Another repost from 2014:
This discussion about targeting certain expressions so that our students can do certain things (order a meal, etc.) in the TL raises questions about the nature of language. What is the nature of language and what is it’s purpose?
Most would answer that the nature of language is to allow people to communicate. This can take a vast variety of forms, from saying one word or ordering a cup of coffee or discussing poetry of rocket science, depending on the capacities and needs and interests of the speaker.
The key words there, for me, are needs and interests. There is a certain respect that I feel we must accord those we instruct. People in general deserve respect. What right, therefore, do we have to approach a student who may be worried about when their dad is going to get out of jail or back from a war and demand that they be able to say certain things in a foreign language that we happen to teach them because we need them to.
Schools are quite different in that way from the original way language skills develop. The difference in focus of the learner and the instructor in schools is very different from the way language just happens with young children.
With children there is joy and complete unawareness of learning and the child wants to learn and it just happens naturally. In schools the students experience no joy (when they are forced to learn as opposed to where they can just sit back and listen to a story with no pressure and no grade whatsoever), they are made to be aware of the language in discrete and tedious ways, and most of them don’t want to be there.
This is a very disrespectful thing to do to a person and cannot result in any real gains (look at our results even with comprehensible input). It is dark because in my opinion it goes against the nature of what language is all about, which is natural self expression, not forced response to interrogation.
Angie said this yesterday about this topic:
…this is the first time I’ve come across the “Can-Do” statements, but just from the language of the excerpts of the article I can feel that knot in my stomach and throat that warns that here comes that thing in education that forces you to exit your heart and common sense in order to conform to some lonely, brain-centered expectation that makes a new teacher like me feel like I’m doomed before I get started. It SOUNDS logical and rational but it can have a truly evil core. It SOUNDS like it’s about teachers collaborating but it secretly divorces teachers from connection with their real, actual students. This is the kind of stuff that buried me the first time around and I am not even going to read about it until I am a more experienced and confident teacher….
So it just seems weird to me that we as teachers spend our days being so interested in what our students can learn when, because they are young and have no immediate need to learn the language, and they have so many other (sometimes crushing) things going on in their young lives, they themselves don’t have any great need to express themselves in the target language, but we need them to anyway.
Carol related this to start this discussion about four days ago:
..before we left for France this year, I thought it would be a good idea to teach something practical. I was doing the “He is still hungry” (Matava?) script. We had the story going and I worked in as dialog “I would like a sugar and butter crepe, please.” We chanted it and every time we did a reading or a re-tell, the entire class chanted in French “I would like …” One of my sophomores who was traveling to France said to me:”Madame, this je voudrais thing is gonna be important for me when I get to France.” With that said, she said it so well, that a native would probably assume that she knew more than she did and the rest of the exchange would not go as well and communication in L2 would break down….
The gorilla in the room here is that Carol’s kid was going to France. My students most likely never will. It was hard enough for them to get here from Mexico, and for some of them it was life or death (I’m not kidding) and so they wanted to learn English and they will, but not because of the way it is being taught to them in school, which is really messed up.
One of my students once told me that he wanted to lose his accent as fast as possible and he wanted to know how long it would take. I felt that for some of my students language itself was not fun but a kind of torture, because the language they knew was not the one they needed and vice versa, and they needed high school credit and a chance at college so French was thrown into the mix as well.
Three languages, four other classes, and you’re fifteen years old and working two jobs plus going to school. Oh yeah, I think I’ll go get on the internet, even though I don’t have a computer, and get some French input. I’ll skip work tonight.
Why don’t we ever talk about the nature of language as something that a person can just experience in a happy way with no pressure and something that they could acquire while not even being aware of the fact that they were acquiring it?
When we stick kids into schools and force them to focus on the language and then tie a grade to it aren’t we kind of ruining it for them? Except those who will travel and who want to learn, those four percent? Why is it so important to us that our students can do certain things with the language when it is not important to most of them?