How To Change The World Of Language Education (Forever!)

language education

Many people believe that language education in schools is not fit for purpose.

“School put me off languages for life!” … is something we hear all too often.

But why?

In this fascinating discussion, I chat with Lindsay from Lindsay Does Languages to see if we can figure out how to change the world of language education!

There are three ways to follow along…

  1. Listen to the audio recording (click the button above)
  2. Read the transcript (below)
  3. Download the transcript as a PDF and read later (see bottom of the post)

Enjoy!


Olly:
Okay, Kevin, thank you so much for your question, and a really easy one for us today, so it should have that wrapped up in a couple of minutes, changing the world, no big deal.

Of course, making sure that kids learn languages is a big deal and I wanted to get someone on the show, a special guest here, to help me think through this big topic.

So I’m very, very pleased to introduce Lindsay, from Lindsay Does Languages, who’s going to help me out with this one. How’s it going, Lindsay?

Lindsay:
Hello, I’m good, thank you, how are you?

Olly:
I’m fantastic, very keen to have you on the show today, partly because you haven’t been on before and been meaning to have you on as a guest for ages. Also I know that this topic is close to your heart. Why don’t you take a second and introduce yourself to everybody out there?

Lindsay:
Absolutely. As you said, I’m Lindsay from Lindsay Does Languages. Yes, this is really close to my heart because now I blog, make videos, teach, and learn everything language at lindsaydoeslanguages.com. Before that I actually worked in a secondary school, primarily in the language department. I also started
learning French in primary school, which not everyone had the chance to do, back in the day when I was that old…or that young.

Olly:
I started languages, well I did French at secondary school, so that’s 11 for me—or it was 13, I can’t even remember. Didn’t make that much of an impression on me. I’ve never worked in schools in the UK, but I did teach in school in Chuu-gakkou, in a secondary, what do they call it—junior high school in Japan for a couple of years. So I’ve got this very different perspective from Japan. Hopefully between us we should be able to give a variety of perspectives on it. So where do we start? We’ve got to change the world in about 15 minutes, so where do we even begin?

Lindsay:
It’s pretty huge. I guess if we’re changing the world in terms of children learning languages—maybe we’ll focus in on that slightly—it’s a difficult one. I think part of the problem, as we discussed just before going onto the podcast, is that now—and I’m talking from the UK experience here—children start at different ages. It’s compulsory now within primary schools in the last couple of years for children to learn any language, and that’s amazing.

But the problem then still comes when children then go to secondary school, they’re 11 years old, and they start learning their first foreign language “properly,” quote-unquote. They’re 11 but then they’re being taught like 4-year-olds. Blue, red, cat, dog—and that’s not what 11-year-olds want, that’s not what they care about. This kind of hate, lack of reason just grows and grows and grows from there, I think.

Olly:
I wonder if that’s what Kevin was referring to, because the thing that really stuck out for me from Kevin’s question was “school put me off languages,” and he said that all of this friends as well felt the same thing. I guess there’s a few different elements here that we need to address. There is this thing of the age that you begin—and there’s a huge debate about whether or not that actually makes a difference and there are many studies that totally contradict each other in terms of the age that you start learning a language and the effectiveness of that.

We’ve got to talk about the age, we’ve got to talk about how to teach kids at different ages, the teaching methodology. And really what makes kids want to learn in the first place. One thing that I said to you right before we started here was: let’s say we had a shortage of scientists in the world. The government would start to push maths and physics, right?

It would say to kids, “Hey, you could be a scientist, you could cure cancer, or you could work out what’s out there in the universe,” or something like that. How cool would that be? You find ways to motivate people, and I think they actually do that, don’t they, with the big professions. What do you think we could do to actually give kids that reason to want to learn the language in the first place?

Lindsay:
That’s really interesting you say about the professions going later on in life, directing the kids towards, “Look what you can do with this.” Whereas with languages, if you say to a kid, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and if they say, “Astronaut,” then you can say, “Hey, do physics, do science, then you can be an astronaut.” Even though it’s probably a long way off for many kids, and it might not actually happen. But it gives them that ambition.

