Foreign Language Courses
in other disciplines, modern foreign language courses treat an academic
subject: in order to master grammatical structures, vocabulary, principles
of literary analysis, and knowledge of the people who speak the language,
students conceptualize, memorize, and analyze information. In addition,
students use different mental operations to acquire communication skills.
And to understand and respect another culture, they must integrate intellectual
and emotional responses. Such differences are implicit in the objectives
of the College foreign language requirement:
- To provide
students with basic language skills;
- To develop
multicultural knowledge and awareness;
- To develop
understanding of languages.
some courses, students learn mostly from reading and from attending class;
language students, like science lab students, must practice in order to
learn. Language learning is, moreover, a cumulative, step-by-step process:
complex grammatical points build on basic ones, and skills grow as students
practice different aspects of them. Understanding what one hears, for
instance, depends on knowing pronunciation rules, hearing sounds correctly,
recognizing words from sounds, knowing the meaning of those words, fitting
the words into recognized patterns of grammar and vocabulary, discerning
the significance of the tone used, and understanding the cultural situation
in which the words were spoken.
interest and to keep up with the necessary work, your language students
need motivation and immediate, frequent feedback. They need more short
quizzes, papers, and interviews than in most other courses; you also need
to make clear why they cannot successfully cram for language tests. As
in other courses, what you test reveals what you consider important. Balance
your tests with items confirming students' reading, listening, and writing
skills, as well as their mastery of vocabulary, grammatical structures,
and cultural knowledge. Test authentic language use in realistic contexts,
and ask students to communicate their own meaning as much as possible.
When the speaking skill is one of your goals, evaluate its development
with oral proficiency tests. For general testing recommendations, see
"Evaluating Students' Work."
in class, students must participate individually in a wide variety of
activities. Thus the Modern Language Association of Departments of Foreign
Languages recommends 12 as the ideal enrollment to maximize student participation
and recommends no more than 20 students in any language course. Finally,
because of language study's multifaceted nature and demand for student
participation, specific learning disabilities are more visible in language
courses than in many other courses. For tips on spotting and accommodating
learning disabilities, see "Teaching Students with Disabilities"
and the TRC handbook Teaching a Diverse Student Body; for information
about treating individual cases, check with your supervisor or departmental
are dangerous consequences to teaching students that learning must take
place within four cinder-block walls. And so I have taken my students
to parking lots to study car vocabulary, to a local vineyard for a French
tour, to France through videos and realia from my travels. I hope that
my students will realize through these activities that learning is a
process that can take place anywhere.
about organizing and teaching your language classes should come from your
supervisor or course chair. We offer here, however, a few initial tips
and insights into language teaching:
- Plan a variety
of activities for each class both to develop different skills and to
tap students' individual strengths (see "Learning Styles").
To maximize students' attention, vary the length of activities usually
between two and fifteen minutes.
- Begin with
a conversational warm-up to reaccustom students to the target language
and immerse them in your course. Discuss a current event, discover what
your students have been doing, find out more about their lives and opinions,
and so on. Integrate grammar, vocabulary, culture, or important information
into the warm-up in a natural manner.
- Then review
a point from the previous lesson or material basic to the new information
that you will present during class. In the best reviews, students practice
again and demonstrate their level of mastery. You may also preview or
outline the upcoming lesson.
new material: vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, skills activities,
and cultural units.
- If you
introduce new vocabulary early in the class, you can review it later
with grammar, culture, or pronunciation activities.
pronunciation drills can wake up lethargic students.
activities usually work best when students have studied textbook
explanations before class. It is usually best to keep your explanations
to a minimum and ask students specific questions about what they
cultural information through web sites, readings, video and audio
tapes, slide shows, and conversation. Resist the temptation to talk
too much about your time abroad and, rather, involve students in
analyzing their own culture as well as the target culture. You may
choose to use English at times to encourage students to comment.
integrate the parts of the class into a coherent whole with a closing
activity that encourages students to use new material to communicate.
They might use new vocabulary to create dialogues about future plans;
play "Wheel of Fortune" to practice vocabulary, letters, pronunciation;
discuss a reading and brainstorm ideas for a composition comparing their
experiences with what they've read. Students leave more excited and
more confident in their learning when they've used what they've practiced.
students to prepare before class. Know what they should have understood
from the textbook, and ask questions to verify their preparedness and
comprehension. Choose students who don't raise their hand to answer
most questions; you know the volunteers are prepared.
between what you can do best in class and what the textbook offers.
For example, you can explain grammar differently than the textbook,
with more, personalized examples. The textbook may provide written grammar
rules and mechanical practice activities that you need not cover in
class. The textbook lists and defines vocabulary; you need to show students
at elementary and intermediate levels how to pronounce it and help them
make it their own. The text and manual provide reading and listening
activities; you may need to give students the appropriate context in
which to read or listen.
- Use the
target language to communicate, not merely to instruct. Give assignments
in the target language; don't lapse into English when you have something
really important to say. Use the target language whenever you think
students will be able to understand it.
that communicating with language means more than using the four language
skills; it also entails understanding culture well enough to communicate
with speakers from a different background. Integrate skill areas and
culture in lessons and in the overall curriculum in order to replicate
language use in the "real world."
students' cognitive, comprehension, and language-learning strategies.
Pre-reading and pre-writing activities, as well as work on how to understand
a spoken or written text, are ideal class activities. If you prepare
students well to work with written texts, they can read and write effectively
beyond your course.
oral-aural skills in class. Besides language laboratory work, students
do not practice speaking and listening much outside class unless you
- Use accompanying
workbooks, lab manuals, audio and video lab programs, test banks, and
computer software to reinforce material in the main textbook, following
the recommendations of the course supervisor. These are ideal for self-study
when answers are provided for immediate feedback.
traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never
left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen
our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly,
Mead, Coming of Age
Samoa, introduction, 1928.