Babies naturally gain fluency in their first language through immersion; they simply listen and mimic. However, imagine if babies were taught to speak through grammar lessons and vocabulary quizzes in cold classroom settings. No one would learn to speak.
This is a prime example of why our world language classrooms should be immersion centers, where students are engrossed by a language and its culture.
According to the school’s website, cultural studies are emphasized at all levels and “use of English is kept to a minimum.” However, English is the dominant form of communication in my French class. Too often, there is needless communication in English, and it is a wasted opportunity to practice French. English should be prohibited in language classrooms, unless absolutely necessary to understand coursework.
As a baby, you weren’t taught the difference between go, going and gone; it just sounds right. We will never have that sense in our foreign languages if we aren’t listening and then attempting to communicate. I should be able to walk into my French class and hear everyone speaking in French.
In my class, we regularly use VHL, an online language text-book in addition to various worksheets and online programs. Although these methods are effective for grammar practice, they are not practical. In real life situations students won’t have time to ponder their response or open google translate. These online programs are robotic and lifeless.
The curriculum should inspire students to grow as learners, not shut them down.
An emphasis on cultural studies will grasp the attention of students. This could be as simple as speaking about current events in France, reading basic stories, listening to the radio, watching a movie (without English subtitles) or YouTube clips. In London, classes could also visit museums, restaurants and shops with native-speakers or see theatrical productions. Teenagers can connect through a pen-pal program with students from the native country or by visiting close international language schools.
Our curriculum needs to be based on experiential learning. We spend countless classes reviewing grammar and talking about speaking situations, but we need to practice. If the focus shifted, we would have an opportunity to practice speaking through interactive activities, such as performing skits or challenges like trying to speak continuously with a partner. These activities will benefit students more than staring at a screen or a whiteboard.
Language cannot be confined to a single room with four walls only to be forgotten until next class. If the goal is to gain cultural and linguistic fluency, teachers must motivate their students and make them fall in love with their language and its culture.
As of right now, the world language department’s mission statement is not being fulfilled in every class. Only with passion and immersion will students gain their desired fluency levels and leave the classroom with a new language pumping through their veins.
Written by Staff Writer Liz Merryweather