The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) describes three modes of communication: interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational, and lists Can-Do statements in each of these modes. The presentational mode is for sharing information, opinions, etc, and usually consists of one person communicating with a larger audience, either in writing, speech, or multi-modal forms. The interpretive mode is what we usually think of as comprehension, understanding a written, oral, or multi-modal text. The interpersonal mode is when one or more people are interacting with each other, and again this could be in speech, writing, or multi-modal forms. In focusing on language functions and finding example texts, we try to find examples that are in both the presentational and interpersonal modes (and these all become the interpretive mode for our students at home, to recreate in their presentational or interpersonal forms in class). However, we have found that it is much easier to find texts in the presentational mode (either oral or written) than in the interpersonal mode. On the one hand, this makes sense (who records their conversations?), but this can also mean that it is challenging to find examples in this mode. Ones we do find, are often somewhat presentational as well, such as an interview where there are two people interacting, but there is an expectation for a larger audience as well that would not be there if those two people were talking in a more informal situation. The same thing would apply to something like a Twitter conversation.
In genre-based approaches to language learning, one of the key goals is to teach students not only what texts mean, but how they mean, so students can use (or resist) these conventions when they express themselves. While the goal of understanding WHAT a text means is fairly straightforwards for students and instructors, I find that the goal of understanding HOW a text means is more complicated.
Trello is my favorite digital organization tool, and I use it to organize basically everything in my life. It essentially consists of “cards” that you put into “lists” on a “board”. I make a board for each class I teach where the lists are the weeks of the semester (including the week before and after) and the cards are things I need to do for my class each week. There’s also a “Done” list that cards get moved to as they are completed.
In my very first post, I noted the importance of reflection for intercultural learning during study abroad—that is, it’s not enough to simply have intercultural contact, but it’s also necessary to reflect upon this contact. This is also true for teaching—it’s not enough to receive training, and design curricula, and implement lessons, we also need to reflect upon our practices in order to learn from them. Yet oddly enough, it is this step that is rarely built into our jobs as language teachers—we attend conferences and professional development, we make curricula, we design lessons, we teach classes, we grade, and all of these have specific times and places assigned to them. Sure, we can get behind on grading, but we’ll still finish it by the end of the term, and we’re unlikely to show up to class without some sort of plan (hopefully). Yet despite the importance of reflecting upon what we do and how we teach, there’s rarely scheduled time or space for this, and even when we recognize its importance, it’s the first thing to go in the crunch of grading and prepping (at least in my experience). So, in honor of the end of the semester, I thought I’d share some ways that I’ve built reflective practice into my own language teaching (and our Arabic section as a whole).
Last week, I discussed several popular methods of organizing beginning language classes under the overarching critique of focusing on either decontextualized sets of language or prioritizing transactions over social relationships. This week, I’m focusing on what I am interested in implementing in my classroom, drawing from both functional theories of language and translanguaging pedagogy. Language teaching contexts and preferred ideologies vary, so I want to be clear that I don't think there is a one size fits all for the beginning language classroom. However, I do think that too often we don’t even think about what ideologies are informing our practice, and if these are ideologies we even agree with! So, here are some things that my colleagues and I are working on or plan to implement in our classes:
Last week, I talked about how the language of social relationships is often overlooked in beginning language classes, and I think this is one reason students use English. As language teachers, I think we tend to view beginning language classes as the start of a language learning journey, or a step to more advanced classes or study abroad (despite the fact that it’s actually also the end for many students, especially with the way language requirements and offerings are being eliminated these days in the U.S.). Yet choices about what is taught in beginning language classes are also excellent insights into ideologies of language, that again we rarely think about as teachers. Here are some examples:
In my last post, I discussed some practices where I think translanguaging pedagogy simply gives us a new mindset on practices that already occur in the language classroom (or at least in my classroom). In this post, I want to focus on an area of the language classroom where I think we could be more intentional about the use of translanguaging, namely social practices in the classroom.
As is most likely clear from previous posts on nation-state ideologies of language and the multilingual turn, I find the latter a more appealing ideology for my language classroom, especially when combined with functional approaches to linguistics, that emphasize what learners do with language in actual contexts. Yet, as usual, the challenge for combining theory and practice is in the implementation—the theory sounds good, but what does it look like?