English Methodology: Reflections on the "Exposure to Language" Principle in Teaching English and French as a Foreign Language
Consuela Popa, Romania
Consuela Popa is an English teacher. In the past she used to teach English and French. She has taught in state schools, high schools and secondary schools, at all levels, all profiles, from bilingual/special languages intensive classes to technological/specialty, or elementary (primary), and even for one year as an English teacher for a private school/kindergarten. E-mail: email@example.com
This article is on the subject of methodology in the teaching of foreign languages. I would like to make a few comments, based on some very deep convictions of mine as a young teacher, partly based on my own mentality, feelings and experience, and partly coming fron being an observer of different personalities and learning styles in pupils and people in general.
I am an English/French teacher from an ex-comunist country. I can say I would make the same choice regarding my professional formation if I were to start my life all over again. For me, it is simple - I have realised that there is no need to try to stop this natural inclination towards foreign languages/cultures, that on the contrary, all I can see and observe within myself as a young person and as a human being, is that all I wish is to continuously model myself and accomplish myself through the perfectionist process of acquiring other languages and cultures, together with their moral and cultural codes, because this makes me whole,complete, and not only that, but it opens up doors and universe spaces and you just have to abandon yourself to this wonderful metamorphosis.
Maybe, like all subtle, spiritual and intellectual revelation and process, learning languages also has its stones to remove on its way, has got its „thorns” sometimes, because you have to understand that not all people are created to think the same way as you do, and they do not all enjoy the same things that you do. But particulary in our country, the learner of languages has been given a great advantage from God eversince some historical and political moment was bound to happen, and this is a fact, whether we like it or not. This was the moment since when we have liberated ourselves from the inhibation and frustration during the isolationist comunist regime (for the latest characteristic of all such regimes, which led to despair, was precisely, in my opinion, the „cultural linguistic and social claustrophobia” officially encouraged and cultivated by all these distorted regimes - as dictatorships of isolationism and frustration politics towards all that meant multiculturalism and the natural gift and need for being a polyglot).
I believe that people were frustrated, ironically, not precisely by the so called „red” badge and orientation, but by the cultural gap which was created through the denial of communication with other cultures, people, and languages, through the denial of this universal communication need which was about to burst out of everyone at some point - after all, it is up to me if I want to project some multiple personalities for myself, gathered from the languages and cultures that I surround myself with and no one has the right to send me on a desert island away from all these, in my opinion. Or worse, lock me in a prison or madhouse as „enemy of the people” !
One of the most important aspects nowadays which helps us stay in touch with everything that is „our world” is the connection to other countries through the media, and through socialising with others,whether in person or through media precisely, apart from books, the traditional and still (in my opinion!) very very strong basis for shaping up a multicultural person/language learner.
How can we gather proficiency in that language or culture we love and learn, then,if not, logically, through the natural process of being „exposed to it”-you don`t get a tan until you get exposed to the sun -! -and that was a feeling that I had all the time, until I also had the oportunity of seeing it written down and proclaimed in loud voice by the fathers of language methodology!
I believe this principle is not only a „principle”, like a static one, but a reality and a necessary condition, just like in physics one has to provide the right environment for some phenomena to occur. Of course, I shall have to take into account the fact that, for a non-native speaker of English, an authentic environment is sometimes not so easy to produce one hundred per cent, because of some objective restraints, but then, for the discoverer, always the mountain will almost „move by itself „ so that he can begin the climbing with no serious „trouble” other than the continuous effort of keeping up the motivation engines and desire activated all the time.
As a learner myself, I can say, based upon my own learning experience ( I also had the chance of having some great perfectionist and passionate English teachers while in school ), that I felt this exposure was a necessity, not only did I enjoy being exposed to language on a daily basis. I realised that without continous exercise and practice, my internal drive would get frustrated, and I would begin to fear that the wonderful flower of my linguistic skill would wither and get sick, if not enter into a clinical death altogether. So the only natural choice for me was not suffocate this in-born inclination, but cultivate it, and just abandon myself to it, relax, let it come to me, and mold me. My internal drive was like a spring with sparkling water that made me get into its flow.
I believe that the gift for languages is a gift from God, and that no one can really reprimand this without mutilating his or her being, you just have to be reasonable and „navigate with the stream”, and not against it, by letting yourself under the negative influences of some distorted environments, where you must fight bad attitudes towards language, foreign cultures and learning languages, or worse, with bad attitudes towards communication, verbalisation and reaction or spontaneity altogether.
This was a principle that I also met with in school. Both as a learner, and then as a teacher. Of course, after all, the duty and destiny of a teacher, as a methodology practitioner, is to do exactly that, fight against any barriers that stand against learning languages-whether psychological (individual), or social (factual conditions that impede the proper learning of languages ), or more complex (like cultural, family and around the house environment with negative attitudes toward languages ). These barriers might be conscious or not, from ignorance or from shyness, cultivated or just wrongly induced and not eliminated on the spot. There can also be material (very frustrating and unfair) barriers, like the lack of financial means in order to fully accomplish the learning process or in order to connect yourself better to the world around you. (And I think with sorrow about some of my pupils that I had!). Sometimes, as a teacher, you wish to just be able to spend some time, extended period, on a languages camp only with your pupils, with the right conditions created so that you can be sure that they are not left unattended when they need it so much in orderto get there to that level, so that you should know that they don`t feel sorry and sad when they don`t have you anymore as their only resource when you step out of the classroom !)
Of course, with more blessed pupils (those who can benefit without any problem from the advantages of having a proper home-environment, and of being placed in a school with more oportunities or in elite languages classes ), exposure to language is somehow like a second nature and I can say that in Romania, including some environments that I had the chance to witness and even take part in- this is one aspect which is very favourable-people love English, and they do their best to make their children get the best access to it !So they just have to follow the „pattern and schedule” in order to get schooled in the right way, besides, of course, the learner autonomy and freedom which we can now benefit enormously from) -in terms of languages learning.
Sometimes I think and this is not just pure fantasy, that the idea of an English teacher „on a daily basis” should be introduced. Maybe a boarding school where the languages teacher should be specifically kept to spend time exclusively with his/her pupils, thus creating a genuine conversational and learning atmosphere. Like a tutor in languages for daily life, not just within the frames of an institutional schedule and curricula. Something like „my English home/castle for everyday life”. Of course, some people might already think of some real corespondents to this situation, while others might label this as a „poetical” image of some perfectionist eccentricity.
But this is not so much of a more advanced idea, because let us remember what our grannies told us: in the past century, there was for instance that trend in the world, regarding the learning of French-in families and schools where conversation was highly placed as a way of life -but unfortunately again,not all pupils from any background had access to it. In more well-to do families they even had the tendency of slowly falling into a kind of Romanian-French bilinguism as they employed it so much in their daily existence !
Now English is obviously dominant, but I think that being quite rich a language, one can never be satisfied with just acquiring it on a surface communicative purpose - very pragmatic and shallow -but we should try to really get into the depths of it and understand it better, know what it means to let yourself be shaped by this overwhelming culture and re-invent ourselves in this way !
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