Whereas with languages, how many 4- year-olds, or 8-year-olds even, do you know when you go, “Oh, what do you want to do when you’re older?” “I want to be a translator; I want to be a language teacher. They are the two main kind of go-to professions, and there’s nothing wrong with teaching languages or being a translator. But when you look at even a university perspective, even when it’s that high up, generally the list of where you can go from here, it’s written a very short list, and it doesn’t look very exciting on paper.

Olly:
More often than not, certainly when I’ve looked at this before, if you look at something like Cambridge University Language Program, they pitch that as a way to get into other careers like banking, or law, or something like that. They seem to recognise that learning languages gives you a very strong intellect, if you like; makes you very adaptive, very creative. But like you say, there’s no such thing as a career in languages as such. I’ve always thought that—well, we know important motivation is, even to adult learners.

One of the arguments that I’ve heard before that I think is very interesting is when you’re looking at teaching kids—and let’s just take 11-year-olds as the benchmark here for when you start to teach kids languages at school. I think you’ve got two main options—you can either say to them, “Here are all the
cool things you can do with languages,” like if you want to learn Japanese you can read manga, look how cool that is.

Or if you want to learn Spanish, I don’t know what you can do with Spanish, learn to be a flamenco singer, I don’t know what it is. But try and engage kids’ imaginations in the things they really want to do.

Lindsay:
Exactly.

Olly:
And use that as the way in and then use it as—anyone familiar with CLIL methodology, content language integrated learning—that you actually use the thing that you want to be able to do as the vehicle for teaching the language, which is a very student-driven thing.

Or the alternative is to go back to that old school approach of saying, “Okay, we’re going to teach you the grammar, and the vocabulary, and all this old school teaching, grammar translation style.” I think you could probably argue with some justification that those old school methods of teaching are going to be the most effective for the most number of people, even if it doesn’t inspire anybody or really get anyone excited. I think if you start teaching kids at that age, at around that 11-years-old, they start to have study skills that they can apply to learning things like grammar.

I see it as you’ve got these two different approaches to the whole language intuition thing. What do you think about that? How does that sit with you?

Lindsay:
I love to ask about what you taught in Japan in English. Were you just teaching English, or were you teaching other subjects?

Olly:
No, I was just teaching English.

Lindsay:
Okay.

Olly:
I was what you would call an Assistant Language Teacher.

Lindsay:
Right.

Olly:
Although I had more autonomy than most ALTs, as they’re known, because I was working in the special program. But I was just teaching English.

Lindsay:
Okay. Because your saying that has brought to mind when I was 18 I went to Costa Rica and I taught English for a few months there. I was thinking that I would just be teaching English, that I would go in and I would say like I had had—cat, dog, blue, green, red, yellow, how are you, yes, no, thankyou. Actually it was very different, to the point of I was teaching these kids, I having to draw diagrams of genitalia because I was teaching them science.

Olly:
We’ll put these in the show notes by the way, guys.

Lindsay:
I do have a copy somewhere. I was not expecting that, but it was so much more beneficial, because those kids were amazing. Of course, this the one of the big differences as well is, from what I remember from listening to Kevin’s question, he was British, right?

Olly:
That’s right, yes, lives in Japan but he’s from here.

Lindsay:
Right. So three of us coming at this from a “we’ve been educated in Britain,” I’m guessing. Whereas there the difference was they had English everywhere, as the case is in a lot of places. They had English music, English TV, film—all of that stuff, so that reason was present. Whereas here, it’s very rare to hear a foreign language song on the radio. We might get a Scandinavian crime drama on BBC4 if we’re lucky. There is no obvious cultural reason around you to learn the language that you’re learning in school.

Now what would be interesting is if rather than saying, “Okay, age 11, you go to your secondary school and you start learning French because that’s how it’s done.” How about if there was someone there who was not just a French teacher but almost like a language coach. They could go into that school and they would say, “What interests you? What are you interested in?” “Oh, I love comics.” “Okay, have you ever read a Japanese manga?” for example. “Oh, no I haven’t.” “Cool, have a look, take a look at this, do some research. You’re encouraging this autonomous language learning, which then sparks that reason why. Does that make sense?

