Recently I have been thinking about what learning a new language should look like. As a secondary PGCE student I haven’t really got any time to do waste on things like this because I should be writing essays and planning lessons… but I’m feeling self-indulgent so I’m going to run with it.
To start with I got thinking about what happens when a student turns up at an average comprehensive to learn languages. What would I think of learning a language in the way many of us teach it to our students? This is what language learning hell would look like for me.
1. The teacher determines where the learning starts for me irrespective of my prior learning / ability. There is little meaningful discussion between myself and the teacher about my current level, my motivation or my interests before teaching commences.
2. I have very little autonomy. The teacher chooses the subject and all materials. I am taught in chunks (my family, my bedroom) etc. I can say that my cupboard is opposite my chest of drawers but I have no idea when I would ever want to utter these words. (I suspect that the reason the teacher chooses these subjects is mainly habit (s/he has taught them before, or follows the textbook etc.)
3. I move through the syllabus at the same time and at the same pace as all the other pupils. Although weaker students in my class are given some support and more able pupils are given extension activities the materials, subjects and pace are largely the same for most of us and are solely dictated by the teacher.
4. I am not encouraged to become independent of the teacher. Materials and exercises are simply provided for me by the teacher and I am told when to start and when to stop working on them. The reason for many of these exercises is unclear. I am not expected to bring to class my own ideas for the topics or mediums (film, stories, news, music?) that I would like to explore to learn about the language and culture I am studying.
5. I am not given explicit information on how to learn a language. I am not made aware of strategies for learning vocabulary or useful multimedia resources. The link between words and sounds is not explored in my classes.
6. There is little space built into the schemes of work for reflection, self / peer assessment and teacher assessment of my work. Following assessment I am given little information about the mistakes I have made.The teacher does not point me towrds information or exercise to correct these mistakes. Instead my progress is described to me by national curriculum level which I have little interest in or understanding of.
Sounnds pretty bad right?…and pretty familiar?