I love teaching foreign languages. I love languages in themselves, but I also love what you can do with them. I love the experience of opening students’ eyes to a whole new world of cultures and possibilities while also giving them the opportunity to appreciate and evaluate their own culture. My job is important and meaningful to me. Some of my students will go on to study abroad, some may simply eat a crêpe for the first time, but all of them will leave my class with a new perspective on the world.
I love and hate the last day of class. It’s the last time I’ll get to see many of my students and appreciate how far they’ve come – farther than most of them will ever realize. Faces have changed. That student who’s never left the county has now “walked” the streets of Paris, found his way around the Louvre, and fallen in love with the taste of Brie and the pristine beaches of the Côte d’Azur. That student who thought he would never get beyond un, deux, trois has an iPod full of French rap and keeps the best French story he ever wrote in his wallet.
The last thing students will learn in my class is the best lesson of all: You didn’t think you could learn another language, but you did. You can do anything.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to change students’ lives every day, and I’m grateful for the work of experts like Eric Jensen, Stephen Krashen and James Asher who revolutionized the way we teach foreign languages. I’m especially grateful for my experience with the MTSU Center for Accelerated Language Acquisition, which has unified all these great techniques into a single methodology. I laid the cornerstone of my teaching philosophy when I was still in high school – I wanted to teach a foreign language class that every student could enjoy and learn from – but it’s techniques like brain-compatible teaching, comprehensible input and TPR that brought that dream to life. Today, my teaching philosophy is built on three concepts: empowering students to succeed, connecting to other subjects and students’ interests, and encouraging students to settle for nothing less than their very best.
Every person has a natural ability to learn language. There’s plenty of scientific research to support that idea, but it’s also simple logic. If a person already knows one language, that person must have all the mental ability he or she needs to learn another. We seem to lose that ability as we get older, but the truth is that our environment simply changes. Methods like TPR recreate the optimum language-learning environment. Students acquire (transfer information to long-term memory) rather than learn or cram temporarily. It doesn’t take them long to realize that learning another language can actually be fun and relatively easy. They don’t necessarily have to “study”. They don’t even really have to do homework. The process can be totally seamless and natural.
It’s rare in education that we find methods that work for every student, but they do exist. I’ve worked with students of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, and I appreciate the fact that methods like TPR have worked for every one of them. I’ve seen complete turnarounds in motivation, effort and skill. I love the fact that I can empower students to succeed in my class no matter what their background is.
As foreign language teachers, we have the privilege, not just the duty, of connecting our content with other topics. There are countless ways students can apply what they learn in our classes. Whether it’s academic skills, career focuses or just for fun, every connection brings the content to life for students. For some, it’s a total game-changer. It’s the moment when they start to find a place for themselves in this foreign culture.
We can easily connect to a variety of abilities as well. Language is a thing that can be tailored to all sorts of physical and learning abilities, differentiated, scaffolded and remodeled. Language doesn’t have to be a barrier for a student with a disability. It can be a tool for exercising and expressing the abilities they do have.
When you empower students to succeed and make learning relevant to them, it gets a lot easier to encourage students to strive for their full potential. Every student has a unique strength and a unique perspective, and each one counts. I may never get to see how they use their talents in the real world, but I can at least give students the opportunity to find and use them. The last thing students will learn in my class is the best lesson of all: You didn’t think you could learn another language, but you did. You can do anything.