Olly:
Yes, it absolute—

Lindsay:
In practice, I have no idea how that would work. I think it sounds like an amazing idea, and it sounds like, “We’re going to change the world,” but in practice, I don’t know. I feel like it’s the general thing of, “this is the language you learn,” and then that puts everyone off, or 90% of students off—

Olly:
Yes, the schools.

Lindsay:
—the other 6000+ in the world.

Olly:
Schools in the UK I know have languages that they “teach,” quote-unquote. One school would teach Spanish, and another school would teach French. Most schools have those fixed languages and that flies in the face of what we’re saying, doesn’t it? Because what you have to do is take that language—let’s say
Spanish—and you’d have to then really try to make that language relevant to all the kids in the school. Whereas in somewhere like London, where you’ve got a lot of schools with a minority of native English speakers—you have people from all over the world.

How do you make that relevant to the student? It’s a really difficult question, but I would certainly agree that giving people the reason to learn the language is always going to be the key. If you can motivate kids and show them why, then you’ve done so much of the work, haven’t you? You can then empower them to say, “Oh, I love that TV series, now I’m going to go off and learn the language. I think that happens to lot of people when they’re younger learning English.

They see a TV series like “Friends” and they say, “Oh, I really want to understand what Joey is saying, and go off and watch years and years of “Friends” and then up learning it like that. I’ve never seen that happen here, other than the occasional person that gets hooked on Korean drama, or Japanese manga, or something like that.

Lindsay:
Weirdly, I guess it kind of happened to me, because the reason I speak Spanish is that when I got to GCSE, I’d done French all the way through, and we had no other choice but French. The year I started at GCSE they brought a Spanish teacher into the school and so they started off on Spanish at GCSE and I thought, “Oooh, Spanish?” because Shakira had just become a thing. I bought her album with some Spanish songs on it, I had this tiny Spanish dictionary that I asked for birthday, and I thought, “Well, I’m learning French at school, surely another language can’t be difficult, I know what I’m doing now.”

And that’s literally how this whole thing, for me, started. It can happen but it’s so much rarer. It’s not like there’s a new kind of Shakira every year, is there, to inspire a new generation with a different language each time?

Olly:
Yes, I guess the question is even if—I mean, I never had that kind of an epiphany moment when I was that age. I guess the question is if you’re going to change the world, you have to look at how you can make that happen for the wider population. How do you make sure that, how can you get that epiphany moment for every kid in every school around the world? Maybe this is just asking too much, maybe we’re sending the sights so high that there’s no realistic chance of being successful. It’s kind of a pessimistic thing to say, isn’t it?

Lindsay:
No, I agree, because the other thing is just like I have no interest really in science. I can appreciate science, I get why it’s important, but I have no interest in reading about science or learning about science. Why should everyone have an interest in learning another language.

You can’t force it upon everyone, and not everyone is going to find that reason so it’s difficult because it should be, I believe, compulsory in school. But to then give everyone a reason, find a reason for every student in that class isn’t going to happen. You’re never going to inspire everyone.

Olly:
One of the very practical impediments that I find communicating with teachers around the world is I often—and I’m sure you get the same thing—have emails from schoolteachers in different countries saying, “Hey, Olly, I really like the language learning stuff that you talk about, how can I integrate into my
classes at school?” When I was in Japan and trying to teach there, I would be faced this exact same problem.

I thought, “Okay, I’ve got this approach to learning languages and it’s based on things like motivation and self-directed learning, and stuff like that. The teacher that I would teach with in these
schools—it was all teen teaching—I’d say to them let’s do this and that and their response would always be, “Oh, that sounds amazing, but we’ve got this crazy syllabus that we have got to cover and they’ve got an exam next month.”

All around the world, ministries of education are imposing these huge syllabuses on schools, which leaves teachers so little flexibility that they’re forced to—they’ve only got a tiny amount of room to manoeuvre in their teaching time tables. There’s only so much they can do. They can bring in things for five minutes to get their kids enthused about learning English, for example, but then they’ve got to go back and teach the test because they’ve got an important exam next week, which affects their university entrance and all that stuff.

