Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Don't speak to the students in that language!

For those of us who love languages, multilingualism is a great source of joy. That joy, though, is punctuated on occasion with moments set to test us, usually when we least expect it. The CELTA course I did last year produced one such memorable moment.

I was chatting to the students as they were arriving for their English class. I remembered that one of them, a friendly woman in her mid-fifties, had previously mentioned that she was also learning French and Spanish.

Intrigued by this, I prompted her to chat with me in Spanish. She clearly enjoyed being able to practice with me for a minute or two. Then it was time for me to teach my lesson, during which I was being assessed, with feedback given at the end of the day.

Imagine my surprise - if not to say consternation(!) - at being reprimanded in my written feedback for having exchanged a few bits of Spanish with a student before the official start of class. I realise that we (the trainee teachers) were meant to stick to English, and I had been doing my best (not always successfully, I must admit) to avoid using German with the students to maximise their language practice opportunities, but this reproach just struck me as downright petty. It had been about two people connecting, very briefly, over a common interest - an act conducive to building rapport, which tends to impact positively later on in class. There were no victims here. What, then, was this comment exactly if not a gratuitous put-down? Why sledgehammer rules onto a context where they run contrary to the spirit in which they had been drawn up?

Being told what language to speak, when and with whom, by an uninvolved bystander, is just plain patronising. I'm pretty certain that everyone who speaks more than one language has experienced an incident similar to this one. I was 19 the first time this happened to me. I was working as an au-pair in the Midlands (UK) and had made friends with a fellow German au-pair living just a few houses further down the same street. The family she was working for forbade us to speak German with each other because it would "confuse the toddler."




9 comments:

  1. I'm enjoying your reflections on your CELTA course. I agree that there was no reason to reprimand you for speaking Spanish with a student before class! Good grief! Having a rapport with your students will no doubt enhance their learning, and I don't see the harm in slipping into German now and then. Of course, I don't teach so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about ... except I am a student so from that vantage point, I would say you did well to offer the student a change to practice her Spanish.

    Regarding your other post about speaking, as a student, that will always be my biggest challenge. I have problems with properly enunciating certain English words and it's my native language! I really struggle with French, especially speaking and listening. I guess if I ever travel to France, I should pretend to be mute and deaf ;)

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    1. French sure is tough to pronounce. I'm dithering over taking it up again... am kinda regretting having thrown in the towel a couple of years ago. The verbs got me. Also, there are just so many homophones, which just mess with my listening comprehension - I've always struggled with that, in all languages. I hope you'll make it to France at some point. Such pretty towns :)

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    2. I have to say it makes me feel a little better knowing other people struggle with French pronunciation. I would love to visit France, but I also study French in case someday I need to request political asylum in Canada ;)

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    3. Let's all move to Canada - I'm game ;-)

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  2. Crazy! Being able to connect, particularly via languages is such a joy and asset. Silly silly CELTA overly strict approach.

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    1. They were a bit draconian at times... but there were good parts, as well ;-) The students were really nice and easy to get along with.

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  3. I sort of get where they are coming from. Yet, every rule, at least in my book, has to fit the context.

    Interestingly, I was being seriously encouraged to go through the CELTA course myself. The idea was that I would then go off to exoctic ( sunny ) locations away from ( not so sunny ) Canada. And that I would find the time to write the book and stop whining...

    Well, the book did get written anyway. And I feared that I'd get the far East as options, when I what I really wanted was somewhere in Europe.

    Anyway, I'd like to read more about your CELTA experience!

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