Center for Language Studies

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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A class journal on Campus life (mainly)

May 15, 2015
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Among the skills that a student of a foreign language needs to develop in order to be able to communicate in his target language, writing has an extremely peculiar role. We could think that writing is usually required only in a comparatively small proportion in the everyday communication. You don’t need indeed to write with the grace of John Donne or the majesty of Christopher Marlowe to get the right subway to go to Trafalgar Square, neither in the case your sore throat is very bad. Of course it is important to know how to write an email without being excessively impolite, but still, if we think of the amount of time we spend writing during our day, it will be clear that it cannot be compared with the time that we spend listening, speaking or reading. This point of view is often reflected in the approach used in foreign language teaching. As Homstad and Thorson put it «Until recently, writing has been seen as the “step-child” of the four modalities within all the major approaches to foreign language acquisition. Only the most advanced classes typically involved composition in the target language, and traditionally these composition classes were often little more than workshops in grammar» (cfr. Torild Homstad & Helga Thorson, Using Writing-to-Learn Activities in the Foreign Language Classroom, Technical Report Series No.14, 1996, p.3). But what the quantitative approach — based on the numeric proportion of the time devoted to the four different skills — cannot grasp, is that the time we spend writing has a different quality.

Writing indeed conjugates the strong concentration on the mere linguistic aspects of communication, a feature which belongs to reading as well, with the strongly active attitude, which belongs to speaking as well. When we write in a foreign language indeed we are completely absorbed in the attempt to find the better way to communicate our ideas. We cannot rely on our gestures, or on the expressions of our face, or on the intonation of our voice. If we need some help, we cannot receive it in a passive way, as it happen when, while we are speaking, we ask to our conversant to suggest us the word that we don’t know or that we don’t remember. As the experience teaches us it is extremely easy to forget the words or the rules apprehended in this way. When we are writing instead we are alone with our page. If we lack a word we have to look for it on a dictionary, if we don’t know how to construe a sentence we will search for a model in a book or on the internet. And when we have found a certain number of possible solutions we compare them, evaluating the different nuances of the different expressions, until we individuate the expression that fits best with our purpose. This process is extremely active, and, at a certain degree, we can consider it as a process of linguistic creation. The knowledges that we acquire in this process are usually well interiorized, and can be easily used in the other sectors of communication. We can then think writing as a linguistic laboratory where we can experiment solutions that afterwards can be applied to other communicative situations.

For this very reason it is extremely important to give to the students the opportunity of writing often. Continuity can be very important in this respect, because the difficulties of facing the blank page need a frequent exercise to be overcome. Another aspect that has to be taken in consideration is the importance of giving the students the opportunity of developing their writing skill in a meaningful context. Anyway it can be difficult for the teacher to imagine every time a writing assignment that can stimulate the interest of all the student. It would be certainly better if the students could chose by themselves their arguments, so that they would be adequately motivated to engage in the communication process, but an excess of choice can often be a further difficulty to overcome.

For all the reasons above I intend to sketch a project for a class journal in which the students can write short articles on campus life. The Journal can be an excellent occasion to enhance the student’s autonomy (cfr. Cfr. Lulzime Kamberi, Promoting learner autonomy in foreign language teaching by using student journals, 1st International Interdisciplinary Conference AIIC 2013, 24-26 April, 2013, Azores Portugal), and to develop skills that will then be employed in all the sectors of communication. As Homstadt and aThorson have stressed «The dialog journal is a place in which students can explore various topics and means of expression to develop fluency by writing extensively without fear of the instructor’s red pen» (cfr. Torild Homstad & Helga Thorson, Using Writing-to-Learn Activities in the Foreign Language Classroom, Technical Report Series No.14, 1996, p.25).

The project is designed for an intermediate class (0300). To be able to write their articles the student need indeed to have already acquired the basic grammatical notion and consistent vocabulary skills.

Frequency
The frequency of the publication has to be decided by the instructor, according to the exigencies of the class. Even if my experience in the field is extremely narrow, I think that the journal could come out once every two weeks. This frequency could balance the exigence of attaining continuity in the writing activity with the need to not overburden the class and the instructor with an excessive amount of work. At least anyway the journal should be published monthly.

