Center for Language Studies

Being a native speaker and teaching: reflections on the interrelated terms | May 16, 2015

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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