That’s a huge problem and I think one of the things that is not easy for someone like me, you, or Kevin to influence is to actually begin to influence ministries of education. I think that comes from academics, it comes from people in universities in a position of influence, because often ministries of education choose their consultants from universities.

I think there’s a lot of onus here on university professors and researchers to demonstrate—or at least raise the possibility to ministries of education that there’s a different way of doing things. And that is happening in certain parts of the world where they introduced these GLIL programs.

I know the British Council in Spain has an arrangement with some primary schools where they teach a majority of the curriculum in English and you see these videos of 8-year-old Spanish kids chatting away in English at a level you wouldn’t believe. It’s because they do their science and maths lessons in English. There’s a systemic problem as well, which means whatever approach you try to take to this you’re only going to get so far.

Lindsay:
Absolutely. The other thing that’s instantly come into my mind then is you then you have to find someone who can teach science and maths, or whatever it might be, in French, or in Spanish, or in German. A lot of the time in schools when you’ve got language teachers maybe they did a degree with a language plus another thing, or maybe they just did languages.

So it’s difficult, it’s the staffing problem. Like you said with the teachers and very little room to manoeuvre, I talked a couple of times to groups of teachers about social media, apps, and language classrooms. You sell these things and it’s great for me, from the outside, coming and suggesting, “Look, you can try this, and you can use this.” They’re already on Snapchat, so encourage them to use that for their languages and stuff. But then they’ll say, “Oh, safeguarding” or “Oooh, syllabus.’

Olly:
Job protection.

Lindsay:
Yes, yes, absolutely. There’s so many obstacles and its’ not necessarily the teachers that are putting these obstacles up themselves, it’s just that they exist already and they’re not in a position to knock them down because it’s not their place to do so. And that’s a shame. I think the best that we can do, any teacher can do, is to really try and inspire the subject. This is a teacher for any subject, to really and try and inspire a spark for that subject within a student. Rather than just open a textbook at page 9, read, copy, repeat.

Olly:
Yes. I guess it comes back to teaching fundamentals, doesn’t it? And there are always those great teachers that know how to inspire. Once you inspire kids to do stuff, you’ve broken the back of the whole thing. You’ve done the hard piece of work. My immediate reaction always for this is well within the realms
of possibility, your first job should be to inspire.

I think the first job of any teacher should be to make the job of the teacher redundant in the first place. Empower the students so much that they no longer need the teacher. In that respect, if you can—I don’t know, Kevin, if he’s teaching in schools in Japan—but I think for me, the extent to which you can get your kids hooked on British TV shows, or books, or radio, or whatever it may be, that’s the point at which you can start to get them to start learning more by themselves.

Lindsay:
Then you’re just guiding them in the right direction. They come to class, “Hey, what have you done? Cool. Do you know what that means in that sentence?” And then you’re just shoveling them along, so to speak.

Olly:
You have a lot more scope to do this as an independent language tutor, or whatever then. I think schoolteachers are horribly restricted. Let’s talk about methodology though, because this is something that comes to mind for me: I remember my French lessons at school, but that was early 90s, so it’s over 20
years ago. I have not been inside a school in the UK since then. I was wondering—and obviously Kevin said he started learning languages in his mid-forties, I think he said—are we out of touch, you think? You might be in a better position, if you’ve been in schools more recently, you might be in a better position to say, “But I wonder.” Think back to our school days, like Kevin says, “school put us off languages,” but have things changed? Are we out of touch?

Lindsay:
Oh no, things have changed since the early 90s, because I was in nappies! The last time I worked in a school was 2012, so fairly recently.

Olly:
Fairly recently.

Lindsay:
It didn’t seem much different to when I was studying language in secondary school. But I know working with a few students now on GCSEs, the exams that you take at age 14 – 16. Again, not much has changed and there’s a vocabulary list that they’re expected to know and the exams are quite rigid. I’ve been working recently—exam season now, here in June and July—with my student and in Spanish doing mock exams. Some of the things where it says on the test, on the marked paper, “except this answer.” But don’t accept this answer.

