Let’s Show Some Respect for Our Language Learners, Shall We?

Bet you couldn't find a cheesier image

Bet you couldn’t find a cheesier image

Ok, I know I’m treading a very, very fine line here because it’s so easy to slip into some kind of a patronizing attitude with your English learners, especially if they’re just beginning to study the language. I mean, really, how are we supposed to treat our students like adults while teaching them basic stuff like names, simple actions, colors etc?

I know if I don’t watch myself carefully I do tend to assume some sort of condescending air when I teach beginners, what with exaggerated inflections, over-the-top miming, simplistic language and all.

But do they really deserve that? Do we really need to be that kind of teachers? Absolutely not!

We definitely need to humble ourselves as we stand before the class to make sure we don’t take up an air of superiority even as we represent some sort of authority, speak very slowly and perform all sorts of tricks to aid understanding. I do my best not to forget to check myself every now and then to make sure I see my students as having something to teach me as well as take something from me. That’s one thing.

Another big thing is responsibility. Who’s responsible for your students’ progress? Is it you, the  teacher or them? Do you feel overwhelmed and helpless as if trying to budge a huge rock when you teach? Or do you feel your students are helping you out along the way? Or are you coasting along having split language-acquisition responsibility half and half with your class?

Let me give you an example. Most teachers dread working with teenagers. So do I, in fact. When I taught the insufferable “jovenes” in Peru, I was just as stressed as nearly every other teacher. That said, early on I intuitively felt I absolutely had to give them some autonomy in their learning. There wasn’t much I could do so I let them check and grade their own tests right there in the classroom (that’s totally against the rules). I encouraged them to help one another with homework and gave them some choice as to the activities to be done on the following day. Of course, that wasn’t much  but at least I made my life with the spoiled brats somewhat tolerable and even enjoyable at times.

The third thing I can think of right now is trusting your students and being able to let them know that you do. Trust your students are able to attain their language goals with you as their best friend who will never let them down. Trust them to understand the challenging language you bring to class instead of the familiar but oh-so-bland crap we normally resort to when we get too worried our students won’t “get it”. Trust them to fall in love with the language you teach.

Because trust pays. It really does.

Teaching a language is a highly personal affair. It’s got very little to do with methodology, much less than we think in fact, and it has everything to do with the relationships we build, as well as the trust and respect we show for the people who have allowed us an honor to serve them as teachers and friends.

Smile at strangers,

Rootless Kosmopolit

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