Support
The journal has to be realized using a digital platform like WordPress or Livejournal. The accession can be limited at the participants or eventually broadened to the department, according to the circumstances. The platform will remain open to comments and replies.

Correction
The main problem in the organization of a journal of this kind regards how to handle the correction of the articles written by the students. As Trong Tuan puts it «The question of correction in journal writing, however, remains vaguely replied to. It is dispiriting if the teacher acts towards the students’ writing as a source of errors to be rectified. On the contrary, how can the students know what aspect of language they should improve without error diagnosis and remedial feedback?» (cfr. Luu Trong Tuan, Enhancing EFL Learners’ Writing Skill via Journal Writing, «English Language Teaching», Vol.3 No. 3, Sept. 2010, p.83). I think that the principal aim of the journal is to give to the students the opportunity of autonomously exercising their writing skills. In order to avoid the arising of bad habits, I think that the articles could be corrected by the teacher before their “publication”. Grades anyway should be avoided, in order to not discourage the student to try their best. At this conditions the correction could even have a positive effect on the willingness of the students to contribute to the journal, in the sense that they will not be afraid to show their errors to the readers.

Articles
The structure of the article has to comprehend both a descriptive part, where the student gives to the reader the informations, and a reflexive part, where the student express is own point of view on the argument.
The articles have to be relatively short, their length will be comprehended between 400 and 700 words, in order to not overcharge both the class and the instructor with an excess of work. More than on the quantity indeed, this activity relies on the continuity.

Categories
The journal will have a number of sections corresponding to the different categories of articles. This division in categories is not meant to discourage the students to write about certain topics but rather its purpose is to facilitate the choice of the subjects. The list of categories can be broadened or restricted, what is important is to allow the students to write in a meaningful context, possibly using their writings as an occasion to reflect on the world they have around.

Campus life:
all that, whether you like it or not, is related to the life on campus: academic events, conferences, courses, sport, people, places, plants and animals, food, habits, gossip, trends, legends, traditions, protests, problems, news.
Reviews:
books, concerts, recordings, exhibitions, theater, movies, readings, performances
Nightlife:
places to eat, to drink, to dance, and more
Crazy things
strange stories that happened to you, to people that you know, or that you have heard about
Receipts:
foods and drinks that you like and that you know how to prepare
On the street
what happens in town


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Language Software and the Communicative Approach

May 15, 2015
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Een man en een vrouwRijst en een appel.

A man and a woman. Rice and an apple.

As I swiftly move along and match beginning level Dutch sentences with the photo representations of their content, the gentle sound of scales encourages me by telling me my choices are correct and flashes a green check mark to confirm it. Looking at me from aside, one might think that I’m grasping the language quite quickly or that maybe I even had some previous knowledge of it. Occasionally, I say out loud words or even short sentences in a language probably unfamiliar to most of the students sitting around me in the library. I do my best to roll my r’s and pronounce the ‘sh’ /ʃ/ sound in meisje (a girl) just right. I think it sounds authentic and, for the most part, Rosetta Stone seems to agree with me and lets me move on to the next picture and sentence to match. I’m gaining momentum on the matching activities. I can’t help but wonder, however, why rice gets paired with an apple for that activity. Is it customary in the Netherlands to eat the two together? I also start to wonder how I can say what I am eating or drinking. So far, I’ve only encountered verbal forms in the third person singular and plural. Or, even better, what my name is and where I am from. I am connecting flights in Amsterdam on my next trip and my hope is to learn some very basic phrases to practice during the five-hour layover at Schiphol.

After 40-45 minutes of these repetitive activities that generally did not focus on the meaning of the language as much as on pattern repetition, listening and matching, I fell into a monotonous habit and lost track of exactly what I was doing. I had tried exploring other languages offered by Rosetta before: German, French and Mandarin Chinese, among others, the latter of which proved to be a most frustrating experience. The prospect of learning a language or at least being exposed to a new language enough to be able to understand simple phrases or recognize basic characters of its script seemed appealing and promising. Especially since all I needed was my computer. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has developed very extensive guidelines on proficiency levels and I was certainly hoping to claim some novice – or maybe even intermediate low for all my dedication – proficiency in Dutch after my Rosetta lessons (please refer to Fig. 1). Nevertheless, the Rosetta Stone proved to be a challenge and, at the end of the day, I did not feel like I had developed a better understanding of the languages I tried to explore. I doubt I am the only one who has had such an encounter with the Rosetta Stone language learning programs.