I feel like some of the time I’m thinking, “Mmmm, I don’t know, that seems a bit harsh.” I guess they say every year when the exam results come out, “Oh, kids are getting stupider,” or “Exams are getting harder,” and one of the other is there’s just a quota, pure and simple there’s a number that says we have to have this number of students have an “A” grade, and this number to have a “B” grade, and that then makes things very rigid if you take that back to the classroom then.

Olly:
I suppose if there were an expert in government or state-wide testing and curriculum design listening to this, they probably would be listening to us like, “You guys just have no idea about what it takes to actually administer this kind of thing.” I’m sure it’s incredibly—well, I know it’s incredibly tough, assessment is the most difficult, problematic area of language teaching.

But it’s so important because it affects everything. The test is the teaching because kids have got to pass the test. Can you describe what a typical lesson might look like in 2012, when you were in there? What kind of things would be going on?

Lindsay:
In a language classroom? Normally a little bit of presentation, like PowerPoint presentation style, with an interactive board. Maybe some kind of game like noughts and crosses, or matching pairs, that sort of thing. This is year 8, so we’re talking age 13 more or less.

There’d be some textbook work, there might be some “talk to your partner” work, there’d maybe be building some sentences. Nothing had really changed dramatically, other than the introduction of the interactive whiteboard, which before would have just been flashcards or play noughts and crosses and stick the flashcards to the board. We did the same things just without the technology.

Olly:
What was the balance of speaking versus other skills?

Lindsay:
I would say most of the time, because you’ve got 30 kids in a room, if you’re doing a class activity, then how much realistically can each of those speak in a lesson? They’re probably going to say one sentence like, [French] That’s it for the hour.

Olly:
Yes, I used to teach these classes of 40 kids in Japan, we used to pair them up and do pair speaking. The task of monitoring that many kids is just so hard that you risk wasting everybody’s time in the pursuit of an idealistic goal of everybody speaking.

Lindsay:
Absolutely.

Olly:
Here’s the last thing that I wanted to mention, it’s something that I heard Steve Kaufman mention once in a video, which has stuck with me ever since. I don’t know whether he still feels the same thing or whether his views have changed since then, but his basic point was—backtracking a bit, the standard teaching methodology now in 2016 is the communicative approach, or the communicative method. You get people speaking and you learn through situational-based speaking, that’s the go-to methodology for the language education world.

That, from what I’ve seen is, certainly in the West, what tends to be applied in school. You get this sort of “at the train station” and “at the doctor’s” type parroting going on. Steve’s argument was, “Well for a 13- or 14-year-old kid, or even younger, 11- or 12-year-old kid, even if they fall in love with Japanese manga, they’ve got not authentic reason to want to speak the language. They don’t have any Japanese friends, they’re not going on holiday to Japan probably, none of their family members are Japanese.

They have no authentic real-life reason to speak the language, so is it not therefore wrong or unhelpful to get them up and speaking all the time? Isn’t that artificial? His continuation of that was if you accept that argument that it is an artificial thing for kids of that age, then surely it’s a more productive use of time to say in these school years, we’re not going to do any speaking.

What we’re going to do is a lot of reading, we’re going to read stuff that you like. If you like football we’re going to read about football in Japanese, we’re going to learn the Chinese character for football. Because the classroom is an environment that’s very conducive to that kind of study. And so there’s no speaking, tough. But aren’t you going to be much more productive and get much more stuff done by taking a more academic approach to the language?

The kids are going to be able to relate to that much better, they’re probably at home reading comic books, or surfing the net, or something. That’s what they like to do. I thought that was a very, very powerful idea that maybe we shouldn’t be getting kids to speak at that age. If that’s the approach you take, it’s got an academic approach—or not even an academic but more based on reading and perhaps listening using materials, and themes, and topics they’re interested in.

If they spend five years doing that and it’s effective, then when they actually want to come to speak when they’re 18, 21, 25, whatever, they’re going to have such a great foundation, you’ve done so much of the work already.

Lindsay:
Interesting.

Olly:
Does that make sense?

