Sunday, April 01, 2012

Language World 2012: defining today, transforming tomorrow

I attended a truly stimulating and inspirational Language World 2012 conference in Manchester this weekend. Session after session, talk after talk, I felt the motivation, commitment and passion of speakers who spoke of their experiences as modern language teachers, sharing strategies and creative techniques of how best to engage students in learning languages in fun and effective ways.

“Language is unifying. It’s what makes us individuals and a community”, said Bernadette Holmes, president of the Association for Language Learning (ALL), in her opening plenary on the first day of the conference. Human relationships are at the heart of language learning. “Language is the nexus between power, knowledge and social behavior”. Bernadette emphasized some key points revisited by a number of speakers during the two-day conference:

· “Create an enquiry-based approach in students”: Engage the learner at an early stage with noticing. Why are some word constructions different? Why are there exceptions? For example, notice how in this example some words end in with French plural ‘s’ and some words don’t: “Les yeux bleus, les yeux d’amoureux; Les yeux verts, les yeux de vipere; Les yeux marron, les yeux de cochon”.

· “Grammar isn’t driving the learning alone, it is the meaning and interaction that is driving it”: The learner must engage and identify with the language. Stories should provide stimulating and exciting contexts for students. Teachers must make meaning through the language driven by the motivation of the students themselves. They should enable students to see the world in a broader sense, learn about other countries, other ways of life and at the same time learn about important current issues, such as sustainable development – as in the case of the story of the multi-lingual architect Francis Kere who has built a school in Burkina Faso; or football; or art, such as the Frida Kahlo example, “using paintings as stimulus for all kinds of discovery”.

· “Create spontaneous talk in the classroom”: using current news on a regular basis and selecting items chosen by the learners themselves goes a long way to generating spontaneous conversations in the classroom. Use pictures effectively to build and construct.

· “Teach disciplines through language”: such as ICT, sustainable development, and geography, i.e. ‘understanding volcanic activity’ or the human aspect of geography around the world, such as ‘Haiti: témoignages d’enfants des camps’ (UNICEF Television).

· “Create transferable language skills in the classroom”: Why not offer learners to read the same story in different languages? By cracking the code of one language it helps them crack the code of another.

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