To be sure, the Rosetta Stone program has its positive qualities and can be useful for some learners and in some contexts. The way new vocabulary and grammar presentation is sequenced is gradual and logical. The learner is first exposed to simple, but key phrases like ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ and then to more complex vocabulary, learning the words for a man and a woman, then several verbs (to eat, to drink, to run, to read), then plural noun and verb forms. The inclusion of visuals certainly helps the learner understand what the phrases are implying better and eliminates the need to rely on his or her native language and – by proxy – on methods of language teaching that used to be widely practiced before, such as the grammar translation method that solely focuses on translation to and from the native language (also sometimes referred to as L1) of the learner. In fact, all activities of the Rosetta Stone programs utilize exclusively the target language, or the language a person is in the process of learning. Additionally, another aspect of the Rosetta Stone that is well done is the frequent repetition of the correct pronunciation of the words or phrases that exposes the learner to consistent auditory input (information) and the correct way of pronouncing the structure.

Finally, new grammar and vocabulary are generally presented implicitly – or indirectly, without bringing attention specifically to them, but rather by incorporating them with the rest of the text – which could be a beneficial strategy in language teaching and learning. For instance, as the learner is practicing matching sentences containing third person singular forms (e.g., the woman is eating; the man is drinking; the young boy is running), third person plural forms are gradually introduced as well. The learner is soon exposed to plural structures (e.g., the women are reading, the men are eating), but the photographs give a clear indication of that, thus avoiding additional confusion. Overall, the Rosetta Stone can be a helpful language learning platform that provides the user with flexibility and the ability to complete the activities on his or own time as well as exposes him to a variety of vocabulary and grammar structures in an easily comprehensible and manageable way. At the end of each level, there is also a ‘milestone’ section that simulates a real situation and a conversation the user can try to have with fictional characters to practice everything that has been learned.

Nevertheless, there are also several aspects of the Rosetta Stone programs that render the process challenging and sometimes ineffective, especially when it comes to more permanent language acquisition. One of the most striking aspects is perhaps the lack of deeper meaning in the activities that could help make them more salient and relevant to the student and his or her life and everyday experiences. While the learner can understand the semantic meaning of the words and sentences that are presented in the units (e.g., apple, water, man, woman), he or she might have a harder time retaining that information. In the beginning units of Level 1 (beginners) language modules, very little information is presented that has direct relevance to the learner. In fact, even the wider use of third person forms rather than first person forms in the program is reflective of that.

Additionally, while all modules rotate the same set of stock photos of men, women and children engaged in different activities, there is no consistent meaning or storyline attached to them. Cutting down the number of unfamiliar and impersonal faces and perhaps coming up with a narrative that links the characters that are visible together, turning the sentences into a meaningful story could be beneficial to learners. The idea that meaning is essential to second language acquisition is at the center of one of the more recent approaches in language teaching – the communicative approach. The communicative approach focuses on meaning negotiation, or engaging students in various forms of communication and presenting them with various forms of the language, which is used as a tool instead of the end goal of the process.[1] The lack of communicative meaning in the Rosetta Stone modules is perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks of the program.

In addition, while the Rosetta Stone language modules have a clear structure that focuses on different language skills such as listening, reading or speaking, the structure of most of the activities in the units is fairly similar. A reading type of activity only differs from a listening activity in that it presents the script or the written text of the sentence. The actual content of the two activities is quite similar and does not go beyond the established form of sentences that focus on certain number of nouns and verbs. The Rosetta Stone provides its users with flexibility and the ability to choose their course of study before they start a language. For Level 1 learners, one could pick from a variety of topics and modules that touch on various language skills: extended with reading intro (teaches characters and sounds), reading and writing with intro, reading and writing focus, extended, speaking and listening focus, standard, extended and standard with reading intro. Nevertheless, what a user who tries different modules will discover is that they are structured in a relatively similar way. Furthermore, the inability of the learner to go back and change the type of course setting once the course is started can prove a frustrating experience and further impede successful language acquisition.