Lindsay:
Yes, absolutely. The production of the languages is a lot less forced and more a case of “when you’re ready,” because the interest would still be there. Everything you’d done to that point had been interesting for you because it had been based on your interests, and it was reading, and it was absorption rather than production.

Olly:
When I was 11 or 12, I was socially really awkward. The thought of getting up in front of someone and speaking was terrifying, so the idea of forcing kids to do that in a class, how is that productive?

Lindsay:
Yes, I agree. I’ve always felt very awkward about that as a teacher when I’ve been in front of a group of students, whether they’re adults or children. To say “You, speak,” I’ve never been a fan of that in terms of teaching. I’m thinking about you said about the conversation at the train station or getting a ticket and things.

When I was young I was lucky enough that I learned French and had the chance to go to France. Geographically being a lot closer than a child learning Japanese, for example, in England or America. I remember specifically going into the bakery and asking for the baguette in French, and saying please, and saying thank you, and having those little early dialogues.

Realistically, I probably still could have done that without school, my parents could have told me how to say it and I would’ve repeated. It’s not therefore necessary to do that in school perhaps. It’s an interesting idea.

Olly:
It’s food for thought, isn’t it?

Lindsay:
Absolutely.

Olly:
I can definitely see how in that situation, it probably happened to me as well actually, family holiday in France. I probably did use some, my parents probably encouraged me to use bits of phrasebook language here and there. Perhaps you could make the argument that’s empowering because you get the chance
to use it, and once you use it, you catch the bug, so to speak. I guess then the question is how many kids actually get the chance to go to France on a family holiday.

Lindsay:
Absolutely.

Olly:
You’re going to run into problems there, aren’t you? I don’t know, have we changed the world? I feel like we have.

Lindsay:
I hope so, yeah.

Olly:
Kevin can be—well, everyone out there can be the judge. That’s been interesting, maybe we could just finish by maybe giving a short summary of. Someone like Kevin’s position, he’s not the minister of education for Japan, yet at least. But he is a guy who’s passionate about languages and probably comes into contact with people that he can influence. What would you say is the thing that he can best do to make a difference to the lives of the children that he interacts with in Japan. Tough question, I’m putting you on the spot here.

Lindsay:
Yeah, tough question. I would say if you’re having to follow that syllabus to pass those exams, do that as best you can, but do try to include something fun and enjoyable to inspire that reason to give people that why when it comes to language learning. As much time as you have that you can dedicate to showing them clips of people on the internet, or reading, or listening to songs, whatever it is—five minutes at the end of a lesson. As much as you can get in, just try your best to inspire it.

Olly:
Yes, I think that’s fantastic advice. What would I add to that? I think I would say much the same really. I think a little, a small amount, even a few minutes of personal attention to kids, maybe it’s just one kid in each class or something, but asking him, “Hey, what do you like?” Then taking a second to go away and say, “Hey, go and check this out. You said you like dancing. There’s this great American dance group over here, this is what they’re called, you can check them out on YouTube.”

I don’t know, a silly example, but just taking that second, giving that personal touch and try and inspire these kids one at a time. You’re creating the opportunity for those little epiphany moments happen. Beyond that, just what you said Lindsay, just giving that reason, showing them in as much bright colour and multimedia as possible what is out there in the language that they’re having to learn.

Lindsay:
Absolutely.

Olly:
In the hope of trying to get that inspiration. All right, well, that was fantastic. I learned a lot from that and lots of stuff to think about. Where can people find you? If people are listening in, they’d like to find out more about Lindsay, where should they go?

Lindsay:
The easiest place is to head straight for lindsaydoeslanguages.com

Olly:
Fantastic. I’ll put a link to this in the show notes, which will be at http://iwillteachyoualanguage.com/episode123. Nice and easy there.

Lindsay:
That’s good.

Olly:
Yes, it’s perfect, 1 – 2 – 3.

Lindsay:
Good one to talk about education.

Olly:
It’s a sign, I think we’ve made a difference.

Lindsay:
Yes, absolutely.

