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We teach kids to speak real Spanish. For Life

by Erica Fischer on May 31, 2016

The Lifelong Road to Language Learning: How Do We Help Students Embrace It?

 
Last week, langchatters joined in an enlightening conversation about how world language teachers can best go about equipping their student to be lifelong language learners. Participants discussed ways to help students connect their second language learning with their larger life goals, as well as how to ensure students leave a WL class with the necessary skills to make independent language learning possible. Contributors also chatted about how to identify and counteract education practices that keep students from being motivated to work towards lifelong learning. Finally, langchatters shared the resources they felt are best for students to continue to use for language learning after their last official language class.

Thank you Kris (@KrisClimer) for moderating the Thursday night chat, and also thank you Laura (@SraSpanglish) for leading the #SaturdaySequel. And as always, thanks to everyone who participated in this week’s chats, new and old #langchat-ters alike! We wouldn’t be here without all of your great input.

Question 1: How can we help students connect their language learning with their larger life goals?

In order to truly engage students in language learning in a way that is going to capture their interest permanently, world language teachers have to figure out ways to get students to connect with it on a personal level – both in and outside of the classroom. Doing so can be a challenge but if you can help students identify their personal life goals, then you can help them make a connection between language learning and those long-term goals. Once that’s established, you can get them to invest in language learning in a way that will ultimately have a lasting outcome and expand their horizons. As @ADiazMora pointed out, “It is not about language all the time, but rather perspective, empathy, (and) understanding of other cultures.”

Participants had a plethora of ideas for how to help students make that important connection and they varied from simply reminding them that not all life goals are professional (and that a second language is often a huge help for life’s relationship goals), to showing them that language doesn’t stop in the classroom but extends out into their real lives as well. For example, they might be presented with various friendships, internships/job opportunities, travel options, life experiences, etc., that wouldn’t be available to them without that second language knowledge. Like @IndwellingLang put it, you can point out/ask students, “Do your life goals include enjoying yourself? Another language million-ifies the stuff you’re able to enjoy!”

Helping students to understand and connect with all the reasons that knowing a second language can benefit them is the real reason that all world language teachers choose to teach – impressing on students all the ways that a second language is something that can enrich their real lives should be built into your class structure. For example, using authentic resources, sharing your own journey with the language, and using real life scenarios (especially in IPAs) so that students can see the value, are just a few of the ways you can do it. Like @CadenaSensei pointed out, “We also have to help [students] understand the process – proficiency really is a lifelong journey, not [let them think] ‘I’ll be fluent after Level 2 class’.”

Question 2: What skills must we make sure students leave with to make INDEPENDENT learning possible?

If students don’t have the drive and skills to continue learning a language on their own after their formal classes come to an end, then there is no chance of them becoming a lifelong language learner. To make sure students are ready for it, the skills that world language teachers must start instilling in them from Day 1 are curiosity about (and a love for) the language itself, perseverance, empathy, compassion, and the ability to think independently. As @sr_connolly pointed out, students have to have “Patience, imagination, respect, curiosity, [and] courage.” Because in order to truly make independent learning possible, @kris_climer reminded langchatters that students have to first off have “…the desire to TRANSCEND grades and scores and EMBRACE ‘tests’ of their [language] skills.”

Independent language learning can only come once students have gained enough interest in the language, as well as having had enough exposure and understanding of the benefits of the language to want to continue on their own. That means using fun/meaningful authentic resources in class to show them how it relates to their lives outside of school – such as YouTube, Netflix, magazines, TV shows, apps like Duolingo, etc. It also means helping them realize and decide that the work is worth the outcome – as @SraSpanglish put it, students have to come to terms with the fact that “THE PRACTICE IS THE LEARNING. Beautifully put! [And that] USING it IS how you grow!”

Students also have to get comfortable in the knowledge that language learning will be uncomfortable, and that they don’t have to know/understand all of the words all the time, or write/say everything perfectly if they can learn to get the meaning of the language in other ways. As @aacpswcl explained it, students have to figure out how to “Negotiate meaning, especially in an interpersonal speaking situations.” Similarly, @beckyjoy agreed that, “Circumlocution is key!” Getting students to understand and embrace that concept is one of the major skills necessary to make independent learning possible.

