As a teacher, I only wish that I can teach my second language students everything there is to know about English in the little time I have with them throughout the year. But, as Mougeon et al. (2010) research findings state, there is only so much that can be learned about a language (or a vernacular) in a controlled setting like a classroom, and that notions about a language are also taught in other settings such as public environments (the shopping mall, the park, etc.) (Van Herk, G., p. 183).
As I reflect on my experience as a student learning French as a third language, I feel that I did most of learning “to speak” French outside the classroom while spending time with my friends at birthday parties or other social events. I believe that these outings are what helped me learn to speak French fluently today and enable me to engage in meaningful conversations with others. In French class, I recall having to do oral presentations or debates that were very structured, and usually pre-written (and for the most part learned by heart). The interactions between me and the rest of my classmates were more “unnatural” than “natural”, thus limiting my opportunities to engage in “realistic” conversations. As a result, they were not really helping me in speaking (it was more like reciting). This is why I feel that a lot of my learning to speak French has happened outside of my academic environments and I agree with the research findings mentioned above.
Also, this experience is the result of me trying to maximize my students’ abilities to practice speaking English by engaging them in group activities like role plays. I often try to put them in scenarios that are more “realistic”. However, my teaching methods do vary and I do often find my inner mentalist emerging when teaching things like grammar. Here’s why I am a little mainstream when it comes to the rules of grammar:
As a learner of various languages, I found it helpful (and interesting) comparing how languages function (rules, constraints). I made notes of what I can apply to all three languages and what I couldn’t, and that helped me immensely with acquisition of French. My grades went up, in particular in writing (I believe because I had more time to review my work, rather than in speaking). So now, whenever I present my students with a grammatical notion in English, I let them know if the rule is similar to one used in French or totally different. I believe the more competent the speaker, the better chances they have at being performant.
To sum up this blog post, I would like to express how important I think our job is, as second or third language teachers, to try and encourage our students to take part in extracurricular activities, or even summer camp, in different social communities (in this case Anglophone) so that our students’ social networks become less multiplex, hence providing them with more opportunities to learn their second language. Anybody else feel the same way? How do you encourage your students to practice English outside the classroom (What activities do you promote?)? My father felt that the best way my siblings and I can learn French was by taking us to his restaurant in a French Northern suburb where we would have no choice but the speak French to be understood… and that’s what we did for many of our weekends and holidays during our adolescent years.