Moreover, perhaps one of the biggest challenges and areas that need improvement in programs like the Rosetta Stone and in computer-mediated language learning platforms in general is corrective feedback. It is difficult to include feedback tailored specifically to the student and the mistakes he or she is making in stride in a pre-programmed platform. In the classroom, when a student makes a mistake, the instructor relies on his or her discretion to decide when and how to provide feedback. Feedback could be direct or it could be in the form of a recast (repeating the structure with the correct form) or metalinguistic feedback (giving the student clues as to where he or she went wrong and letting them understand and correct their own error). The process can be very intuitive and dynamic, which makes it hard to program into a computer platform.

In addition, it is even harder to predict every possible mistake a learner could make (whether it is a more minor pronunciation error or a more substantial grammatical error). Even with the correct models and error feedback mechanisms provided by the Rosetta Stone, the lack of other types of corrective feedback especially in the pronunciation activities can make for a challenge. Once the learner has made a mistake, he or she can take a look at an audio transcript with the recording that also shows the direction of the intonation, but it can still be hard to determine exactly why the pronunciation is not right.

Finally, another subtle, but nevertheless important, element that is somewhat neglected by the Rosetta Stone programs is culture. While the different photos included in the program are diverse and feature people from many cultures, the visuals used by separate language modules are the same and remain constant for each language. The pictures do not form a meaningful storyline, as we discussed earlier, nor do they provide meaningful cultural context. The picture of a geisha is used as a visual for the word woman in the Dutch module. Culture – along with communication, comparisons, communities and connections – is among the five C’s or five goal areas of language learning as defined by the American Council on the Foreign Language Teaching.[2] Unfortunately, most of these elements are not incorporated into the Rosetta Stone modules.

Not all is lost, however, when it comes to the intersection of the communicative approach to language teaching and learning and using technology as a platform to accomplish that in a more effective way. In fact, programs such as the Tactical Language and Culture Training System (TLCTS)[3] which helps users learn communicative language and culture skills by way of virtual simulations, role play games and interactive activities have been developed and are in the process of testing. In addition, language textbooks are acquiring more electronic features and some – such as the newly published electronic Russian textbook Mezhdu nami[4] – effectively combine meaning-based approaches to learning a language with the online features and medium of publication of the book.

Mira Nikolova

Graduate student

Department of Slavic Studies

Brown University

 

Fig. 1. ACTFL proficiency levels cone. For more information on the proficiency scale, please click here.

[1] For more information on communicative language teaching, please refer to Brandl, Klaus. Communicative Language Teaching in Action. Putting Principles to Work. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008. Print.

[2] American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. “Standards for Foreign Language Learning. Preparing for the 21st Century.” https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/public/StandardsforFLLexecsumm_rev.pdf Electronic.

[3] Johnson, W. Lewis. “Serious Use of a Serious Game for Language Learning.” Artificial Intelligence in Education. Ed. Rosemary Luckin, Kenneth Koendinger, and Jim Greer. IOS Press, 2007. Electronic.

[4] Debenedette, Lynne, Commer, William, Smyslova, Alla, and Jonathan Perkins. Mezhdu nami. University of Kansas: Ermal Garinger Academic Resource Center. Electronic.


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Engaging Authentic Materials in the Language Classroom

May 13, 2015
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Outdated methods of second language acquisition, such as the Audio-Lingual Method or tedious grammar drills, found themselves increasingly inadequate through the late 20th century as further linguistic and pedagogical research made a case for meaningful and communicative approaches to teaching and learning a new language. Grammar drills, for instance, can never appropriately support the learner in his or her journey towards becoming a capable and competent speaker because they have no stake in how language is actually used. Grammar is an important building block for language learning but cannot replace a contextualized discourse. For this reason, even more recent (and more capitalist-minded) ventures, such as Rosetta Stone, cannot provide a fully engaged language learning experience. Being exposed to and then memorizing a series of sentences does not make the learner proficient in understanding or carrying on culturally or socially contextualized discourse. The introduction of authentic language materials is necessary to make this step. The learner needs to use contextually ‘real’ materials (whether these are books, music, movies, photographs, articles or what have you) in order to establish real connections with how real language provides real communication in the target tongue. This obviously begs the question: What is real? What is an authentic material? And, while I do not want to delve into a pedagogical existential crisis, I do hope to present some ideas on what authentic can mean in the classroom and how it could be put to use.

