Because it’s March Break for us here in Canada and I can’t blog about what’s happening in my classes, I thought that I would tackle a variety of topics this week, mostly around second language learning.
I’ve been reflecting on my own experience at learning to speak French. I was in Core French for Grade 4 only. Then I switched elementary schools and began the Extended French Program in Grade 5 and continued in this program until the end of high school. I remember that as I was learning the language, I didn’t know all the rules, but I instinctively knew when something was right or wrong, either when I was speaking or when I was writing. I always thought that it was interesting that I couldn’t articulate the grammar rule, but I knew what the form or syntax of the sentence needed to be. I believe that because I was exposed to spoken French for half of my day every day, I began to learn the language in much the same way that someone learns their maternal language. This is why I try so hard to incorporate as many listening activities in my classes and why I try to speak to my students in French every single chance I get. It all goes back to my “Tons of input, tons of output” philosophy.
My students know that when they see me in the halls, at the mall or even at the grocery store, they have to speak to me in French. For them, doing that is automatic, whether they are in Core French or French Immersion. Mind you, not all of them are on board, but when I pretend not to understand what they’re telling me when they speak to me in English, they revert pretty quickly to the French! I feel that it is so important to speak to them as much as possible in French because they live in an anglophone environment and they need the input from me, because they really won’t be getting it from elsewhere.
There are so many theories as to how we acquire language in the first place. It is such a complex and fascinating topic. Behaviourists believe that we acquire language through imitation, receiving feedback on what we say and forming habits. On the other hand, according to Noam Chomsky, we acquire language because we are biologically programmed to do so. Children are able to figure out how a language functions innately. Then there are the interactionists who believe that it is a combination of biological and social factors that help children develop language. The psychologist Vygotsky believed that the social interactions children have with adults are an important factor in furthering their linguistic skills. If you would like to delve into this topic even further, I would recommend How Languages are Learned by Spada and Lightbown. (I have the second edition). I find that it is clearly written and that it is a good reference text to have.
If we want to help our students achieve oral fluency, in whichever second language we are teaching, I believe that it is important for us as language teachers to understand these theories and to reflect on our practice as we keep these things in mind.
In the spirit of this post, I am paying homage to all of my French teachers, from Grade 4 all the way through to my two OAC (Ontario Academic Credit) courses:
Grade 4: Mlle Cohen
Grades 5 and 6: Mlle Jean
Grades 7 and 8: M. Côté
Grade 10: M. Anglin
Grades 9, 11, OAC1, OAC2: Mme Blouin-Johnson
I thank all of the above teachers from the bottom of my heart for instilling in me my love for the French language and for helping me to achieve my oral fluency.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go wipe away some tears…