Olly:
For everyone listening, what I want you to do now is to go over to those show notes at http://iwillteachyoualanguage.com/episode123 and I want you to leave a comment and tell us your thoughts on this. Everybody listening has an opinion. We’ve all been to school, we’ve all studied languages probably, otherwise I’ve done a “Why You’re Listening to This” podcast. So go over to the show notes and I want you to let us know what you think. Do you agree, do you disagree, what would you do to change the world to help kids become more inspired with foreign languages. Lindsay, thanks so much for coming on the show.

Lindsay:
Thank you.

Olly:
Thank you everybody for listening, and we’ll see in the next episode of the podcast.

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  • Ashley T (Yuuki)

    I think you all had some very good points. what got me originally interested in languages was hearing elvish in the Lord of the Rings (yes, it’s true). i actually learned quite a bit of elvish, but it was hard to advance with it not being a “real” language (technically it is grammatically, which I think is amazing!). So after that, I watched this film called Les Choristes, and instantly fell in love with French. I listened to a lot of French music and used this high school computer program that was supposed to help with ACT scores to help me study it. My mom never told me to, I just picked up my sisters program and used it. You see for me, it was never compulsory. I had an interest in the language and culture just from a great film I watched. Other sources for me have been books and tv shows in the original language. I think using entertainment and social media is key to pushing students towards success – and they’ll enjoy it!! It goes back to what you said about finding their interests. If you can find that, you’ve tapped the child’s mind.

    • Thanks for the insightful comment Ashley. In your case, you found your passion and your own motivation, and that’s what did the trick. How can we replicate that for all students in a school environment?

      • Ashley T (Yuuki)

        I think smaller classes would be good because the teacher can get to know each student on an individual level. Maybe have students fill out surveys of what they like at the beginning of school so teachers can have an idea of each person’s point of interest. Then the teacher can use that to find out which students to pair for conversation, what individual resources should be given to each student, and what foreign films, games, television shows, music, etc etc, to recommend for their specific tastes. I also think that teachers should show interest in the child’s likes by asking specifically about those things in class (in the target language). That way, the students will be more engaged because a subject of interest is being brought up. Also a good idea would be to have students give presentations in class not on a standard topic (like family, tourist sights in a country where the language is spoken, or some other normal language class topic), but something specifically that the student has a passion about. Like art, or music or theatre. Whatever it is, have the students talk about that. Instead of teaching them just standard introductions, have them write a script about themselves and present that in class. Everyone will get to know one another better and learn new vocab! Students should be encouraged to learn their own vocab outside of the textbooks. My own French teacher encouraged us to take notes in other students’ presentations so we could get the most out of it (we also printed unfamiliar vocab for others to read along with). I like what Benny Lewis does in his new language textbooks – having the sections where you fill in your own personal vocab is great! I could go on for a good while… but I think you get the gist.

  • FnFRuns

    Inspiring the students is certainly
    the most important aspect once you’ve got students in a classroom.
    The first problem, however, might be getting kids to take language
    classes at all if they aren’t mandatory or relevant to their lives
    outside of school. Fortunately for me, although I didn’t take it very seriously, German was offered in both my
    middle school (grades 6-8) and high school (grades 9-12), but many
    schools have either cut the options down to only French or Spanish at
    the high school level and removed language classes completely
    in middle schools (often citing budget issues). What I would like to
    see, and in some larger cities this does sort of exist, is community
    focused language courses. So, for example, if my city has a
    significant Russian-speaking population the school system could offer
    Russian as a language course rather than French or another
    non-relevant language. This could not only help to keep the language
    alive in the community, which is always a good thing, but it can help
    non-native speakers to better understand their peers and neighbors,
    thus potentially strengthening the local community, and makes it
    immediately useful outside of the classroom. It’s sort of like a gift
    of being able to discover a whole new side of your own city. This
    doesn’t necessarily address the issue of getting kids interested in
    languages to begin with, but it’s a way to offer something more
    tangible and rewarding than a language where the students have to go
    online in order to interact with it. While the internet is an
    unbelievable tool for language learning, I’d argue that a student
    would get more out of a random encounter at their local coffee shop
    or grocery where they can even just trade greetings in the language
    their school offers rather than a scheduled meet-up over Skype. As
    everyone learning another language knows, there’s no high like an
    impromptu exchange in your target language.