Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

August 7, 2017
by leesensei
2 Comments

Thanks For Taking My (Fill in Language) Class – Here’s What You Are REALLY Acquiring…

Hi there – thanks for registering in my course. I know you’re here in my Japanese class because you:

  • have an incredible interest in learning a foreign language & know it will open you up to some amazing opportunities
  • need a Gr 11 language credit for direct university entrance (my province)
  • have a parent/guardian/key figure in your life who said it was important for some reason
  • want to talk with someone (family member/neighbour/cute person) who already speaks the language
  • are the biggest anime/cos-play/manga/game fan ever …and so why wouldn’t you take Japanese?

I hope that you enjoy your time in here and meet your goals. But there’s something you might not think that you are learning. Something that is (gasp) more important than the apparent skill that you are supposed to acquire. Here’s my pitch on what skills you are REALLY learning in my classes…:

Risk-Taking – In my classes you will learn to risk, to try, to fail and forge ahead. You will be supported as you set out to learn and use new material. You will not be in alone in this. You will be asked to put your new learning into use. As one of my past students said you will learn to “not panic. I’m the kind of person that stresses on being perfect…but this class has taught me how to let go of that…and to relax..because in the future things won’t always go as I plan them to go..” Most importantly then I hope that you will develop the ‘courage to try’.

Initiative – You will be meeting unit challenges to demonstrate a skill set (set out by your teacher) and, more importantly, personal challenges (set out by you) prior to activities. These skills you are being challenged to acquire will lead towards meeting proficiency goals in class. Your choice, your initiative, will be needed to meet them – I can’t do that for you.

Reflective Self-Awareness – When we set out these challenges (ones set by me or you) you will be asked to reflect on how you felt/met/didn’t meet the goal. It could be a quick “How Did That Go?” after an activity or a more detailed reflection at the end of a unit. You will be asked to evaluate and reflect upon the experience. You will ask what you were most proud of or what a stumbling block was. You will develop the ability to self-reflect and assess, to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses (and how to improve upon them).

Group Work – you will be learning to negotiate work with partners & groups. You will work with some who are as strong as you, and those that are stronger. You will learn what it takes to set a goal & how to meet it (or how not to – a valuable lesson a well). You will develop an idea of group dynamics. With the support of your teacher (and group rubrics) you will learn perhaps to lead and also when it is key to allow others to shine.

Communication Skills – You will be learning how to speak and more importantly how to listen. You will learn that active listening requires effort & your participation to be done well. You will learn that being a supportive listener is often more important than being a ‘talker’. You will have to clarify when asked and learn to ask for clarification when you don’t understand. As another one of Grade 12’s put it  you will be acquiring “strategies for communication…diversifying how I communicate and being thoughtful of others during conversation is critical…“.

These skills will take you into that all important college or job interview and allow you to respond easily and with concrete examples when you are asked “So…you say you are a risk taker, can you give me an example of when you demonstrated this?” And this ability to speak confidently giving concrete examples about your ‘people and personal skills’ is the real value of my class to your future. Well that and the ability to read your manga in the original language!  (Note: after writing this post our national newspaper’s business section published an article outlining skills undergrads should be working on to prepare for a career – almost all of them as above!)

C

PS – I don’t rely on my students to hopefully become aware of the above. I talk openly and explicitly about these so-called ‘soft skills’ with my kids (I think they are the ‘hardest’ to learn!). I tell them that universities/employers are looking for more than a GPA and why all of the above help flesh out their application. I give this talk every year to every grade to encourage them to go beyond the ‘3rd semester required for direct admission to university’ course and take a full 4 years. This is also what I want students to be able to articulate to others as to why they are studying Japanese (in my case) and what value it brings to them as people. I encourage you to take time and tell your students what skills your class helps them acquire….hopefully they’ll then spread the word too!

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