I’d like to state that I do not think there is one perfect way to learn a language. The introduction and utilization of authentic materials, though, seems to me to be an incredible way to really facilitate the learner’s entry into a whole new realm of competency (and hopefully fluency) in their target language. I think of friends of mine that were helped in learning English by watching shows like FRIENDS that ran throughout their adolescence. Watching a sitcom may seem like a kind of stilted, contrived language to a native speaker, but it offers the advantage of exposing the learner to a variety of “real” idiomatic experiences and allows the learner to grow with the characters through the duration of the show’s run. The inherent artifice of a TV show is washed away by the benefits of the characters’ performances of real experiences. Communication is being achieved and modeled for the language learner. In my own experience, I think that music has played a huge role in my experience learning Spanish. From an early age, I listened to singers like Shakira and Selena. Even though both pop singers crooned about seemingly silly topics like love and loss, they offered a window into how real life communication could take place in the target language. I knew that Spanish speakers were listening to Shakira and singing along with her lyrics. They were meaningful to her fans and also to me: a fan and language-learner.

In considering how NBC sitcoms or Latin pop music might help some people, I think it would be useful to more properly define what authenticity really means in a language learning context. Based on various pedagogical and methodological resources, authenticity seems to take on a multitude of definitions, all inter-related but importantly different. The most basic definition of authenticity then might be real language generated by native speakers for native speakers that conveys a real meaning. So, on a very general level, authentic language is language that two native speakers use to converse, write or otherwise communicate. Extending that specific situation, we might think of authentic language as real, meaningful language not just between two speakers, but also between any language-producer and any audience-receptor. In this case, we can start to think about authenticity in terms of a song or a film where real language is produced and intended for reception. I think a more functional definition though might include some sort of description on the relationship between the language producer and receptor. Linguists and pedagogues have often emphasized the importance of social and cultural contextualizations of language, the meaningful task-based production of language or the actual terms and processes of engagement involved in language meaning. I think all of these seemingly complicated or research-specific concepts point to the same important aspect of authenticity. Authentic language is affective and personal. It produces an almost indescribable feeling of connection. It necessarily conveys meaning while simultaneously carrying an underlying emotion, sensibility or affectation. Authentic language makes us feel emotions, recall memories and perceive moods or attitudes. I think some linguistic or pedagogical researchers tend to ignore the affective quality of authentic language as it is demonstrably impossible to quantify and resists objective criteria. It is true that a more personally engaged perspective makes authenticity slippery in that it can mean something different for each individual learner. I hope though that we can start to brainstorm new ways to grasp onto affective and individual registers of language to promote language learning.

We might reconsider the example of learners using a TV show like FRIENDS to achieve proficiency in listening, comprehending and speaking English. Part of their success is indebted to the emotional, comedic or sensational affects of the show’s use of language. As viewers, the language learners become somehow attached and invested in the way that language is used to move the plot of the six main characters. The affective and personal qualities of authentic language are not only models for real language but also motivational tools that connect to our most human sensibilities.

