse Approach, second edition. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2001.


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Speaking Foreign : On speaking foreign languages amongst an international community

May 15, 2015
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Learning a new language is not only about learning a new semantic system and a bunch of grammar rules. It’s also about learning a new consciousness, a new vision. It’s about getting a deeper understanding of another culture. This aspect of language learning and teaching is central to the communicative approach. “Communication” is not an easy term to grasp: it goes beyond the mastery of the four skills and imply the interaction with an “other”, whether native speaker of the target language or learner himself. Communication is the common ground established between two or more individuals to share and exchange meaning. But, from a pragmatic standpoint, more often than not, that common ground is not to be found in the target language but in English.

“Global English”, the language of an international community? With 400 million native speakers and 800 million L2 speakers accordingly to Ethnologue, English, is by far the foreign language most spoken in the world. As a result of globalization, it is overwhelmingly present worldwide. If not everybody in the world is guaranteed the same exposure to its main channels of diffusion (language classes but also television, internet, newspapers and magazines, books, radio, cinema, commercials…), English has become part of the cultural landscape even in countries where it is not an official language.

“Global English” is a sociolinguistic term with varied and sometimes contradictory definitions, one that may have postcolonial or economical echoes (see Rita Raley). Here, I simply use it to mean a version of English that encompasses its local variations (including in countries where it is not the mother tongue) and accounts for the international spread of English.

In such a context, it is not a surprise that people who speak different mother tongues would find a common ground for communication in English. But it is also not uncommon for people who speak several common languages to choose English over those other languages, even among non-native Anglophones who often speak three or more languages. In the age of Internet, social networks and low-cost flights, encounters between people and cultures have gone through the roof, especially among educated young adults from the middle classes such as our students. But within this younger community that travels the world and/or meets world-travelers, how much are foreign languages other than English actually spoken? Popular platforms that have made multi-cultural encounters and traveling in general easier and cheaper like couchsurfing (10 million members accordingly to the website) or AirBnB (25 million travelers since its creation accordingly to the website) are overwhelmingly dominated by English. Indeed, although both websites are translated in a great variety of languages, communication between hosts and locals is mostly done in English. The same is also true of prolonged sojourns. International students from different origins living abroad in France for a semester for instance, will more often than not resort to speaking English together instead of the French they are learning, even in the presence of native French speakers, simply because as a whole, they already know it better. It is a matter of present necessities rather than future projections.

The reasons for this are numerous, but the most obvious one is of course pragmatic: as far as communication is indeed the prime goal of an interaction, it will naturally tend towards the most comfortable and reliable setting. If early learners of French from different horizons are more proficient in English, they will naturally resort to it in order to ease the communication process, regardless of their goal to learn French. In such cases where communication is central, it would be artificial to speak the local language. Eclipsed by the primacy of communication, language learning can become secondary. Given the choice of languages, people will not voluntarily put themselves in a situation where risks of misunderstanding are higher by choosing a language on which words they will stumble and require twice the time it would otherwise to utter a sentence. Life is not a language classroom and total immersion in international communities for language learning purposes has very practical limits.

 

Make the linguistic-best of your international experience. The goal here is not to devalue such experiences. Within the boundaries of “Global English”, travelers and locals still have a lot to learn from each other and can take part in a meaningful multicultural experience. My aim is rather to underline the limits of the common idea that traveling or living abroad serves language-learning purposes. It very well can. It very often doesn’t.

There is nothing wrong with that. But when going abroad in order to learn a foreign language, this is something that students and travelers should be aware of. To make the linguistic-best of your experience, here are a few tips if you are a native speaker of English learning a foreign language, or a learned speaker of English learning a third or more language:

State your goals. This is true no matter what you do, but it is truer when you decide to learn a new language. Setting your goals is something you should do for yourself, but that you can also make apparent to others. If communication is impeded by your ability to speak the target language, the pressure of speaking English will increase. Assert your desire to speak the target language, insist explicitly.

Join the group. On one on one interactions with people who speak English (whether natives or not) it can seem extremely artificial to speak the target language. It is less so in groups of native speakers of the target language. People used to speaking a certain language together find it difficult to switch to a different code. Getting immersed in such a situation can be painful and difficult at first as it may result in a feeling of exclusion. But it is a first step towards a successful linguistic immersion.

Get out of your community. Within the international community where most people speak English, chances of speaking the target language are low. It is not so among locals that do not speak English. Such situations are typically to be found outside of the international traveling community, at the contact of older generations or different milieus. Such interactions might seem all the more artificial as they happen outside of one’s comfort zone. But they also probably lend themselves better to a truly profitable learning opportunity.

Be alone. This last one seems a little counterintuitive as far as communication is concerned. But it is also by accepting to step out of a group and structure that we open ourselves to new encounters and local experiences. By being alone in a foreign country, one is more receptive to one’s surroundings, on the lookout for clues to negociate meaning and navigate.

Overall, there is no secret to learning a new language abroad : it is a matter of voluntary discomfort and painful awkwardness. It starts with an embrace of one’s weaknesses rather than a reliance on one’s strengths, for the greater the effort, the sweeter the reward.


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