"Foreign languages are hard..."
I used to not care about foreign languages at all. In fact, I was failing my Spanish III class during my first semester of my junior year in high school within the first month of class. My teacher, a caring and wise man, called me into his office to ask me what was going wrong. He could see that I had some potential and vague interest, but that I wasn't putting in the time and effort. He did what other Spanish teachers had not done before - push me to a whole new level. I studied harder. Began speaking more. Started listening to the radio in Spanish.
I brought my grade up, and he made a deal with me. Don't come to class - I want to work with you one-on-one. Only come to class to take a test, then leave and we'll meet later.
Before I knew it, I was meeting with him before school and during my free period every day. No English allowed. Then came the short essays. The articles. The Spanish films. The poems. I was hooked. Then I began choosing the assignments, and my proficiency soared. I had found a passion for something I had never thought I would enjoy, and all it took was a simple challenge and vague interest. I realized quickly that he had given me something so much more than any textbook or report card ever could - he gave me the tools to increase my understanding without him.
I could go on and on about how learning other languages has changed my view on life, how it has opened so many doors for both my personal and professional growth or how I challenge myself every day, but that would detract from my main message:
"Foreign languages are hard... if they remain foreign in your life."
You MUST put forth effort every day to use your skills in some way. All I ever hear from people who hear me speak Spanish or Russian is this - "Wow, that's great! How'd you learn to speak like that? I took (Spanish/French/German) for six years and can't remember anything!" My question and their response is always the same, "Well, did you ever use it outside of class?" "No..."
My style is this - we will practice, practice, and practice. Not book exercises or random sentences: I'm going to show you to use your language to paint your world in a new light and make you THINK.
Think of it like this:
No more "Pedro went to the store at 3:00 PM." I'm going to make you think - "Why did Pedro go to the store? What was he wearing? Would he had done the same thing if it was 3:00 AM? Does his mom know? Etc., etc...." It may seem strange at first, but it's the first important step in mastering a language - thinking in it.
Q & A
What is your teaching philosophy?
My teaching philosophy is that in order to learn a language, you must consistently practice it in all of its forms OUTSIDE of the classroom. Find a subject you like - politics, sports, science, religion, or whatever else - and read, talk, and write about it in that language. It's amazing how quickly your vocabulary and interest in the language will grow when you genuinely like what you're learning.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
Our first session will look something like this: 1. The Basics: -Get to know one another for a few minutes. Where are you from? What do you do in your free time? 2. Today: -Discuss WHY you came to me, and what you want to gain from our sessions. Do you need help passing a class? Do you want to learn more about the language than what they teach you in class? Are you starting out in the language and just want an opinion on it? Whatever the reason, I will figure out how to meet your expectations and push you to the next level. 3. Tomorrow: -Based on the information you give me, I will begin designing our future sessions with your interests in mind. Do you like music in a foreign language? Do you like the food served in the region where the language is spoken? Do you like to compete and use vocabulary games? Basically, I will present the same information to you in a different, more relaxed light to let you expand your comfort zone. By doing so, we can make substantial progress with your language skills.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
It's easy. My job is to not only strengthen a student's understanding of the language but also guide them to find a passion for the language as well. I used to not care at all about Spanish, and it wasn't until my teacher forced me to use it both inside and outside of class that I became "hooked."
How would you help a student stay motivated?
I would help a student stay motivated by checking on their progress regularly and by reminding them that learning a foreign language IS difficult, but manageable. I have a number of friends who have had incredible experiences because they chose to study a language and would be more than happy to let the student see just how far you can go if you apply yourself.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
If the student doesn't understand a skill or concept, I continue to present it in a different way until they understand the concept. As we move through our sessions, I will take note as to how they learn and tailor our sessions to their learning preferences.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
Let's face it - reading comprehension is tough, especially in a foreign language. Just remembering the vocabulary can be difficult, but I show students some very simple tricks to keep themselves focused while trying to take in a lot of information at once in a foreign language.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
I have found that having a relaxing, yet demanding atmosphere has produced the best results; however, the best strategy is to remind students that they will be the most successful only when THEY want to learn. It's difficult and depends entirely on the student - but it's achievable!
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
I would let the student know that (believe it or not) it's all right to not understand everything the first time around. We will start with the very beginning of the concept, and I will ask the student to tell me the very basics. Then, we will move on to more specifics. If the student is struggling at this point, I will fill in the gaps.
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
Languages are presented in four main forms (speaking, listening, reading, and writing). Be prepared to be tested in all of them.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
It's simple - correct and practice. Let the student make a mistake, correct it, and move forward.