The problem, then, remains: how do instructors and learners take advantage of the almost invisible and intangible aspects of a language? Especially in a classroom setting often inextricably linked to highly structured curricula and the often-contrived language of textbooks, it seems extremely difficult to effectively use authentic materials. I think the first step in any class is creating a policy of emphasis on the individual. The instructor should continually attempt to get to know his or her class on a personal level, using class conversation and discussion prompts to understand what the learners really care about. I believe this individualized approach leads rather seamlessly to an inter-subjective approach in which learners in the class can connect to each other through authentic interests. The instructor should then use every opportunity possible to introduce authentic materials in the target language. While this may be more comfortable for learners at an intermediate and advanced level, I think allowing beginning learners to connect to authentic materials helps promote motivation to keep building new skills and competencies. As well, at beginning levels, it may be more useful to introduce authentic materials as way of analyzing meaning instead of form. Grammar systems might be introduced inductively through authentic materials or as a separate part of a lesson, but what I think is important is an emphasis on negotiating and interpreting meaning without overwhelming the learner. Finally, the scope of a large-scale integration of authentic materials into a curriculum demands a lot of work and, especially, reflection on the part of the instructor. The instructor should be attuned to the class’ needs and interests in order to provide specific and meaningful content for the class. As well, I hope the use of authentic materials promotes authentic reflection in the classroom. If students are not invested in a particular material, it should be noted and re-configured for subsequent classes. In any case, I hope that instructors might start to attend to and refine a more engaging and affective approach to communicative learning. I think, in the end, it will create a culture around second language acquisition that will help deepen meaning and promote continued language learning.

Ian Russell

Brown University

PhD, Hispanic Studies


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Teach Them– Be One Of Them

May 11, 2015
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I can’t remember how many teachers taught me, but I certainly remember how many of them touched a chord in my heart through whatever they were teaching me.

When I remember Managerial Accounting, I remember Prof. Ahmed Salama who unintentionally influenced my career path and had me rethink my entire professional goals, for I wanted to become the professor he was.

When I remember teaching itself, I remember my Italian mentor, Prof. Sabrina Khedr, who taught me how to gaze into my students’ eyes as if they were my newborns, how to let them remember, not only the subject matter, but every single word being said in my classroom—how to relate the subject matter itself to my life and to their lives as well.

I can’t really remember other professors who dwelled only on the knowledge they were passing unto me. I do praise their knowledge and praise their efforts but unfortunately, I cannot praise anything pertinent to their classes beyond that.

So, what was special about professors like Prof. Salama or Prof. Khedr?

Let us first relate their teaching methodologies to Aristotle’s Analysis for Public Speaking, which could be profoundly relatable to teaching as a process that requires a great deal of persuasion as does Public Speaking itself.

The three elements of persuasion are Ethos, Pathos and Logos. The question now is: do we really need Ethos, Pathos and Logos in teaching as three inevitable means of making our classes as lively as they could ever be? Let’s see.

Ethos involves amplifying your credibility in every aspect of the teaching/ learning process. You don’t have to repeatedly state your academic qualifications as a teacher nor do you have to remind the students of the prestigious degree you’re currently holding. You need to amplify your credibility by relating the subject matter to your self—to your personal and professional experiences. You could relate it to your career path as if you are one of them; a student who sought for knowledge of the subject matter because it mattered significantly to him. This will touch a chord in their hearts.

For example, an anecdote of how Contemporary Literature allowed you to better understand the culture of Country X when you recently visited it will definitely have your students become more passionate about it.

Pathos, on the other hand, can be considered the most important one of them all. Why? Because it simply bonds your heart to those of your students.

If Pathos, according to Aristotle, is how you relate yourself to your audience emotionally as a public speaker (as a teacher in our case), thus you’re required to relate the subject matter to the lives of each of your students, to have your students become eager to know all that is relevant to the subject matter inside and outside of your class.

You have to get personal with them, not too personal lest it becomes weird, but you still have to approach them personally via the contents of your course.

It all starts with your ‘credible’ anecdotes through which you can bond yourself emotionally with your students.

Learn from them why they chose what you’re teaching over other subjects. If their motivations are not enough, tell them why you, their instructor, think they MUST learn it. Relate the subject matter to your personal life and then relate it to their personal lives.

Knowing your students’ interests or even hobbies can be significantly important to integrate Pathos into the process of motivating your students to enjoy your class.

For example, when my mentor, Prof. Khedr who taught me teaching itself, knew how much I love watching American movies, she in turn told me that her favorite motion picture is Russell Crow’s Gladiator.

“When my students are smiling at me or when they tell me how much they enjoy my class, I feel like Maximus in the Colosseum—I feel that my students are cheering for me as Maximus’ spectators were chanting: Maximus, Maximus, Maximus. It feels so euphoric,” said Prof. Khedr, an ESL Professor at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime.