Question 3: How can we identify and counteract education practices that quell students’ motivation for lifelong learning?

For the vast majority of world language programs, there are long-standing education practices in place that are counteractive (and highly counterproductive) when it comes to students gaining real/effective language skills in a classroom setting. Letter grades, GPAs, homework, class-work, and percentage points are just a few of the obstacles that language teachers face when they try to get students to understand the concept of working towards proficiency rather than working towards a grade. As @CadenaSensei put it, “Fighting the Game of School is soooo hard, when all stakeholders have been taught grades = credit = everything.”

Students are trained to value the means to an end in order to get a grade, not the actual learning process or their ultimate proficiency/ability to use the material they learned from any given subject after a class is over. In a second language setting, teachers have to work doubly hard to get students to value the process not just the outcome. Participants shared lots of ideas including making sure to focus assessments on the language acquisition process, de-emphasizing grades and make them work for your particular situation instead of against it, employing mastery-based learning/grading techniques, allowing retakes/re-does if necessary, assessing students’ overall progress rather than their first attempt, and focusing as much of your class grading structure on assessing/building proficiency as possible. As @SenoraLauraCG put it, teachers have to “Work with [students] to reflect on progress throughout the year rather on grade at the end. Cheer them on as they develop skills!”

In order to ultimately remove the education practices/barriers to students’ understanding of what it takes for true language learning to happen, a cultural revolution in the education structure would have to be applied across all subjects, in all schools, and at all grade levels. Like @srawilliams3 pointed out, “It really has to be a school culture to teach [students] to value the learning & not the letter or percentage.” So until then, @krisclimer pointed out that language teachers can work towards that desired outcome by “Help[ing] turn the tide in our own schools and communities, getting other [teachers] and [students] to value GROWTH rather than FIXED [because] we can be the catalysts for change.”

Question 4: What resources can students continue using to learn after their last language class?

In this ever-developing age of online apps and social media, the number of resources for students to use outside of the classroom is long and continually growing. Students have access to Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, Daily Motion, Hulu, Instagram, Pinterest, NPR Alt Latino podcast, music videos, movies, newspapers, TV shows, short stories, Web sites, social media, language learning apps, free language learning software, Skype, pen pals, heritage speakers, and so much more. As @mcanion said, the list of ways/outlets that teachers can help “Train students [on] how to get comprehensive input [from] viewing, listening and reading [the target language].” is virtually endless.

Several langchatters also chimed in that people who speak the target language are one of the best resources students can have outside of the classroom – whether that’s friends at school or from trips abroad, tutors or ePals via various social media sites, having people to talk to who speak the language is the ultimate tool to continue language learning outside of the classroom. As @shannon_LTS pointed out, “If [students] have built meaningful [relationships] with native speakers, those [relationships] can be an invaluable lifelong resource.” Similarly, @SraWilliams3 stated how much she “Love[s] when [students] make real friends with students abroad. They have a life long language connection & desire to travel is heightened.”

Because in the end, getting students to want to connect with other people who speak the target language, and helping them experience and cultivate a love/appreciation of the target culture, is really what language learning is all about.

Takeaways

Last week, langchatters had lots of great ideas to share about the ways that world language teachers can go about equipping students to be lifelong language learners. Takeaways included helping students see what they can do with language beyond the school classroom, working to get students interested in the language and finding something that gets their attention hooked, seeking out authentic resources to connect with students and not being afraid to keep evolving, and working on be an example of a lifelong learner yourself so that students can see what it looks like as you give them the tools to do the same. @SraStephanie really summed up the overall takeaway from this chat when she said, “There’s really no reason a student who is interested in a language can’t practice outside of class, we need to be their guide!”

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who joined in #langchat this week and shared their ideas for ways to make lifelong learners out of language students. We hope that you continue to join #langchat as often as you are able – if the regularly scheduled weekday chat time on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET doesn’t work for you, try joining the #SaturdaySequel, every Saturday at 10 a.m. ET instead!

Our weekly #langchats are getting busier and busier, so due to space limitations, the summaries always focus on the main themes and takeaways from each week’s conversation. Many twees have to be omitted but to read the entire conversation from this week, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have a topic that you’re impatient to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats!

Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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