Language is communal. I mean, that’s the whole point. Language preserves cultures in a modern world where once secluded communities find it necessary to take on other tongues to gain political or social representation, such is the case for many people in countries like India. On the other hand, international communication has become necessary in the global marketplace and the acquisition of a new language garners social ties between people who would otherwise be unable to share ideas. The breakdown in communication was the downfall in the myth of the Tower of Babel.
While there are several reasons to want to learn a new language, the ability to communicate with others is easily the most desired. It’s almost impossible for someone to learn an entire language by him or herself. Community and immersion are necessary for the true understanding of language. That’s why it’s so important as a teacher to include these elements into your lessons and that’s why monitoring your entire class progress is just as important as grading the individual.
But how do you assess the progress of multiple students? Anyone who has taught knows that feeling when you look up at the class and realize that you only have a percent of the students’ attention. They’re human, after all. Each one learns differently, at their own pace, and that’s without taking into account the human element that means not every student will be in top learning form every class, every day. But by constructing activities where the whole class must utilize the language and demonstrate an understanding, you can monitor your students’ progress while creating a sense of community that is the basis of a common language.
Community and immersion are necessary for the true understanding of language!
Pick a television series set in a community where the native tongue is the language you teach. Organize a time in your teaching schedule where the class gets to watch the series in the native language. Make it an experience, turn off the lights, allow students to take out a snack and get comfortable. If your students are older, provide a note sheet where they can track notes about what is happening in the series. Having a storyline the students can get invested in week after week while exposing them to cultural elements exposed through the plot is a great way to re-create the experience of immersion without leaving the classroom. After each episode, have a classroom discussion (in the language of the show, of course!) where you discuss the events that unfolded with your students. Notice week to week how the amount of student participation increases and how the diction and syntax improves as it becomes more natural to the ear for them. Plus, watching a 20 minute television show is a nice break from the fluorescent lights and stiff textbooks for your students AND you.
Make Beautiful Music
It would be cliché to mention the importance of music in cultural identity; cliché, but true. Teaching songs to the class will familiarize them with the poetic nature of syntax, introduce them to new vocabulary in context, and can teach them about culture as well as language. Learn the song as a class, listen to it, and walk around paying attention to those truly enjoying the challenge and gently encourage those who are shy at first. I’ve had teachers who made each student sing the entire song individually for an easy grade in the book, but I learned either way. Just like a pop song, it’ll get stuck in the student’s head.
Throw a Party
Is there a culturally important holiday coming up? Or maybe you could throw a group birthday party and learn the traditional songs while eating the preferred treats? Throwing a party is a fun way to get the entire class involved. Only one rule: only speak the language of the class. They’ll have all the tools for small talk thanks to your tireless efforts and they’ll be properly motivated to use them in the fun, social setting. This is also a chance to play games and interact with your students without the stress of the teacher/pupil relationship making them nervous. But that doesn’t mean you get to skimp on your duty as an educator. As you listen to students converse, take note of any common misuses and address them in the next class.
Teaching a student to think in the language rather than translate from their native tongue is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face as a teacher. Initiating charades will force students to work as a team and figure problems out using visual clues. Separate your class into teams and only let them answer in the language they’re learning. For beginner’s courses, incorporate vocabulary from the current lesson. For more advanced students try colloquial phrases or culturally relevant books or movies. Assign a reward such as extra-credit for the winning team for extra incentive.
This is another one you’ll have to tailor base on your age group and skill level. Whether it’s having each student talk about their favorite food or translated recipe or assigning each student a traditional dish— with the recipe in the original language—and throwing a potluck, you’ll be able to encourage community and cultural immersion through the magic of food. If you have access to the necessary tools you could even create a dish or meal as a class working as a team. Bonus teacher-points if you can tell a student’s not reading the recipe correctly if you taste too much cumin.
These are just a few activities that you can use in your own lessons to track your students’ progress. Feel free to experiment and see what work best for you. If you are suddenly inspired to come up with an activity of your own, allow yourself to get creative and use that activity in your class.
Can you think of any other activities that could be added to this list? Let us know of your own unique ways of encouraging your students to progress and grow!