A line like the one above was enough to make me love the teacher I was hoping to be one day.

Logos, however, is the analytical presentation of the information given in your class—the subject matter itself.

Aristotle theory for Public Speaking implies that presenting your information must come in the shape of an argument rather than a rigid process of I teach, you learn.

Even in the application of Logos, you’re required to make your students feel comfortable as they learn what you have to ‘theoretically’ teach them—you have to make them believe that you are adding to their (existing) knowledge and that you’re also learning from them regardless to their humble knowledge of the subject matter.

If you ask them: “Do you know anything about the Relativity Theory of Einstein?” and if a student gives a very irrelevant answer, do not say: “that is incorrect.”

Instead, relate his incorrect answer to your falsified understanding of the theory when you were a little kid, for example, or elicit the inadequacy of the student’s answer by saying: “this could have had more sense if Einstein was thinking of X instead of Y, but the right way of plotting Einstein’s theory is,” and then you go about the theory’s explanation.

Many would argue for clearly stating that the student’s answer is incorrect because eventually students must know their correct and incorrect answers as long as they’re still in the learning process of the subject matter.

Based on my humble teaching experience, it always demotivates your students to have them feel ‘wrong’ about something even if they do know that they’re still in the ‘very basic’ stages of the learning process relevant to the subject matter. There are too many ways of ‘adequately’ showing that your student’s answer is incorrect, just make sure that it’s a way that keeps you off of the static process of I teach, you learn.

Indeed Ethos, Pathos and Logos are crucial for making your class as enjoyable as possible, indeed you need to emotionally bond with your students and to make them feel as if you’re pretty much one of them— someone who’s in a learning process that does not differ a lot from that of theirs.

-Omar Al Shehata
Fulbright Arabic TA
Brown University
Center for Language Studies


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3rd International Poetry Night

April 21, 2015
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poetry_night_low_res

Thank you to all who joined us to celebrate National Poetry Month with our annual International Poetry Night. National Poetry Month was founded by the Academy of American Poets in April 1996 to appreciate the beauty of poetry. At CLS, we celebrate with an international twist. At our International Poetry Night, poems are recited in their original language, so we can appreciate the sound and the rhythm of the poems as they were written. This year, we saw 26 poems presented in 18 different languages. If you would like to see the translations of the fantastic poems, click on the link below!

final presentation

For the full program of the evening, follow this link:

3rdPoetryFestival2015

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Thanks again to all those who attended, and we hope you had as much fun as we did!


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BSLE Experiences

April 17, 2015
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Since the moment I arrived on campus last fall, I have been seeking out all of the different language activities Brown has to offer. Being the language lover that I am, I thoroughly explored the many options, taking classes, joining clubs, and attending events and talks. So, when I first heard about the Brown Student Language Exchange in November, I decided that I would try it out in the spring. I figured that if I didn’t like it, I could just drop it—no problem. So, on an average Thursday evening, I went to my first day of Thai class. Ten minutes into the class, I knew there was no chance of dropping. While the teachers didn’t put any pressure on us with tests or homework, somehow, even after only one night, everyone came out of the experience feeling that they had a significantly better understanding of the Thai language and culture. I’m not saying that we were fluent after the first day, but we all suddenly knew a lot more about a language and culture that none of us had been familiar with previously. Now, after having taken the course for several weeks, I have experience with the grammar, number system, writing system, and vocabulary of Thai. While I definitely couldn’t write an essay in Thai, these lessons have been important steps to not only understanding Thai itself, but also to understanding the ways in which languages differ from one another (I had never previously had experience with a tonal language or with a non-Roman alphabet). However, this course introduced me to more than just the nuances in grammar and writing, but also to Thailand’s extraordinary culture. In fact, perhaps my favorite part of the course is the culture section that we have for the second half of class. From religion to cuisine, and from family life to film, everything about Thai culture has completely fascinated me. In fact, I now desperately want to travel to Thailand. This course has undoubtedly been one of the best extra-curricular experiences I’ve had at Brown. For such a small and stress-free time commitment, I have come out of the experience knowing so much more about Thailand, and with a new dream of someday visiting the incredible country.


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